It does look as if the United States is losing its grip on Pakistan. The old bonhomie that once existed has evaporated. Disenchantment with the Americans started quite a few years ago. It was intensified with the drone attacks which, while they created cul-de-sacs of impotent rage, were apparently carried out with the knowledge and support of the civil and military leadership in Islamabad. The tension just drooped into long aimless scenes of helplessness.
The Raymond Davis episode spawned considerable rancour and acrimony, and demonstrated that a CIA operative in a Third World country could kill at will and get away with it. The outrage spread across Pakistan. Davis’ effigies were burnt; the Pakistani government was mocked and ridiculed for displaying weakness and the president was seen as a beguiling combination of lonely gullibility, cunning ambition and a man who runs with the hares and hunts with the hounds. A day after Davis was released; the CIA conducted one of its most devastating drone attacks, as missiles from a remote-controlled US aircraft rained down on a tribal gathering in North Waziristan, killing 40 civilians. General Kayani regretted the “careless and callous targeting of peaceful citizens with complete disregard of human life”, and instructed his military to shoot down any drones that were spotted.
But Pakistan’s Reality Show which topped the torrent of harsh assaults was the alleged killing of Osama bin Laden, which blew the lid off the boiling cauldron. The terse and steely granite-jawed military types were livid. How could something like this happen in their garrison town, a short distance from the country’s foremost military academy and under their very noses? Nobody really believed — and this included the Americans — that the Pakistan military was unaware of the identity of the bearded civilian who resided in their midst. The military became an unfortunate hostage of misfortune and the butt of cruel jokes.
Many people in Pakistan believe that bin Laden is still alive and kicking and the whole incident was just a stage to prop up Obama’s falling ratings. Whatever the truth might be, it had an unfortunate impact on Pakistan’s international standing as a partner of the global community in its struggle against international terrorism.
Just when things started to cool off and the downward spiral was halted, there was the truck bombing in Kabul, followed by a concerted and sustained attack on the US embassy. Though a terrorist group claimed responsibility, Admiral Mike Mullen, pointed accusing fingers at Pakistan. The last straw was, of course, the bombing by Nato forces at Salala. This led to Pakistan blocking supply routes to coalition forces in Afghanistan, and to Pakistan’s boycott of the Bonn conference on the future of Afghanistan. There was no apology from the Americans; just an expression of regret and the admission that mistakes had been made by Nato troops. In spite of the lack of trust on both sides which has bedevilled relations between the two countries, the president and the Pakistan military are reluctant to cut the umbilical cord and believe the lines of engagement should be redrawn. There is every indication that they will.
Published in The Express Tribune, February 20th, 2012.