When the Parliamentary Committee on National Security (PCNS) decided it wanted to reset the terms of our alliance with the US, it forgot to keep one thing in mind: what if the Americans didn’t want to go along with the new terms? This is exactly what has happened. In a recent interview, Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar said that although we had demanded an immediate cessation of drone attacks, the US has not complied. The true scandal here is that we ever expected the US to simply go along with whatever the PCNS and parliament recommended. As a decidedly junior partner in the alliance, our capacity to redefine the terms of engagement was always going to be severely limited.
The PCNS was essentially an exercise in public relations with the true target of its proposals being the Pakistani people, not the US. With anti-US sentiment near-universal in the country, the government wanted to show the people that it was on their side. In refusing to make it clear from the start that it was unlikely that the US would follow our proposals, the PCNS was being fundamentally dishonest. Given the recent history of our relations with the US, it is entirely possible that the PCNS was a smokescreen with the real terms of the alliance being worked out behind the scenes. When the US first started carrying out drone strikes, the government and military pleaded ignorance and vociferously condemned the attacks as a violation of our sovereignty. Only later, was it revealed that they had known about them and had given permission for the drone strikes.
We could have only unilaterally imposed a new alliance on the US if we had credible bargaining chips with which to do so. If, for example, there was any chance that we could shoot down drones would the US have taken our demand for a halt to drone strikes seriously? As things stand, doing something like that would not only be practically impossible, it would also be extremely foolish. Right now, we need US financial aid and and the US willingness to strike militants is far greater than its need of anything else from us. The government has only made things worse by antagonising both the US and the Pakistani public by vesting so much importance into the PCNS.
Published in The Express Tribune, April 28th, 2012.