When Leon Panetta says that America has run out of patience with Pakistan, it reflects how a superpower tends to think of an irritating serf. But that is not what we told ourselves when we joined the American-led war on terror. Instead, we embellished the relationship with strategic nuances to make its transactional nature palatable. There is, therefore, an abiding mismatch in the foundation of this relationship in its latest avatar: America’s tactical interests against Pakistan’s effort to seek strategic accommodation.
There has been an active anti-American industry in Pakistan, which has instituted hatred against America in popular perception. All this while, Pakistan, as state policy, was aligned with the US on the battlefield and was sacrificing on the fronts, as well as in its cities inside its territory. In contrast, the Americans have been tardy in how they have gone about contesting this space and managing perceptions. They have either been too arrogant with their couldn’t- care-less approach, or too transparent with their attempts to win over some focal power brokers without worrying about how the public space was being lost. Such is the cavalier abandon that tends to ride America’s policy formulation.
The rubs between America and Pakistan are many: the failing venture in Afghanistan with its rather poorer cousin called ‘relative gain’ replacing the much vaunted ‘finite victory’ that should have been the goal of a superpower; the incapacity of the political structure in Afghanistan to withstand the aftershock of a departing America; a Pakistan that will not bid against the Haqqanis on America’s behalf; and an environment in a drift that sees another American expedition coming to a close, while the promised dialogue with the Taliban faltering before it even got going.
America will have a lot to answer to history for its current misadventure: taking its ‘eyes off the ball’ via the Iraqi diversion; a mismatch of policy within the US establishment that never let a unified approach take effect in Afghanistan; and, mishandling a key coalition partner in Afghanistan. Many trillions later, it is the junior partner Pakistan that must carry the blame.
What of the Haqqanis? One, Osama, Mullah Omar and Haqqani, arrived in Pakistan from Afghanistan — they weren’t nestled here from the start. Two, the Pakistani military had a war imposed on them not of their making; Pakistan owned another country’s war despite intense domestic opposition to it. Three, the war spawned heinous sublets when splinter groups assembled under the banner of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and threatened Pakistan’s state and society and continue to do so. Four, Pakistani troops deployed in Fata equal the cumulative force from 48 nations that is fighting the same extended adversary in Afghanistan. Five, the operations in Swat, South Waziristan and the continuing battles in Orakzai and Khyber agencies; frequent forays into Pakistan by the TTP fugitives from their Afghan havens; and, a sprinkling of unilateral American assaults, all form the operational scene relentlessly engaging the Pakistani military. Pakistan, never ready for such a form of war, has nevertheless, learnt the ropes quickly. In a mosaic as complicated as this, the Haqqanis are a minor irritant.
In 2010, US President Barack Obama unveiled his vision for Afghanistan. It centred around dialogue as the most prudent option to end this war. That is also when the Kerry-Lugar-Berman bill was arranged for $1.5 billion to come Pakistan’s way to provide it succour in the face of the war that it had been subjected to. The pittance came with unstinted additional pressure to ‘do more’. More for the way the war was heading to a closure than the monies involved, Pakistan did not find it prudent to initiate a new front in North Waziristan, especially since the intent was to seek peace. There was no way that Pakistan could push itself into a war that was likely to keep it embroiled even after the US had finished its war. It is naive of the US to expect Pakistan to open more fronts in North Waziristan. Instead, Pakistan will wait for the conditions to become conducive for the foreign elements to return to Afghanistan. Then it shall be for their own country to deal with them as it pleases; Pakistan is not about to fight another nation’s war, anymore.
Published In The Express Tribune, June 13th, 2012.
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