US and Pakistan — how to move forward?

Published: May 14, 2012

The writer is a retired lieutenant-general of the Pakistan Army and served as chairman of the Pakistan Ordnance Factories Board

During her recent visit to India, Hillary Clinton made strong statements against Pakistan. She was trying to earn goodwill of her hosts and leveraging Washington’s political and diplomatic pressure on Pakistan — although choosing India as the venue for such remarks further complicates our own bilateral relations. She was especially critical of Islamabad’s failure to take action against Hafiz Saeed and mentioned that al Qaeda and the Taliban’s top leadership, including Ayman al Zawahiri and Mullah Omar, was hiding Pakistan. Implicit in the remarks was the danger that if true, then the US could undertake unilateral action, similar to the Abbottabad raid.

In a related development, the US Congress introduced legislation to slap sanctions against Pakistan and cut military and economic assistance. Congress is also about to declare the Haqqani network a terrorist organization.

On the other hand Pakistan, despite being seized by internal problems, is playing hardball and has taken a course that leaves little space for maneuovre. It has linked the opening of ground communication lines to Afghanistan conditional on the US stopping drone attacks and apologising for the Salala air strike. With US presidential elections in November, and the focus on domestic politics, an apology seems remote. As regards drones, this is the centrepiece of America’s counter-terrorism policy and to expect any let-up in its use until Fata is cleared of militant sanctuaries is unrealistic.

Moreover, the current impasse equally affects our relations with Nato. As regards the high cost of using the alternate northern route, Washington may be partially offsetting it by curtailing military and economic assistance to Pakistan.

Despite the deep crisis in relations, strategic imperatives of the two countries demand that they break the logjam and make the reconciliation process politically palatable.

At a critical time when US forces are thinning out from Afghanistan, if Islamabad opts to stay out of Chicago then the danger is that the policies that are formulated will be without its input.

Washington’s current attitude towards Pakistan is reflective of its internal political dynamics and frustrations in Afghanistan. President Obama seems to have lost much of the progressive and conservative support that he initially enjoyed. Current American politics has become vindictive and vituperative, as a major migration has taken place to the extreme right, which is reflected in a polarised Congress. The optimism that initially surrounded Obama’s presidency has largely dissipated. He is trying to win back some of his popularity with liberal democrats by openly supporting issues that are dear to them while taking hard positions on issues related to Pakistan to get support from the right. In these circumstances to expect any major concession would be unrealistic.

In fact Pakistan–US relations have been in a free fall ever since the unilateral Special Forces raid on Osama’s hideout. The operation was an unambiguous demonstration that Washington does not trust Pakistan. To most Americans it was indicative of Pakistani complicity. Only those at the top were prepared to give the benefit of doubt that it was indicative of incompetence at higher levels, but complicity at lower levels.

There is a danger that the current stalemate could lead to Pakistan’s isolation and further damage its international image. Stoppage of US military and economic assistance coupled with an indifferent attitude of the World Bank and multilateral agencies could squeeze Pakistan financially. Worsening of our economic situation will aggravate militancy and feed violence and anarchy.

Ironically, whenever Pakistan has had a democratic government its relations with US and western democracies worsen.

Already on a warpath with Iran, can Washington truly achieve stability in Afghanistan without the help of two major players of the region? By cutting off military and economic assistance and trying to contain Pakistan it would be losing the leverage that it needs for a more orderly withdrawal and future presence in the region.

The challenge is how can the US and Pakistan build confidence in this difficult situation. First, both should cool the rhetoric and blame-game. On the question of drones, a way should be found wherein the two militaries work cooperatively in identifying targets.

After the signing of the US-Afghanistan strategic partnership agreement it is evident that the US has long-term interests and commitment in the region, beyond 2014. A breakdown of relations with US at this time would seriously endanger peace and stability of Afghanistan with serious consequences for Pakistan and the region.

Published in The Express Tribune, May 15th, 2012.

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Reader Comments (35)

  • Abdullah Nizamani
    May 14, 2012 - 11:15PM

    NATO route should not be opened but if due to unavoidable conditions, there is need to open the route then Pakistani authorities shall enlist their own terms and conditions. If it is opened with current conditions then we will lose our say on international forums.

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  • G. Din
    May 14, 2012 - 11:36PM

    “Already on a warpath with Iran, can Washington truly achieve stability in Afghanistan without the help of two major players of the region? “
    Which major players are you referring to? No one but you sees any major players of the region on the scene.

    “By cutting off military and economic assistance and trying to contain Pakistan it would be losing the leverage that it needs for a more orderly withdrawal and future presence in the region.”
    The kind of (negative) leverage that Pakistan has been providing thus far has prompted US Congress to propose several punitive bills against Pakistan for consideration. It is time Pakistan came down to earth and realize the choices it has made thus far has put it in an untenable and unsustainable position on its way to collapse.
    “First, both should cool the rhetoric and blame-game. “
    After all, it has the subtle advantage of putting Pakistan and the other of “both” on the same footing, no matter how ludicrous it always is.
    “On the question of drones, a way should be found wherein the two militaries work cooperatively in identifying targets.”
    Dream on! Those days are behind you but then, isn’t Pakistan still asking for a nuclear deal similar to India’s even though it has been rebuffed every time?Recommend

  • soothla
    May 15, 2012 - 12:05AM

    Just let us open the supply route without any silly conditions.
    Let the trucks and goods move freely and safely.
    All help should be given to Nato without conditions.
    Pakistan comes first.

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  • AFPAK
    May 15, 2012 - 12:13AM

    Continue accepting Khairat to cover up false Ghairat and move on the way it has been since last 60 years or so.

    Lessons for the treacherous species from India:

    Once there was a powerful Yogi/Swami (someone with super natural powers like that of UAS) whose abode was daily visited by all humans as well as all kinds of animals. Once a little mouse (a weaker species with sharp unclear teeth called Pangaaistan) came running to Yogi and requested the yogi to make him a cat for a few days so that he could see how it feels to be a cat in terms of the power that a cat has over a mouse. The yogi lifted his stick in the air saying “tathastu” (so-be-it) and the next momnet mouse was turned into a cat. Few days passed and the mouse, now a cat, came running back to yogi when chased by a dog and pleaded with the yogi to make him a dog, a more powerful creature than a cat. The plea was granted and the original mouse now became a ‘dog’. However the dog cames running back again few days later when being chased by a lion and requested the yogi to make him a lion (with unclear power) to enjoy the power wielded by this beast. The request was again granted by the Yogi, but that very moment the mouse (Pangaaistan) now turned ‘lion’ roared to attack the yogi (UAS), who immediately lifted his stick in the air saying “tathastu” and the fake ‘lion’ turned back into a little worthless mouse again.

    Lesson is obvious for all.

    Cheers

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  • Max
    May 15, 2012 - 12:16AM

    “Ironically, whenever Pakistan has had a democratic government its relations with US and western democracies worsen.”
    .
    General! Are you suggesting something? If so then stop those democracy raags and spit-out your intentions clearly. Old habits die hard, don’t they?

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  • gp65
    May 15, 2012 - 12:51AM

    “In fact Pakistan–US relations have been in a free fall ever since the unilateral Special Forces raid on Osama’s hideout”

    Before that there was Raymond Davis. BEfore that Pakistan leaked the name of Pakistan’s CIA head. Before that there was another 10 day blockage of NATO supply routes (When US did in fact apologize and discovered after full inquiry that it wasn’t 100% US fault as they had been led to believe). Before that they had found David HEadley and Tawahhur Rana involved in 26/11 where 6 American citizens died, before that there was the brouhaha about Kerry Lugar Bil generated by your establishment. The deterioration has been a while coming and is not linked to a single incident.

    “First, both should cool the rhetoric and blame-game. “

    I did not hear any rhetoric from the US side.

    ““On the question of drones, a way should be found wherein the two militaries work cooperatively in identifying targets.””

    There is a trust deficit. US thinks you will tip off targets as happened in the past.

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  • naeem khan
    May 15, 2012 - 1:22AM

    well and good what you are saying but how could it benefit Pakistan by attending the Chicago NATO conference on Afghanistan, do you really think that the Americans would let Pakistan put in their 2 cents worth, I believe not. It is a show of NATO alliance among themselves, strange that India and China is not attending, although India is involved in Afghanistan up to their necks. We Pakistanis should learn to stand up on our own feet and start it right now, the elite class has to learn to live within their limits, they are not representing the whole country. You say that democratic regimes has and had problems with Americans and Europeans, yes because the military Establishment always toadied to the Americans and did whatever they dictated. Just look at the record of that brave commando, how much damage he has caused to the country by agreeing to every whim of the Americans.Remember what Zia did, the Americans were all tickle pink that Pakistanis were doing their dirty work and giving a lesson to the Russians and they encouraged Jihadis from all over the world and call them Mujaheddin to come and fight from Pakistani soil and then Pakistanis were left holding the bag with 3 thousand Afghan refugees which has decimated the social fabric of PK, I should know , I am from there.It was dictatorship then and many high ranking generals supported that tyrant till his demise. when would we see Pakistan’s interest at heart.

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  • Shock Horror
    May 15, 2012 - 1:23AM

    Talat Sahib

    Pakistan continues to bark up the wrong tree when it looks for a US apology. US did not seek a Pakistani apology when Osama Bin Laden was found hiding in Pakistan under the nose of the army.Recommend

  • Waris
    May 15, 2012 - 1:44AM

    Writer is a retired General. I am wondering how he would have been thinking if he was still in service? If it was the way that now he thinks, it clearly would reflect that nerves of our military establishment give up rather quickly under pressure. One can recall the last days of East Pakistan when Gen. Niazi and Rao Farman Ali were very afraid of dying and more than eager to surrender while the ordinary Sipahi was ready to die for the country.
    I just want to ask the writer and the soldier community of Generals he represents that if we are going to open the NAto routes without getting any thing in return and without fulfilling any of our key demands, then why did we put forward such harsh conditions in the first place? Now our situation is like eating 100 onions as well as getting beatings by 100 shoes.

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  • naeem khan Manhattan,KS
    May 15, 2012 - 1:47AM

    @G Din, obliviously you are from India and never miss a chance to criticize Pakistan with all the ills that Pakistanis face today.Don’t forget when Russians were in Afghanistan , Pakistan bore the brunt of that war,more than 3000 Afghan refugees scattered all over the then Frontier Province and most of them are still there. Americans withdrew with their baggage when Russians withdrew and let Pakistanis suffer the consequences of that war.Remember India supported the Russians in that conflict, and now it is supporting the Americans because it is beneficial to the Indians, With the same logic Pakistan is also entitled to look after their own interests regardless what the Americans think, Americans can’t afford to see 80% Pakistanis disapprove of US if they want to stay in this region.Drones are lynch pin policy for Obama and his administrating but he is already on thin ice, there are millions of us who are not going to vote for him as we did before, so we will see how the next administration will treat Pakistanis. Don’t get so cocky, there is no eternal enemies or friends in State to State relations.

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  • LionOfPunjab
    May 15, 2012 - 1:51AM

    Ironically, whenever Pakistan has had an army dictatorship, pakistan got embroiled in a war that was none of her business, eventually hurting the nation, her awam and her international image, while making the khakis rich with western financial windfall*.”

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  • Rajendra Kalkhande
    May 15, 2012 - 1:53AM

    Routes for NATO supplies or not, Pakistan is doomed either way. If routes are not opened, international isolation will follow along with sanctions. If route are opened, Jihadis will cripple the country. Even if routes are opened, Pakistan is not going to get the type of US support, she used to get earlier. As far as NATO withdrawal from Afghanistan is concerned, in all probability, most of the bulky hardware will be left behind for Afghan army. NATO supply route is nothing but a stick to beat Pakistan. NATO dos not depend on Pakistan any more for supplies.

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  • Max
    May 15, 2012 - 2:30AM

    @AFPAK:
    Ha ha ha! Sell this story to Bollywood. International politics is a serious game and beyond the miracles of Yogis or grandma’s stories.
    Also sell your buzzword “Gharait” somewhere else. These who talk of gharait or otherwise have have doctorates from MIT, but do not understand the epistemology of social sciences. General is not one of those who will buy or say any any such nonsense.
    You need some rest and drink lots of chilled water. You have serious health issues. I am sure the article flew above your head. Life is tough. Is in’t? Sorry! General cannot help you with that. He is an engineer and not doctor.

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  • John B
    May 15, 2012 - 3:23AM

    Frankly all is well as it is. US is doing well in AFG as she has been before. Drones fly, Afghanistan army guys fight Taliban and PAK keeps saying it supports afghan owned and afghan led peace process and US has signed an agreement with AFG and has announced early withdrawal months ahead.

    Apology on Salala and stop drones? Never going to happen as long as unrest in AFG- PAK border.

    PAK should give mullah omar’s head and S. Haqqani’s head on platter to US for moving forward.

    There is no hurry for US to move forward with PAK and frankly PAK is not in the equation in AFG conflict as much as PAK would like.

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  • sundar
    May 15, 2012 - 5:53AM

    On the question of drones, a way should be found wherein the two militaries work cooperatively in identifying targets.

    That is part of the issue. Pakistani army wants to save some of the targets they nurtured for so long. You are not in a position to demand or dictate terms with any body.

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  • Mohinder sandhu
    May 15, 2012 - 6:10AM

    What are you worried of?? There cannot be any more isolation or international humiliation.Pakistan should be used to this all by now pakistani establishment lives in a shell and believes that rest of the world will follow them.The world is losing count of their blunders.MAY GOD HELP YOU..

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  • Pollack
    May 15, 2012 - 6:22AM

    If the US had felt that Pakistan had deserved an apology, it would have given it a long time back. People who “demand” apologies rarely get it especially if they are the weaker party. And there is this question of finding bin laden living in a army town after Pakistan leaders repeatedly said that he is not in Pakistan. Who is going to apologize to whom for that? And what about the Taliban operating from Pakistan territory and killing US soldiers? Who is going to apologize for giving them sanctuary?

    Its better to move on and not get stuck on a apology groove….

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  • sid rush
    May 15, 2012 - 6:37AM

    if you act like begger you will be treated like a begger. USA is merging with India for control of SE Asia. india will buy everyone in pakistan with billions they have , make it another bangladesh.

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  • American Desi
    May 15, 2012 - 6:52AM

    General, Matter is very simple. It’s time to climb down and eat the humble pie.

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  • Barekzai
    May 15, 2012 - 7:45AM

    Reading Talat’s commentary, one could be forgiven for thinking that Pakistan is on par with the United States at every level. Sorry to break it to you, but India alone would pulverise you a hundred fold if it weren’t for China. Consider what will happen when Bejing decides that you are not worth their gambling away over 30 years of prosperity. Talk about dellusions of grandeur…

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  • kaalchakra
    May 15, 2012 - 7:52AM

    Opening the NATO route will be the ultimate slap on the face of Pakistani nation.

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  • gp65
    May 15, 2012 - 8:06AM

    @Max: I think you and AFPAK are on the same page. He is implying that Pakistan was roaring like a ion based on US force and when Pakistan turned on the US, it withdrew its support and Pakistan was back to its earlier weak and helpless state.

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  • Cautious
    May 15, 2012 - 9:51AM

    Already on a warpath with Iran, can
    Washington truly achieve stability in
    Afghanistan without the help of two
    major players of the region?

    Since when has Pakistan or Iran lifted a finger to help Afghanistan? You shut off Afghan supplies along with NATO’s and didn’t think twice about it. Further — while stability maybe a desirable goal the only thing the USA demands is that Afghanistan doesn’t turn into the Al Qaeda headquarters it was known for before 911 – you know the Afghanistan run by the Taliban and recognized only by Pakistan and Saudi Arabia. In short — the USA obtains most of it’s goals by simply leaving a small and lethal footprint and it doesn’t need Pakistan or Iran.

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  • Polpot
    May 15, 2012 - 9:58AM

    “Washington’s current attitude towards Pakistan is reflective of its internal political dynamics and frustrations in Afghanistan.”
    ++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++
    Completely disagree.
    Washington’s current attitude towards Pakistan is reflective of its perception of the role that Pakistan has played in the War on Terror and that three letter word: OBL.

    You reap as you sow..

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  • Polpot
    May 15, 2012 - 10:04AM

    “Already on a warpath with Iran, can Washington truly achieve stability in Afghanistan without the help of two major players of the region? By cutting off military and economic assistance and trying to contain Pakistan it would be losing the leverage that it needs for a more orderly withdrawal and future presence in the region.”
    ++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++
    Implicit in these lines is a threat that without Pakistani help Washington cannot succeed in Afghanistan post 2014.

    Incorrect.

    Pakistan had a trump card: the blockage of Nato supplies and Pakistan played that for 6 months.
    Now onwards Pakistan has to behave like a defeated nation to be pulled up for any real or imaginary terror attacks in Afghanistan.

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  • AFPAK
    May 15, 2012 - 10:22AM

    @kaalchakra:

    Ultimately God gives you what you deserve.

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  • Polpot
    May 15, 2012 - 11:29AM

    If Pakistan was to offer a public and unconditional apology for blocking Nato supplies, the US-PAK relations might make rapid progress.Recommend

  • AFPAK
    May 15, 2012 - 12:38PM

    @kaalchakra:

    Pakistan has to Choose either:

    DO MORE

    or

    DOOB MARO

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  • FMM
    May 15, 2012 - 1:28PM

    Another factor to consider as the Government continues its belligerent posture toward U.S. is that Iran and U.S. may be on a path to mend their relationship given the recent inclination of Iran to find a negotiated solution of the nuclear crisis. In such a case, U.S. and Iran may return back to their buddy-buddy days leaving Pakistan out in the cold. A remote possibility but cannot be entirely ruled out.

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  • May 15, 2012 - 4:37PM

    Fact of the day is that,
    there is no way to move forward,there is no way to getting out the present tough situation.
    There are unbridgeable snag in the way can not be crossed,such as drone attacks,and apology of killing 24 Pak army soldiers on Salala out post.

    United States looks not ready to stopping drones strikes,on which people of Pakistan has become picture of protest,street protest is still continued which made the present government unpopular among the public.

    Pakistan as ally with The United States in the war on terror,but have some justified reservations,during the attacks,innocent people are killed including women and children,regarding such tragic incidents,international law granted no permission,it is essential for the United States to transfer this obligation to the front line ally Pakistan.

    As for as, Salala out post incident is concerned,it was an open violation of all the laws and moral attitudes,on this painful occurrence United States should say ”sorry”and bring all those involved that heinous crime and pay compensation to the heirs of deceased soldiers.

    Justice is indispensable in this connection.

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  • May 15, 2012 - 4:50PM

    Author is respectable,
    but I am disagree with him due to having some reservations,
    he has attached everything to forthcoming election in the states,
    and in this way tried to justify the American stance,
    taken by it regarding the drones attacks and apology on 24
    soldiers’ untimely death.

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  • Naresh
    May 15, 2012 - 6:06PM

    Everything sorted out.
    .
    President Zardari has been invited to Chicago.
    .
    Cheers
    .

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  • May 15, 2012 - 7:51PM

    How ironic that in a piece titled how to move forwards, you have only talked of circumstances and effects, rather than focus on the issue at hand what US and Pakistan should do or rather will have to do.

    US will not apologize, Pakistan has to open the routes. Pure and simple.

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  • Abbas from the US
    May 15, 2012 - 8:32PM

    Close to six months is a long time in a fast moving global scheme of things. If the Generals running Pakistani relations with the US then, thought that an apology was forthcoming from President Obama obviously they miscalculated (In an election year Obama cannot afford to be seen as a weak and apologetic President). As for the Drone program again they (the Generals) thought they could offer tacit support yet control who it was used against, it has certainly given them increased leverage as evidenced by the current usage against the TTP

    But the close to six months has also established and reinforced the argument of not only the ecomomics of the Northern Distribution Network versus the Pakistani supplly lines thru the Khybar/Bolan Passes, but also the strategic implications (The Northern Distribution Network has limitations in that area as to what can go through).

    But as we race towards Chicago, with the Congressional subcomittee on foreign affairs passing a resolution threatening to completely turning off the tap, the time is ripe for new moves and acknowlegement of General’s influence over the adversary to be brought to the negoitating table. Overall the Generals did well in making their point, that for the draw down Pakistan will still have a very important use to provide the exit route, as compared to the Northern Distributive Network for which compromises with Russia over the Missile sheild deployment may have to be made.

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  • May 15, 2012 - 8:36PM

    Time after time we see the same terrorists wage attacks against our forces in their bid to destabilize the region. These same terrorists ruthlessly murder our innocent civilians, and then boastfully claim responsibility for their acts of terror. Bottom line is that they see us as a common threat preventing them from achieving their evil agenda in the region. Terrorist organizations like the TTP have openly issued threats to the government of Pakistan against the resumption of NATO supplies moving through Pakistan. Is it not obvious that they wish to see us on the opposite sides of the fence? Does it make sense for us to remain tangled in our differences when our common enemies are clearly focused on achieving their evil agenda? Does it make sense for us to indulge in conspiracy theories when our common enemies become the beneficiary of our denials? The logic clearly tells us to keep our common objectives in sight and refrain from handing the advantage over to our common enemies. We must focus on creating a better working relationship. We must focus on increasing the level of cooperation and coordination between our nations. We must combine our forces and use our strength to eliminate the threat that is preventing us from bringing peace and stability to the region.

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