Will couple rescue mark a new beginning in ties with United States?

One of the main reasons of the Pak-US troubled ties is the issue of trust


Kamran Yousaf October 14, 2017
PHOTO:FILE

ISLAMABAD: On October 11 at 4pm, the CIA sent an important alert to its Pakistani counterpart, the ISI. It was about the movement of a US-Canadian couple who was thought to be in the captivity of the Haqqani Network since 2012. The ISI was given a tip-off that the hostages were being transported from Afghanistan to Pakistan through the Kurram tribal area.

What followed was unprecedented. Three hours later, Pakistan Army and ISI operatives were at the location. They successfully recovered American Caitlin Coleman and her Canadian husband, Joshua Boyle, along with their three children from the hostage-takers.

The speed with which the security forces acted as a result of close cooperation between the spy agencies of Pakistan and the US was in total contrast to the current state of relationship between the two ostensible allies.

One of the main reasons of their troubled ties is the issue of trust.

Pakistan Army rescues Canadian-American family held hostage by Taliban

Pakistan and US security agencies worked closely after the 9/11 attacks to nab hundreds of al Qaeda terrorists. But in recent years their cooperation was marred by a growing trust deficit.

The US authorities of late remained reluctant to share intelligence with Pakistan under the pretext that its security agencies were playing a double game in the fight against terrorism.

It was due to the trust deficit that the United States decided to take a unilateral action to kill al Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden in his Abbottabad compound in May 2011.

The then Obama administration discussed at length whether to take Pakistan on board on the Abbottabad operation. But the proposal was shot down because the US authorities feared that giving advance notice to Pakistan might put the entire operation in jeopardy.

Against this backdrop, what has really prompted the US to share intelligence with Pakistan at a time when their relationship is far from ideal?

The first reason was that the US had no option but to rely on Pakistan simply because it wanted the US-Canadian couple to be alive.

“There was a huge risk involved in this entire operation,” said senior Pakistani official privy to the rescue mission.

The US authorities could have rescued the couple on the Afghan side but because of the risks involved they couldn’t do so, the official added. “So the credit goes to Pakistani security forces to accomplish a difficult mission,” he said.

The rescue operation was also significant since the US-Canadian couple, according to the US, was kidnapped by the Haqqani network, an Afghan affiliated group.

So it was effectively an operation against a group, which often was linked to Pakistan.

“This has in a way defeated their (US) narrative that we have a selective policy in the fight against terrorism,” the official insisted.

He said that swift action taken by the Pakistani security forces also debunked the oft-repeated allegation that the country was reluctant to go after all militant groups.

But will this mark a positive shift in the otherwise troubled relationship between the two countries?

In the short run that seems to be the case given the reaction coming from Washington. Pakistan had won a rare praise from President Donald Trump, who called it a ‘positive moment’ in Pak-US relations.

US Defence Secretary James Mattis, who until recently was critical of Pakistan’s policies, also showered praise on the military for the successful operation.

But officials here believe that it was not sagacious on the part of Trump to give a statement in a manner as if it was his new strategy that compelled Pakistan to take this action.

“This has certainly not been taken positively in Pakistan,” commented one official.

Rescued US-Canadian family heads back home on PIA flight

Analysts believe the rescue of the couple may have helped break the ice between Pakistan and the US, but the issues the two countries have been facing are too complex to be sorted out because of one event.

The major issue is that whether the two countries share the same vision for Afghanistan and beyond. Trump’s new strategy suggests otherwise.

While the new US administration is laying a greater emphasis on exercising the use of force to settle the long-running conflict, Pakistan is adamant on seeking a dialogue.

The more important issue for Pakistan is the apparent US tilt towards India. Pakistan is increasingly concerned at the US approach, giving greater role to India in the Afghan affairs.

Similarly, Islamabad is also not happy with the recent move by the US to publicly oppose CPEC. Nevertheless, officials said, the rescue of hostages created a positive atmosphere for the upcoming visits of US defence and state secretaries to Pakistan.

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