Pakistan-US relations remain on hold as Islamabad has yet to take a final decision on the 14-point recommendations drawn up by the Parliamentary Committee on National Security. While resetting its very complex relationship with the US, the government of Pakistan wanted to develop a broad consensus across the political spectrum by giving this responsibility to the parliament. With anti-Americanism at its peak, army leadership, too, would let the parliament formulate a policy. Moreover, by accepting even cosmetic ownership, the government hoped to correct the civil-military imbalance that traditionally remains skewed in favour of the military. It was also expected that involving parliament would enhance Islamabad’s leverage in dealing with Washington.
The approach made sense but a problem was raised which, instead of giving broad guidelines for parliament, has made specific recommendations leaving little scope for manoeuvre. As a consequence, the government despite its willingness and with the backing of the military, is dithering in taking a firm decision to reopen the Nato supply routes. This impasse has provided the rightist and radical parties, including the infamous movement for the Difa-e-Pakistan Council (DPC), to whip up anti-Americanism and make the task of the government more difficult. Meanwhile, a full-blown crisis in US-Pakistan relations could emerge due to lack of cooperation in intelligence and counter-terror cooperation.
Intrinsically, Pakistan is not a hostile country but constant US bashing of the Pakistan Army and the ISI followed by a series of unfortunate incidents have antagonised its people. On the American side, with frustrations in Afghanistan running high, there is a tendency to make the Pakistan Army and the ISI scapegoats for their failures. It then becomes a cause and also consequence of anti-American sentiment.
With the Chicago summit being held in May 2012, the Obama Administration is keen that the Nato supply route is reopened soon and progress is made in normalising relations. Obama could then take credit that would help him in his re-election campaign.
In the pre-election period in Washington, there will not be much movement on US-Pakistan relations as the focus would be on domestic politics. This period is, therefore, critical for Pakistan in engaging with the US.
Whereas both America and Pakistan need each other, they have to see how they can reconcile their diverging interests and consolidate the converging ones to create a more effective partnership. Prudence demands that Pakistan should not disassociate itself from the US when the bulk of its forces are withdrawing from Afghanistan and there is not much hope for a smooth transition. It has to play a positive role in stabilising Afghanistan and prevent cross-border insurgency. Both countries should also look beyond the current impasse for a more enduring relationship. Since 9/11, there have been no meaningful economic relations. Washington has not extended any concessions on exports and no progress has been made on the DPC, whereas these measures could complement efforts in countering militancy. Nor has Pakistan taken advantage of the excellent US educational system to develop its human resource.
The Haqqani network and the Taliban Shura remain a major bone of contention with the US. Pakistan’s view, that the Taliban and Haqqanis are useful tools to countervail Indian influence, may have a logic of sorts — but we have to weigh the overall impact of this policy. It has serious consequences on our domestic stability and international standing. Even partial success of the Taliban and their affiliates would inspire and embolden the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan and the jihadi forces.
The other difficult question is that relating to drones. America is unlikely to relent on its use despite our protestations until we are able to re-establish our control over a majority of the tribal belt. Drones are a vital weapon system in the US inventory to keep the militants unbalanced. Moreover, it is unwilling to transfer drones or its cutting edge technology to Pakistan. For Pakistan, drone attacks are an embarrassment that compromise its national sovereignty and ego, notwithstanding their useful tactical role in countering terrorism and insurgency. The way to reconcile may be to associate the Pakistani military in intelligence-sharing and through joint identification of targets. This would, however, only be possible after mitigating the trust deficit; a challenge that affects practically most aspects of the relationship between the two countries.
Published in The Express Tribune, April 25th, 2012.