President Asif Ali Zardari’s late invite to Chicago has been a subject of great circumspection in the manner that it was garnered through the good offices of our Turkish brothers. The issue became further complicated by a clear snub when the president was literally refused an audience by Obama, denoting the contradictions that bedevil Pakistan’s policy and a lack of a synchronistic strategy in how to disentangle from a precarious infliction in a self-induced ailment. As if this wasn’t enough, within the same week Pakistan proceeded to award a 33-year prison term to Dr Shakil Afridi, CIA’s route to detecting Osama bin Laden’s presence in Abbottabad.
There were varying levels of play preceding Chicago that underlined an emerging consensus which was that Pakistan had been left out in the cold after Salala and now had an opportunity to resurrect itself in the Afghan endgame. The motivations and the implicit interests of various players, however, seemed vastly different. The US, haughty by now, after having to deal with an overly irritating Pakistan, just did not wish to engage Pakistan any more unless the latter could offer a substantial helping hand in American closing the case on Afghanistan. Thus, when Turkey recommended an invitation on the understanding that Pakistan will resume supplies through the suspended Ground Lines of Communications (GLOCs), Nato obliged — not the US. Pakistan was, therefore, technically Nato’s guest, not America’s. Yet both refused to acknowledge the presence of Pakistan’s president.
Many felt that missing out on Bonn after Salala was a mistake; and that Pakistan must, therefore, use the opportunity at Chicago to be seen to play its positive role in resolving Afghanistan. Two, the army emerged willing to move beyond Salala while ostensibly holding on to the need for a fig-leaf apology; it seemed keen to reestablish the ties that would give relevance to Pakistan’s role as Afghanistan neared closure. The government saw in it the possibility of some desperate funding to buoy their revenues so that an election year budget could be made possible — almost $1.1 billion has already been included in next year’s estimates. The president and his men found this an opportunity to establish his position alongside the world’s top leadership with the implicit benefit accruing to the PPP in a nervy election year. The environment had thus been crafted to advantage Pakistan with implied benefits, except that something ‘had to be done’ when in Chicago; mere presence was not enough. This is where the roof caved in on the entire plan.
It seems that the two sides, Pakistan and the rest, got into a typical ‘chicken and egg’ cycle and could not decide which would come first — the audience with Obama or the announcement to open the routes. In this guessing game the moment was lost, and President Zardari fell to his Plan B — the stated position that has held the US-Pakistan relations on hold, perpetuating the ‘hold’ for the foreseeable future. Inaction and paralysis are never known to induce fermentation; the promise of an opportunity at Chicago, hence, lay hopelessly unfulfilled. Similarly, domestic political imperatives in an impending electoral powerplay trumped statesmanship in a nation already devoid of credible leadership.
What held Pakistan back from doing the right thing? The most popular theory, of course, will always be a recalcitrant military that, allegedly, in the first place never wanted the resumption of routes and ties with the US. Such a view also gets instant favour given the typical speculative aspersion that is cast on the army’s role as the arbiter of US-Pakistan relations. One never knows whether the army is keen to get her millions, as is also alleged, or stall the ties because of an anti-American disposition. Or, was it the fear of a political backlash that had the PPP locked in inaction, with the vocal PML-N-led opposition exploiting latent anti-Americanism.
Finally, the constant rant of Musharraf having sold the nation cheap to the Americans has come to haunt the current leadership which as an ‘atonement reflex’ seeks a higher rent for the same services. The transactional in the relationship still rules the roost. Perhaps, by accepting the transactional the relationship can be inured from hopes of misplaced convergences and false strategic essence. Relations go dysfunctional when altruism is used to embellish what is patently base.
Pakistan remains a typical poorly led and a confused nation that is losing its way by the day.
Published in The Express Tribune, June 5th, 2012.
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