Ahead of a Nato summit in Chicago which is to review the military effort in Afghanistan and take stock of progress towards reconciliation, Pakistani and US officials are negotiating a way out of the impasse that began with the Nov 26 attack on the Salala checkpost.
The Gordian knot the two sides are trying to untie in Islamabad is over an overdue apology for the intermittent attack that not only bruised egos in Pakistan but also brought the bilateral relationship to a grinding halt – a turning point that also gave Pakistan the opportunity to review its terms of engagement with the US. Pakistan did well by putting parliament at the centre of the ‘reset’. It made the resumption of the ground lines of communications (GLOCs) practically contingent upon the apology as well as a halt to drone strikes in its tribal areas.
As a result, the talks have reached a deadlock, adding to the frustration of the US-led Nato. US patience is also seemingly wearing thin, manifest in two latest developments:
Defence Secretary Leon Panetta has vowed that the US will do everything it can, use whatever operations they have to, in order to protect the US, including drone strikes while the US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton has also followed suit, saying she was ‘well aware’ that the Pakistani government had not yet taken steps to help secure Hafiz Saeed’s conviction, who is wanted over the 2008 Mumbai attacks.
Clearly, Pakistan is under the squeeze, largely for its own frustratingly snail-paced review process as well as inner contradictions. This primarily represents the serious challenges ahead.
Key officials, for instance, say the parliament’s role in foreign policy is the new reality of Pakistan and Washington must adjust to it. But other officials say they are trying to clinch a deal with the Americans, regardless of what the parliament recommended. What is the reality then?
Secondly, what will the hyped up ‘reset’ actually mean? Will the new transactional deal delink cooperation with, and assistance for Pakistan from occasional frictions arising out of new acts of terror in Kabul?
Thirdly, will this mean that the new deal will ensure a continuous flow of money from the Coalition Support Fund, which the US administration and Congress still treat as aid and not reimbursements to Pakistan? Will the status of these funds really change into “reimbursement against services rendered?”
The fourth challenge comes from Leon Panetta‘s reiteration on the “indispensability of drone strikes.” Clearly, the American position is in sharp contrast to parliament’s demands. How will the government circumvent the PCNS recommendation on the issue? Can the Pakistani interlocutors really dissuade Americans from such attacks, or persuade them for a – even if symbolic – joint management of the remotely controlled predators? If not, then what about the PCNS being the key to our foreign policy? Or will it be business as usual ie overt condemnation and covert approval?
Unfortunately, Pakistan is pitched against heavy odds. On the one hand, past associations with militant groups, and the unbridled anti-India/US activism of the Defense of Pakistan Council render its protests and verbal belligerence ineffective vis-à-vis the US-led international community which is currying favour with India too. One the other hand, Pakistani tendency to embed its arguments in morality and reference to international law, unfortunately weighs little when viewed against the global geo-political objectives of the US-led Nato.
The only way out of this extremely unfavourable situation is to invoke pragmatism, indulge in introspection, shun contradictions and focus on reviving and strengthening the economy. That will largely remain contingent upon the sweet will of the US-led Nato and much, therefore, will depend on to what extent can the ministry of foreign affairs, the General Headquarters and the political leadership narrow down their intellectual and tactical discord into a long-term strategic framework, urgently needed to deal with internal and external challenges.
Published in The Express Tribune, May 8th, 2012.
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