What does 2012 hold for Pakistan’s future?
The departing year has been quite eventful for Pakistan both domestically and externally. From the very start, relations between Pakistan and United States began to sour. In January a CIA agent, Raymond Davis, murdered two Pakistanis in cold blood and a US embassy vehicle ran over another two. He was let off after paying blood money to the bereaved family, yet, before the scars left by the incident had healed, the clandestine May 2 raid by US troops on Osama bin Laden’s hideout inflicted further wounds.
This time the cuts were deeper because it humiliated Pakistan and especially its army before the world. And finally, while those wounds had yet to be salved, NATO helicopters attacked Pakistan’s forward border posts killing 24 troops, including two officers on 26 November. This proved to be the last straw on the camel’s back, so Pakistan almost screamed with anguish and anger. As a result, PAK-US relations have been strained to a point
just short of outright rupture.
The incident has ignited a wave of spontaneous anger nationwide. Neither any religious parties nor the army is behind the widespread protests. Provincial legislatures in KP and Balochistan have passed resolutions condemning the attack while various sections of the civil society, including lawyers and businessmen, have been holding protest rallies.
Responding to the attack, Pakistan took back the Shamsi air base from US troops, blocked the transit of NATO supplies to Afghanistan and recalled its liaison officials from NATO headquarters in Kabul. In addition, it placed heavy guns at the border posts with orders to shoot down any intruding planes, including drones and declined to participate in the international conference on Afghanistan in Bonn and the Pentagon-sponsored investigation of the incident.
The bitterness is not going to end any time soon unless Washington takes concrete and visible damage control measures. Though US Defence Secretary, Leon Panetta, in his sudden visit to Afghanistan told reporters, “Ultimately we can’t win the war in Afghanistan without being able to win in our relationship with Pakistan as well,” there appears no indication that such sentiments would be translated into action in the foreseeable future.
In fact US arrogance has further muddied the waters. Pakistan had simply asked for an apology. Just three words, “We are sorry” could have wrought the magic. This would have resuscitated the situation and everything would have been hunky-dory as before. Flow of supplies to the ISAF troops in Afghanistan would have been resumed. Even drones could have continued to take off from the Shamsi air base, on their forays into North and South Waziristan, as usu- al. Regret would have been the most logical act, especially when US claims that the attack was not deliberate.
Even Cameron Munter, US ambassador in Pakistan, advised his government to say “sorry,” but was overruled by President Obama’s hauteur. For Mr. Obama, the tragedy that took the lives of 24 innocent people, belonging to an “ally,” was not worth regretting.
As a result, the era of camaraderie when Islamabad took decisions on vital issues just on a telephone call from the White House has become history. All existing verbal agreements and all new deals shall have to be spelt out in writing as recommended by a conference of Pakistani envoys in Islamabad. This will also apply to the arrangement under which supplies for NATO are transported through Pakistan to Afghanistan. Until such agreement is signed, the blockade that started from November 27 will continue.
There is no question that Pakistan wants amicable relations with the United States. But after what the country has suffered at the hands of the US during this one year, there is a consensus on a “curtailed” or “restricted” response. Normal relations would resume only after the US gives written assurance to respect Pakistan’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.
Meanwhile, chief of the US and NATO forces in Afghanistan, Marine Gen. John Allen told a news briefing in Kabul that he recently spoke on the phone with Pakistan Army Chief Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani in which both expressed a commitment to work through the incident. But in the absence of any tangible signs of a thaw, this is just empty rhetoric, particularly because Pakistan has always cooperated with the US.
On the domestic stage, the perennial issue of what is called “civil-mil-
…after what the country has suffered at the hands of the US during this one year, there is a consensus on a “curtailed” or “restricted” response.
itary divide,” seems to have taken a back seat. No doubt relations between the civil government under President Zardari and the military have not been ideal, but analysts note with satisfaction that the army has portrayed no sign of usurping power.
The government remains weak because the rulers remain more concerned with protecting their flanks than with the welfare of the masses. Corruption has become the rule than an exception. At the same time, President Zardari’s capability to discharge his functions properly, after suffering a stroke, has become questionable. As these lines are written, he remains in Dubai under medical treatment.
On the other hand, Nawaz Sharif has “invaded” Sindh. He held a public meeting at Larkana, the PPP’S heartland. Determined to launch an all-out drive against the PPP government, he has directed the leader of the opposition, Chaudhry Nisar to start negotiations with Awami National Party chief, Asfandyar Wali Khan, JUI-F chief, Maulana Fazlur Rehman and lawmakers from the Federally Administered Tribal Areas to support the PML-N with their “no-confidence” movement. He has also decided to ap-
proach members of the PML-Q as well as dissidents of other political parties, luring them with the prospect of party tickets at the next elections.
Imran Khan’s political party is also gaining strength by the day. Important additions to his party recently have been foreign minister, Shah Mahmood Qureshi, Makhdoom Javed Hashmi and Shafqat Mahmood. His next public meeting is scheduled for 23 March in Quetta.
Noting the pull Imran Khan exercises on the youth, PPP and PML (N) have also launched their young ones in the political arena. The PPP already has Bilawal Zardari as its party chairman and Nawaz Sharif has recently introduced his daughter Maryam.
Meanwhile, the Supreme Court dismissed government’s plea for review of its December 2010 decision annulling the NRO ab initio. It has now called for a report from the president, the prime minister, the governors of the four provinces and the NAB, on the implementation of its verdict. Any dithering by the government would bring it into direct conflict with the Supreme Court.
In such an eventuality, determined as the Supreme Court is to see its orders executed, it would be obliged to call the army for assistance, which, the latter is constitutionally bound to extend. Though this would mean impo- sition of military rule, the government would have to resign. A caretaker government would then be installed to hold general elections. Hopefully, the government will have the vision to avert the crisis.
This is the gloom under which the year 2012 will start for Pakistan. For the country this is the moment of truth. The odds look insurmountable. But the day can still be won with cool heads that put a premium on reason versus emotion; in short, with “Unity, Faith and Discipline.”