No change in pol­icy

The Pak Banker - - Front Page - Najmuddin A Shaikh

BY the time this ar­ti­cle ap­pears the re­sults of the Amer­i­can elec­tion should be known in what was an un­ex­pect­edly tight race. There are many rea­sons why this race was as close as it was. Most im­par­tial ob­servers agree that Barack Obama did as well as could rea­son­ably be expected given the mess he in­her­ited from the Bush ad­min­is­tra­tion.

A rise in ra­cial prej­u­dice played a part but the main rea­son to my mind was the po­lar­i­sa­tion (only partly ra­cial) that pol­luted the po­lit­i­cal at­mos­phere in Wash­ing­ton and was, again to my mind, the chief rea­son for Obama not be­ing able to be­come the ‘agent of change’ he as­pired to be in 2008.

In so far as our re­gion is con­cerned, who the next in­cum­bent is is re­ally not very ma­te­rial. If there was one thing that emerged clearly from the oth­er­wise inane pres­i­den­tial de­bate on for­eign pol­icy and the vice-pres­i­den­tial de­bate it was that there is lit­tle day­light be­tween the po­si­tions of Obama and Mitt Rom­ney on Afghanistan and by ex­ten­sion on Pak­istan.

This pol­icy will un­for­tu­nately fo­cus on the one hand on the neg­a­tive — the dan­ger of the col­lapse of a dys­func­tional Afghan ad­min­is­tra­tion lead­ing to civil war and the dan­ger of a nu­clear-armed Pak­istan be­com­ing fur­ther desta­bilised. On the other hand, it will fo­cus on the com­ple­tion of the with­drawal of Amer­i­can and Nato forces by 2014 or even ear­lier.

In Pak­istan not only is anti-Amer­i­can­ism rife, much of it has been aimed at Obama. In a poll of 22 coun­tries car­ried out to de­ter­mine which pres­i­den­tial can­di­date was more favourably viewed, only in Pak­istan did Rom­ney se­cure a higher favourable rat­ing.

This is ironic be­cause in re­cent his­tory no newly elected US pres­i­dent, with the pos­si­ble ex­cep­tion of Richard Nixon in 1968, came to of­fice with a greater knowl­edge of and greater sym­pa­thy for Pak­istan than Obama.

As a young man he had spent his hol­i­days in Pak­istan. He had made many friends here and ap­peared, at least ini­tially, to un­der­stand Pak­istan’s per­spec­tive that en­dur­ing sta­bil­ity in South Asia and the fight against ex­trem­ism in the re­gion re­quired a set­tle­ment of the Kash­mir is­sue be­tween In­dia and Pak­istan.

He did pro­pose that his spe­cial en­voy be an en­voy to the re­gion (Afghanistan, Pak­istan and In­dia). But he was forced to give way when In­dia ob­jected and when his State Depart­ment man­darins pleaded that this would undo the spe­cial re­la­tion­ship with In­dia that had been as­sid­u­ously built over the last decade. They also pleaded that In­dia and Pak­istan ap­peared to be mak­ing progress in back-chan­nel talks on reach­ing some agree­ment on Kash­mir and that this could best be left to them.

Our ire when In­dia was re­moved from the man­date was un­der­stand­able but that did not mean that we should have re­jected the ba­sic ax­iom in in­ter­na­tional af­fairs that in any re­la­tion­ship the cor­re­la­tion of forces has to be taken into ac­count just as much as ques­tions of na­tional hon­our and pres­tige.

Ad­min­is­ter­ing a di­rect slap in the face by re­ject­ing the Kerry-Lu­gar-Berman bill was not, we should have re­alised, the best way of re­tain­ing the sym­pa­thies of the man who led the world’s only su­per­power. This of course is his­tory, some­thing that we are not known to learn from. What mat­ters now is what can be expected in the im­me­di­ate fu­ture.

Cer­tainly an ef­fort will be made by the White House in­cum­bent to main­tain re­la­tions with Pak­istan on an even keel even while con­cern con­tin­ues about the growth of ex­trem­ism and Pak­istan con­tin­ues to be viewed as a ‘ fren­emy’.

Af­ter all, Pak­istan’s co­op­er­a­tion will be needed if the with­drawal of for­eign forces is to be com­pleted by end-2014 or, as I be­lieve, even ear­lier. The re­la­tion­ship will, as we are fond of say­ing, continue to be trans­ac­tional since it has now be­come al­most im­pos­si­ble for us to ac­knowl­edge that we have in­ter­ests in com­mon with the Amer­i­cans.

Will the White House oc­cu­pant work out an agree­ment with the new Afghan pres­i­dent to be elected in April 2014 to main­tain a resid­ual pres­ence? Per­haps not if the cur­rent rate of ‘green on blue’ in­ci­dents con­tin­ues and if the Afghans re­main ob­du­rate in try­ing var­i­ous ways to re­duce im­mu­nity from lo­cal laws for US forces.

Will a more vig­or­ous pur­suit of rec­on­cil­i­a­tion, which ap­pears to have ground to a halt, be the pri­or­ity for the White House? Per­haps, but the stronger in­cli­na­tion will be to sug­gest that this would be a long-drawn-out process and should there­fore be left to the Afghans to work out af­ter the with­drawal of for­eign forces.

It will be ar­gued that the Afghan Na­tional Se­cu­rity Forces would be strong enough to pre­vent a Tal­iban takeover and the Tal­iban would re­alise that they can­not achieve out­right vic­tory. In the mean­while the Afghan Tal­iban will continue to be in Pak­istan and we will have a new flood of refugees as the econ­omy in Afghanistan suf­fers a se­vere down­turn with the wind­ing down of in­ter­na­tional aid and mil­i­tary op­er­a­tions.

Will the fight against ter­ror­ism and the em­ploy­ment of drones for this pur­pose come to a halt? The re­cent dis­clo­sure of anti-ter­ror­ism plans drawn up in Wash­ing­ton makes it clear that this will re­main a fo­cus of Amer­i­can pol­icy for the next decade no mat­ter who is in the White House. How will this be done with­out bases in Afghanistan is a prob­lem that the Amer­i­cans will have to work on but a so­lu­tion may well be akin to the se­cret pres­ence the Amer­i­cans main­tained in Bad­aber in the 1960s.

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