Weeks before the US president unveiled his Af-Pak policy, conversations in Washington revolved around ways to manage Pakistan in order to achieve the right results in Afghanistan. It’s wrong to link the US-Pakistan relations to Afghanistan. Another problem with this global conversation on Af-Pak is that it is disproportionally US-centric.
Let’s change that lens for a moment to discuss what Pakistan must do to manage the US to serve its own national interest in the region. First, Pakistan needs an edge in Washington. It may be the right time to leverage the Shakil Afridi card that Pakistan has been holding for too long at the cost of being discredited in the US policy circles. Give up Afridi, and give him up with grace. Pakistan needs to play that wild card to develop credibility and a level of trust with the Trump administration that is adamant to get tough on Pakistan.
Dr Afridi may or may not be a front man working for the CIA in Pakistan, but he’s a hero in the war on terror in the US policy circles, especially Congress. If Pakistan isn’t able to leverage him at the right time, it may never be able to leverage him at all.
Second, and perhaps most importantly, Pakistan needs to change its conversation in the US, and it can’t do that by relying on the same faces and same talking points from the 1980s.
For instance, last year just before the US elections, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif dispatched Senator Mushahid Hussain to the US to deliver public talks at different forums and engage with the US policy community on matters of US-Pakistan relations. I had the opportunity to attend two of such talks by the senator.
As much as I or anyone else in Washington respects the senator for his eloquence, the general reviews of his talks, by and large, were negative. For one, his engagement was very limited to the same old policy crowd in the US that wasn’t relevant anymore but attending the talk out of courtesy anyway. Second, several of the people in the audience felt disappointed that the Senator had nothing new to offer and continued the 1980s narrative by playing the victim card.
“It felt like the conversation hasn’t moved on,” said one of the top advisers to the US government on Pakistan back from the early 1990s. Another Congressional staffer in my private conversation told me that almost 60% of Congress from 2011 is new, ‘let alone the Pressler Amendment most of the Congressmen aren’t even aware of the Salala attack’, he pointed out.
In a situation where the US political and policy circles have taken generational leaps, Pakistan still relies on individuals that cannot provide a new narrative on their country.
It isn’t that Pakistan doesn’t have the right faces that can handle the Washington talk, it’s just the Pakistani security establishment’s dependency on some individuals that they believe can ‘pull the crowd’ and get traction in Washington or at the UN. Unfortunately, while the numbers in the crowd might be there, in terms of policy change it means nothing.
Having lost thousands of lives and suffered economic meltdown and psychological trauma, Pakistan has an excellent case in Washington. Yet, despite all that, it stands charged with playing a ‘double game’ in Afghanistan — and in almost a decade hasn’t been able to change the perception in Washington.
In a fast-changing global political dynamics, and unusual alliances being forged, Pakistan cannot continue the way it has continued so far unless it wants to continue having the same results. Pakistan must be ready to play the wild card, and play it well but for that it needs both fresh players and a new game.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 12th, 2017.
Like Opinion & Editorial on Facebook, follow @ETOpEd on Twitter to receive all updates on all our daily pieces.
Comments are moderated and generally will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive.
For more information, please see our Comments FAQ