Resetting Pakistan-US engagement

Published: April 26, 2012

The writer is Director of Asia-Pacific Governance and Democracy Initiative at the East-west Center

On April 12, Pakistan’s parliament unanimously approved a new set of guidelines on relations with the US, an action that could pave the way for the reopening of the critical US and Nato supply lines into Afghanistan. For the past few months, these routes have remained closed as ties between Pakistan and the US plunged to an all-time low in the wake of the US raid inside Pakistani territory in pursuit of Osama bin Laden, the killing of two Pakistanis by a CIA contractor in Lahore and the accidental US attack that killed a dozen Pakistani soldiers at a border military post.

While the US and Nato will welcome the reopening of the supply lines, they are likely to be far less enthusiastic about some other provisions of the framework provided by parliament including an end to drone attacks, no future foreign bases or US troops inside Pakistani territory and a ban on transportation of weapons through Pakistan to Nato forces in Afghanistan.

The drone attacks are hugely unpopular in Pakistan, where they are viewed as being counterproductive. The Obama Administration, however, finds them particularly effective against remote militant safe havens and the US is unlikely to end them readily.

Because of its dependence on US aid, Pakistan is unlikely to make the reopening of the supply lines conditional to an end to drone attacks. However, there may be room for compromise on their scope: during the Bush administration, drones were used only against high-value targets, but their number expanded under Barack Obama.

Parliament’s guidelines also call for the US to apologise unconditionally for the accidental cross-border attack, something which is difficult for the Obama Administration to do in an election year. A compromise is likely, resulting in a declaration of remorse by the US that falls short of a formal apology.

Within Pakistan, the new terms of engagement are significant in several ways. First, the guidelines would introduce domestic transparency in Pakistan-US relations. This is a radical departure from previous military-led governments, which did not take the public into confidence about security and foreign policies.

Second, parliamentary oversight of Pakistani foreign and security policies will promote more accountability and provide more legitimacy to the civilian government. Over the long term, however, it is yet to be seen whether a habitually dominant military will reconcile to playing a subordinate role to parliamentary oversight.

Despite their disagreements, the US and Pakistan are well aware of their interdependence, especially when it comes to the endgame in Afghanistan. President Obama’s meeting with Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani on the sidelines of the recent nuclear disarmament conference in South Korea helped set the stage for a resetting of the relationship, which was followed a week later by a meeting between the countries’ two highest-ranking military officers.

In the short term, the US will be strongly motivated to find a compromise that would enable the reopening of the supply lines to Afghanistan. Officials are hoping the routes can be opened before an important Nato summit in Chicago next month.

Published in The Express Tribune, April 27th, 2012.

Reader Comments (12)

  • pankaj
    Apr 27, 2012 - 12:11AM

    a joint operation with pakistan is a good option but i doubt US agree on that because of trust deficit between US and pakistan.

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  • Falcon
    Apr 27, 2012 - 12:21AM

    Didn’t find too much meat in the article other than obvious facts…on a side note, author might want to check his facts on the following sentences of the first paragraph: “the killing of two Pakistanis by a CIA contractor in Lahore and the accidental US attack that killed a dozen Pakistani soldiers at a border military post”

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  • ayesha_khan
    Apr 27, 2012 - 12:54AM

    “Parliament’s guidelines also call for the US to apologise unconditionally for the accidental cross-border attack, something which is difficult for the Obama Administration to do in an election year.”

    It has nothing to do with election year. They did apologize for the Shah Rukh Khan’s delayed immigration process. US government probably believes in the accuracy of their report and hence do not want to undermine the credibility of their own report ia an unconditional apology.

    “In the short term, the US will be strongly motivated to find a compromise that would enable the reopening of the supply lines to Afghanistan”

    US is motivated to have the lines open -yes. Strongly motivated? I don’t think so. Neither are they willing o apologize or stp drone attacks. All that they are wiling to do is to pay mor than they have. Basically, they save money when they route supplies through Pakistan as opposed NDN and would be wiling to share some of the savings with Pakistan.Unlike the Raymond Davis case where there were a dozen senior US functionaries (both civiian and military) visited Pakistan within 6 weeks, no such activity has been witnessed in the last 5 months since closng the supply routes.

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  • Apr 27, 2012 - 8:41AM

    I can only laugh. We all know where things are heading. Pakistan and US have different goals.

    There are too many issues to be sorted out: Drones, Osama’s shelter in Pakistan and the subsequent US raid, US Aid-both Civilian and Military, Pakistani sheltering of anit-US militants,etc.

    They cannot be resolved because of reasons that everybody knows. Only time will break the logjam. Post 2014, these issues will be rendered useless and things will take a different turn.

    I am so sure Pakistan can come out of it unscratched. US surely will pull out.

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  • BlackJack
    Apr 27, 2012 - 8:57AM

    Second, parliamentary oversight of Pakistani foreign and security policies will promote more accountability and provide more legitimacy to the civilian government.
    This is incorrect; the civilian Govt has effectively abdicated decision making to the parliament, and the agreed terms represent the lowest common denominator, with lowest signifying the lowest possible motives for taking such decisions. Many of the loudest voices in parliament do not have the numbers (or capability) to ever rule the country – and the agenda that they push is right-wing in content and very much in line with whatever the military was peddling during its years of meddling.

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  • sameer
    Apr 27, 2012 - 9:21AM

    the article lacks an argument
    there are factual inaccuracies
    and some plausible suggestions would have made the article appear a “bit” appealingRecommend

  • usmani
    Apr 27, 2012 - 9:47AM

    Seems more of a reporting than an article.

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  • andy fr dc
    Apr 27, 2012 - 4:12PM

    What interdependence ? After the US withdrawal from Afghanistan the USA has no incentive to treat with Pakistan. The temporary accommodation with the terrorist state that protected OBL and supports Mullah Omar will come to an end.
    It is just astonishing to read Pakistanis who act as though the rest of the world will simply forget about Pakistan’s protection of OBL. That act defined Pakistan for a generation. The fallout is just beginning.

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  • Cautious
    Apr 27, 2012 - 6:40PM

    In the short term, the US will be
    strongly motivated to find a
    compromise that would enable the
    reopening of the supply lines to
    Afghanistan

    The operative words are “short term” and your leverage isn’t as great as you believe. The USA will not give in to the politicized anti American rants of Pakistani politicians just so they can deliver a few supplies overland through Pakistan. You overrate your leverage and underrate the long term dependence of Pakistan on American goodwill. Chest thumping and anti American rants are not conducive to proper negotiations – your Parliaments first opportunity at “foreign relations” has been a dismal failure.

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  • ayesha_khan
    Apr 27, 2012 - 7:17PM

    @Cautious: “Chest thumping and anti American rants are not conducive to proper negotiations – your Parliaments first opportunity at “foreign relations” has been a dismal failure.”

    Politicians will be politicians. That is why the world over foreign policy is in the domain of the executive not the legislature. A trained bureaucracy with a cabinet minister recommend policy options to a cabinet who makes decisions. In Pakistan the executive has simply abdicated its role.

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  • ayesha_khan
    Apr 27, 2012 - 7:18PM

    @BruteForce: “I am so sure Pakistan can come out of it unscratched. “

    Youo maybe right but would be interested in understanding your thought process.

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  • Apr 27, 2012 - 7:32PM

    Dear Pankaj,

    Our government officials have repeatedly highlighted the importance of Pakistan in bringing peace and stability to the region. It has been made clear over and over again that the U.S wishes to see both nations working side by side for the sake of achieving our common objectives. There is no denying that our partnership has suffered due to several regrettable incidents in the recent months. But at the end of the day, it’s our common stance against terrorism that continues to bind us together, and helps us overcome challenges. Pakistani officials have also voiced the importance of mutual cooperation in achieving our common objectives. We are confident of defeating our common enemies through better cooperation and coordination. We look forward to creating a better working relationship, and view the current situation as a great opportunity to iron out the differences that could hinder our mutual cooperation.

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