Last week, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton uttered something vaguely resembling the much demanded apology as a quid quo pro for Pakistan’s reopening the ground supply routes to Afghanistan. The civilian drama followed backstage haggling among Pakistan and US military brass where the real work was done. However, for many Pakistanis, Clinton’s vague utterance did not constitute an apology. Meanwhile in the US, many Americans are waiting for some apologies from Pakistan.
The diplomatic word-crafting fooled no one. Though a temporary workaround to open the ground routes was found, the fundamental differences in the countries’ strategic priorities haven’t been addressed.
For many Americans, Pakistan got what it deserved after some eleven years of support to those groups attacking US and allied troops occupying Afghanistan. This sense of accumulated outrage decreased any appetite for apologies. That this is an election year further compounded the Obama Administration’s considerations. There is no more appetite for continued engagement of Pakistan among an increasingly broke and war-weary public. Prior to Salala, Americans were incensed by the revelation that Osama bin Laden had been living in a town a short distance from the Pakistan Military Academy. While some analysts concede that there is no hard proof that the ISI or other senior leadership knew about Bin Laden’s presence (including this author), many Americans find this hard to believe. Pakistan has done little to assuage their incredulity. For example, it has shown no interest in discerning who helped Bin Laden remain in Pakistan undetected for years. Instead, Pakistan has focused singularly upon a hapless physician who helped bring down Bin Laden. Former Pakistan Ambassador Husain Haqqani was berated in Pakistan’s media, Supreme Court, khaki circles and parliament for allegedly selling Pakistan’s sovereignty by issuing visas to the various CIA agents who brought down Bin Laden. No one has bothered to discern who sold out Pakistan’s sovereignty by aiding and abetting Bin Laden’s tenure in the country. All of this has accumulated in a simmering sense among Americans that it is Pakistan who owes the Americans some apologies. Having taken more than $22 billion in US taxpayers’ money since 9/11, many believe that Pakistan is more intent on helping our enemies than helping us to defeat them.
Of course, many Pakistanis rubbish these contentions. Unfortunately, Pakistanis share the American proclivity to be ignorant of their own history. For example, many Pakistanis cling to the canard that it was America that foisted jihad upon Pakistan during the 1980s when the Soviets occupied Afghanistan. Pakistan’s Afghan policy took shape in the mid-1970s under Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. When Ziaul Haq seized power, he was unable to persuade then US president Jimmy Carter to support Pakistan’s preferred means of managing the Russians in Afghanistan: jihad. Not only did Carter refuse to budge, his administration imposed nuclear proliferation-related sanctions in April of 1979 which precluded security assistance to Pakistan. These were waived with the invasion by the Soviets on Christmas Day in 1979. This began a decade of American subordination of its nonproliferation goals to its Afghan policy, which required it to find ways of funnelling aid to Pakistan.
When the US withdrew in 1990, Pakistan continued supporting Islamist militants in Afghanistan in hopes of undermining the communist Najibullah government. Pakistan supported Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, who battled Ahmad Shah Masood and his Northern Alliance. While the Russians never destroyed Kabul, these duelling warlords did. When Hekmatyar failed, the Pakistan shifted its support to the Taliban. The Taliban come from the same madrassas as several Deobandi militants tied to the Pakistan Taliban, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi/SSP, Jaish-e-Mohammad and so forth. Not only did Pakistan continue to be involved in Afghan policy throughout the 1990s — when the US was absent from the region — it also supported a slew of militant organisations that also operated in Kashmir.
With such starkly different accounts of history and responsibility, the deal that has been tentatively inked is bound to fail. The apology should have never been linked to an opening of the ground lines of control. President Obama should have apologised immediately and should have used that occasion to begin a frank conversation about the very real divergent goals that Pakistan and America have in and for the region. Unless these differences could be narrowed and unless — at a minimum — Pakistan immediately ceased support for the very groups killing US, Nato and Afghan troops and civilians, there should have been no deal.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 10th, 2012.