From their climb down a steep ladder, Pakistan-America relations have gone into a chaotic slide down a rocky cliff, with no means available to cushion the fall. Pressure from Washington over the past few weeks, that action be taken against the North Waziristan-based Haqqani network, has mounted quickly to a crescendo coming from both civilian and military leaders, notably after the 20-hour siege of the US Embassy in Kabul and Admiral Mike Mullen’s public remarks that the attack was orchestrated by the ISI. This was followed by a visit from the US Centcom chief on Friday, after which an extraordinary meeting of corps commanders was held on Sunday. The latter, according to a report, have decided that Pakistan will not be going into North Waziristan as the US would like it to, because enough has been done by it already in the war on terror. The civilian government, meanwhile, has adopted what appears to be a more sensible and pragmatic approach, with the prime minister calling a conference of all major parties to discuss the delicate situation. This suggests two things: the first is the obvious, that there are clearly two centres of power at work in the country and the more powerful already decided on Sunday that no more operations would be carried out at America’s bidding. The second, which should be paramount in a truly functional democracy, is still at work and is trying to formulate a response.
When the all-party conference is held, hopefully the participants will realise that it is not in Pakistan’s interest to allow terrorists safe havens on its soil or allow such elements to launch attacks on other countries from inside Pakistan. This cannot be justified or defended under any circumstance. It takes away any moral high-ground one may have vis-à-vis, say, in an argument which suggests that Pakistan has already done a lot for the war on terror and at an enormous cost. In any case, a counter-argument to this is ready, in that the Haqqanis have close ties to the Taliban and to al Qaeda, both of whom have inflicted heavy damage over the years on Pakistan’s hapless citizens and indeed on the Pakistani military and law-enforcement apparatus as well. This argument further goes that the notion of strategic depth is in fact deeply flawed and that it does not make sense for Pakistan to back a horse in Afghanistan — i.e. the Taliban — which didn’t perform all too well the last time it was given a chance to run. The Taliban inflicted huge suffering on the Afghan people — most notably on women and minorities and in fact, they have done their bit to contribute to increasing intolerance and bigotry inside Pakistan as well. Following the installation of the Taliban in Kabul in the 1990s, Pakistan ended up becoming a near-pariah in the world and was more or less compelled to side with the US, following 9/11. Why can’t Pakistan let the Afghan people decide or, at the very least, back those who are not extremists and who will, once in power, not force the rest of the Afghans to follow a rigid and retrogressive version of their faith, who will not force women to be kept inside their homes and will not morally police the people?
As for the corps commanders’ conference, one would have to wonder, (following as it did the US Centcom chief’s visit to Pakistan) whether any ultimatum was given, and if the Pakistanis were told in clear terms: “Here are the targets and if you don’t go in and dismantle them, we will do it for you”. One hopes that when the politicians meet and talk over this, they will also ask themselves that isn’t a country, that allows terrorists to use its soil to carry out attacks on other countries, morally bound to act against such elements? The threat of unilateral US action is a very real one, but it needs to be understood why and how the threat materialised in the first place and whether we and our policies share some of the blame for it. The situation can be warded off only if our political parties demonstrate maturity, acumen and a readiness to do what is right. In confrontations between Pakistan and India, it would be the US often acting as an intermediary in cooling tensions between the two — who will do that now?
Published in The Express Tribune, September 27th, 2011.