Diplomatic space for any state lies between the ‘maximising advantage’ and ‘minimising damage’ ends of the spectrum. Working between the two ends, diplomats expend diplomatic capital and find an agreeable mean. At times, this space is squeezed because of ill-considered policies, frittered away with inept diplomacy, or lost to a fragmented domestic front. For a combination of these and many more reasons, Pakistan vis-a-vis the US, now sits at the weaker ‘minimising damage’ end having lost most of its diplomatic space. The focus must now lie on saving ourselves from delusionary gains of maximalist strategies.
The only way out of a cul-de-sac is to retrace your steps. On a political front, this invariably means spending and losing some political capital. Both Pakistan and the US are in a cul-de-sac; America with some form and shape of an apology and Pakistan climbing down the high horse of ‘an unqualified apology’, ‘only from the highest quarters’. We missed the boat; we may have to take whatever may now be available to ferry us out.
An ‘apology’ satisfies the Pakistani sensibility of ghairat or hameeat; two primal notions. Ghairat or honour is a manifestation of ‘capacity’, which measures your ability to give meaning to ghairat in tangible ways. A nation that sits at the bottom of the pile in terms of human indices and other developmental matrix, has its industry lost to neighbouring regions, goes without electricity for 20 hours in a twenty-four-hour cycle, and has a man convicted of contempt by the Supreme Court leading it, has little to be ghairatmand about. We already have a plan to seek IMF facilitation of around $5.3 billion to make up for the rapidly rising fiscal deficit after the almost eight billion that we acquired from them in the last four years. We are dependent, not independent. An ‘apology’ thus can only satisfy a pretension without adding any real meaning to national purpose.
What else does an apology bring us — humbling America into giving one? Whose side are we on? For ten years, we fought alongside the Americans and enabled them to transport their supplies through our territory. Now when it is time for them to turn down the war and begin to withdraw, we have chosen to close their routes out of Afghanistan. We must let them leave Afghanistan so that the war may end. Their ability to bring stability and seek continuity of the existing order will improve if we let them have their supplies; that will also help tone down the war. Without peace the alternative will be mayhem with its own attendant fallout for Pakistan.
Here are three options to choose from to disentangle the prevailing cobweb: Agree on a commonly evolved ‘apology’ acceptable to the Americans; they may not be able to do more on this because of the evolved political environment in both countries since Salala. Simultaneously, announce opening of the supply routes; if it comes with an agreed levy, so much the better. Don’t tie in the drones unnecessarily. A workaround on the drones should help to keep face before a hyped domestic sensitivity. Accept going to Chicago when offered and propose all efforts to bring the Afghan groups to the negotiating table, with or without Karzai. Don’t bind yourself to the Afghan-led, Afghan-owned, nonsense. After having so stated, work assiduously to put it to effect. Missing Bonn was a mistake. The world moved on. Without Pakistan at Chicago, the world will still move on. Be positively engaged with the world; estrangement doesn’t help. Ghairat will have to take a back seat for now.
Refuse to open the routes till the apology is delivered from the highest quarters and the drones don’t stop. As a consequence, become irrelevant to Afghanistan’s endgame; unable to stop the drones, take them on and widen the circle of combat to now Pakistani skies and targets. Not a good place to be, you will agree. We can’t take a war with a superpower on the back of an almost bankrupt economy — one would be advised even otherwise. Also, the CIA and the Pentagon get a reason to stay on longer and continue their ‘great games’.
Do neither. Just let the situation drift, the classical ineptitude option. Whatever then entails, deal with it. Unfortunately, we may then be enveloped by events that will always remain beyond our control and always in someone else’s control. A nation in a drift, floating waveringly on a wisp unable to determine its destiny.
Need I say which option to take?
Published in The Express Tribune, May 15th, 2012.
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