For those of us whose primary interest is national security issues, the prime minister’s conviction by the Supreme Court could not have come at a more awkward moment for our relations with the United States.
Pakistan has had many spats with the US, but US Special Envoy Mark Grossman’s meetings with the country’s leadership last week was another reminder of how concern about domestic fallouts has come to impinge on decision-making in both countries, even on foreign policy issues.
Though our relationship with the US is replete with episodes of breakdowns, none has agitated our people with greater anguish than the Salala tragedy. Developments thereafter confirmed that the euphoria associated with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s claim of a “strategic partnership” proved as short-lived and inconsequential, as spring snow in Washington. Moreover, fearing a crescendo in anti-American sentiments, the government acquiesced to demands that parliament undertake a review of relations with the US. Not only did the process proceed at a desultory pace; the government did nothing to restrain those who sought to whip up popular passions in the guise of national honour and dignity. In the process, the government may have scored a few brownie points, but today finds itself in the straitjacket imposed by the parliamentary resolution. The US response was not exemplary either, for fearing a backlash from the Republicans, US President Barack Obama has been hesitant to offer an apology which, had it been tendered in the immediate aftermath of the tragedy, would have done much to assuage hurt feelings here.
Though Grossman tried to remain upbeat, highlighting US priority in the reopening of Nato supply routes while offering release of our Coalition Support Fund claims, the impression of a stalemate was confirmed by US officials to the New York Times, especially on the issue of ‘apology’ and drone attacks. The American position reportedly stiffened on suspicion that the April 15 attacks on Kabul had been carried out by the Haqqani network, which is suspected of having ties with Pakistani intelligence agencies.
The continuing mistrust and resultant crisis in Pakistan-US relations can help neither country, nor promote the cause of peace in Afghanistan, especially at a time when the Afghan endgame necessitates greater coordination and enhanced understanding between the two countries.
The US would do well to recognise that Pakistan’s demand for an apology is justified and should be acceded to expeditiously. So, too, should it show understanding for Pakistan’s serious reservations about drone attacks, instead of refusing “to listen”, as Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar has complained. Of course, Pakistan has to remain engaged, to either convince the US as to why the drone attacks are now no longer permissible or to come clean and tell the people when, why and under what circumstances we had agreed to these operations. For the US, the reopening of the Nato supply routes is critical and surely an understanding can be reached if the US were to give an assurance that only non-lethal goods would be transported. The US can also make it more palatable by agreeing to random inspection and paying for damage to the highways and road system. With regard to the Haqqani network, it is true that neither the US nor Nato allies can afford to ignore brazen and well-coordinated attacks on Afghan cities, which may not have inflicted heavy casualties but did become a source of major embarrassment. The US cannot, however, ask Pakistan to launch attacks on the Haqqani network, while itself engaging the Taliban in a dialogue.
Political turmoil and increasing uncertainty at home are likely to adversely impact our ability to focus on critical foreign policy issues. This must not, however, weaken our resolve to conclude speedily and on a mutually satisfactory basis, the resetting of our relations with the US. The overriding objective should be to renegotiate a more sustainable relationship, one that recognises the capacities and limitations of the partnership. Stalemate is not an option for either!
Published in The Express Tribune, May 2nd, 2012.
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