Pakistan’s relations with the US are in a royal mess. However, there is little realisation, and even less acknowledgment, of the troubled path that lies ahead. Instead, a bizarre exercise in sugar-coating bilateral bitterness continues unabated. In a recent speech, foreign minister Hina Rabbani Khar mistook her rich imagination for facts. She said: “We are working with our American friends to establish an ecosystem in which we can both do for each other the things that we can mutually benefit from”.
This requires serious grammatical and diplomatic deciphering. More seriously, this is outlandish official optimism that is irrelevant to reality. The fact of the matter is that the recent meetings in Islamabad, with the US Special Envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan Marc Grossman and his team, were an unmitigated disaster. These were marked by exceptional stiffness in Washington’s stance and Islamabad’s inability to solicit even a vague assurance from the visitors that they were willing to take the high-flying terms and conditions set by parliament to re-engage with the US seriously.
Grossman minced no words. Various sources confirm that he was straight as a rod in saying no to “a simply-worded but clear apology”. The message was: “Whatever Washington has said so far is what there is going to be as far as an apology for the Salala incident is concerned”. Out-of-the-box efforts by Ambassador Sherry Rehman to somehow create a middle ground for the apology failed. These were too little, too late, and too detached from parliament’s stance. On the gridlock on Nato supplies, Grossman made it clear that Pakistan’s participation in the important upcoming Nato Summit was subject to the opening of the routes. The same precondition was attached to Islamabad getting some of the Coalition Support Fund (CSF) reimbursements. There was also disagreement on the total amount that Washington is expected to pay to Pakistan. The over-$3 billion cash crop that the government was hoping to reap was reduced to half and that, too, if the traffic carrying sinews of war against Afghans began to flow from Pakistan into Afghanistan. On drone attacks, the US position remained rigid. As the attack in Miramshah indicated, this policy, too, would continue. Washington is in no mood to pay heed to the “collective will of the people’s representatives” in Pakistan or to lend a serious ear to the hollow chest thumping by the country’s foreign office over this relentless breach of national sovereignty. To cut a long story short, what the US is telling Islamabad is that ‘you may not like it but you got to lump it’.
Incredibly, this is exactly what Ms Khar, under the able guidance of the PM house and the presidency is inclined towards doing — lumping all that she and her bosses publicly spit at with exaggerated and fake contempt. The rulers in Islamabad are seriously thinking of reopening the Nato supplies even without getting any apology from Washington — something that was offered two months ago but was postponed on Islamabad’s request just to make parliament’s recommendations look more credible.
There is little or no preparation to deal with the awkward situation of drones pounding targets inside Pakistan and Nato supplies moving smoothly through a formal agreement at the same time. Desperate for the CSF money and caught in its own trap of publicly debating and posturing on sensitive issues of foreign policy, the current lot in Islamabad has no action plan to stabilise the wonky equation with the US. There is not even a stopgap arrangement, much less a properly conceived game plan.
Washington has sensed this lack of direction and has upped the ante. Moreover, whatever little attention the so-called principals of policymaking could pay to the urgent task of redefining relations with the US, is now being expended in saving the skin of a convicted PM, and through him, the president himself. There is little coordination and even less internal cohesion. The army high command had to consult its legal advisers to know whether the meeting chaired by Yousaf Raza Gilani after his conviction was legal for them to attend or not. The president’s meeting with the Grossman team was incoherent and directionless. President Asif Ali Zardari’s grasp of serious matters was on astounding display as he rattled off his “worked view” without consulting anyone. The last leg of the Grossman tour ended on a grossly tame note, and most notepads in this meeting with the president remained unused. Nobody could figure out what was being said.
Washington has mapped the internal weakness of the government very well. The US knows that beggars will be losers if they try to become choosers. It is piling up pressure and tightening the screws. This is the ecosystem that is developing between Pakistan and the US. Ms Khar will be well-advised to read the weather report correctly.
Published in The Express Tribune, May 4th, 2012.