Time to be flexible with the Americans

Published: May 8, 2012
The writer is a defence analyst who retired as an air 
vice-marshal in the Pakistan Air Force

The writer is a defence analyst who retired as an air vice-marshal in the Pakistan Air Force

I must admit I have been a supporter of getting on with the Americans. My reasons have been pretty straight: stopping the war in Afghanistan is key to bringing about some control over the violence that has engulfed Pakistan. And this can only happen if a semblance of stability takes hold in Afghanistan giving enough confidence to the Americans to be reassured about their 2014 withdrawal as planned, if not a year earlier. Withdrawal of foreign forces will nullify the primary cause of Afghan resistance and could lead to increased chances of peace and stability. That is also the key to the Afghans vacating Pakistani territories and proceeding back to their own country. Left with its own deviants, Pakistan can then employ the necessary means to bring them back to the normal fold, or at least, have a clearly defined ‘Enemy of the State’ that it must put down.

For the war to stop then the Pakistanis and the Americans must work together and that is only possible if they are talking to each other. The inverse is true as well. Any reason given to the American military machine to hang on to Afghanistan means a continuation of the war and the associated strife; which really means Pakistan remains in the hot-house that it has been in ever since this war against terror began. I mean that much more in the socioeconomic sense, which then becomes the perpetuating factor of both the war and the associated socioeconomic strife by providing easy recruits out of an increasingly dispossessed population. Obviously we want out of this dark hole. Pakistan must do all to make it easier for the Americans to leave, even if that means working with them in the face of popular anti-Americanism — despite Salala and the drones.

Why can’t we get on with the Americans? Simply, because the combined wisdom of parliament among other things has suggested that the Americans offer an apology over Salala, and that the Americans must cease drone operations over Pakistan? When these prerequisites are met, will the relationship be reestablished along some agreed lines and supplies from Pakistan begin to flow?

The apology bit first.

The Americans played hard with Pakistan after Salala by first refusing to accept their obvious mistake when they killed 26 Pakistani troops in a deliberately targeted attack that violated all precepts of war by using disproportionate force, practically picking out each soldier in engagement with gunship helicopters. Their effort to browbeat Pakistan into accepting their rather innocuous inquiry into this homicidal adventure was successfully thwarted. They have reluctantly come around to a popular Pakistani position that has demanded an unqualified apology over the incident. However, this was some time back.

Feelers began to arrive sometime in February that the US indeed might offer a public apology. It was widely believed that this might happen when Hillary Clinton and Hina Khar were to meet in London somewhere around that time. But by then, Pakistan had taken a popular public position that relations with America were now to be guided by parliament — and the government sought a delay with a view to time it with a parliamentary committee’s completion of the review process, as well as to accrue political gains domestically. Pakistan missed an opportunity which, though largely symbolic, would have added space for a reset of the bilateral relations. Both sides need to get through this despite the distinct possibility that each will now need to pay a political price for it.

Next on to the drones: the other beast that is complex in strategic effect, yet brilliant in tactical utility. Both sides frame the proposition on drones in a different light and it is important that the contexts be clearly understood. First, whom does the strategic negativity of using drones affect? Not the US, since to the Americans its application is purely tactical, meant to gain tactical benefit, and feeds into their larger military objective of weakening the Taliban and eliminating al Qaeda. The adverse strategic fallout is for Pakistan which must face up to a local reaction when such disproportional force is used to eliminate a few militants (and which ends up taking the lives of a few more in the vicinity of the target(s) — the unintended collateral damage). Drones provide to the Americans a disproportionate advantage that tilts the battlefield in their favour. Do the Americans mind that? This mismatch of the nature of effects to both sides, tactical versus strategic, makes it a rather complex issue to agree on. Parliament’s insistence that this remains an essential precondition makes matters worse.

Drones are a bonafide tool of war, and a brilliant one at that. Their use — at times in support of Pakistan’s own operations against militants — has given beneficial dividends. Any side which perceives being aggressed upon by the presence of drones though has the right to intercept those and bring them down. Pakistan is wary of such a route because of the implied consequences and because that may give reason to the Americans to first, expand the war and drone targets to the Pakistani territories, and two, make them stay longer in Afghanistan (which would end up countervailing Islamabad’s strategic interest in seeing the Americans leave Afghanistan sooner than later).

As for parliament’s role, it has to be said that parliamentary enunciations of popular sentiment as a policy guideline is not a good idea. Even if the advice is not binding, such formulations can exercise a regressive pull if the negotiations towards such a policy are meant to find an agreeable mean. That flexibility must stay with the negotiators and is the space in which agreements can be decided upon. So what is the solution? We should avoid insisting on any of these as quid pro quo if the intent is to indeed find a workable framework with the US. We need to work around them; negotiate an agreeable operational methodology for the drones; it may be the more acceptable evil when compared with the alternatives that an ongoing war can throw at us.

Published in The Express Tribune, May 8th, 2012.

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Reader Comments (48)

  • BlackJack
    May 8, 2012 - 12:29AM

    To cut to the chase, the article recommends bringing back Pak-US relations from the brink by giving up on demands for an apology for Salala or termination of drone strikes. Seems to have been an elaborate exercise in making a nation appear collectively dim-witted.


  • Batman
    May 8, 2012 - 12:33AM

    We are already way too much flexible.


  • Syed Ali
    May 8, 2012 - 1:01AM

    @author! basically what you are saying is that ” keep working on purani tankhaw (old salary)” and do not raise issue of promotion or complaint about any thing. If we do so, it may result in firing from job. good analysis. But what is your advice to Americans? What do they really want? Do they really want to end this conflict? I guess white house and state department do wants to but CIA and Pentagon do not. In this matter, the latter are calling the shots and states department or white house are in back ground and have not been very objective. I suspect that they (US army/CIA) will keep thier breath on hold, sitting tight and wait for the next presidental elections. A Romeny/Republican win will almost mean an extension of miltary campaign in Af-Pak. In the meantime, if they are able to get the PAK ground routes get opened, well and good, otherwise, they will continue to use the northren route.


  • Logic Europe
    May 8, 2012 - 1:22AM

    sir ,I must admit ,you have a very simple mind,bravo


  • John B
    May 8, 2012 - 1:23AM

    Drones are non negotiable as far as US is concerned and an apology from US means that US investigation is flawed and PAK investigation on the soldiers attack has veracity. So in the end, none of the resolutions by parliamentary committee recommendation will have any consequences in the reopening negotiations of NATO supply route.

    In the upcoming NATO summit in Chicago possible sanctions against PAK might also be discussed and may become reality. PAK does not have leverage in this matter and continued closing of supply route will also mean continued presence of NATO in Afghanistan.

    PAK has dug her own grave by closing the NATO supply route and has to find a solution on her own to come out of it. I do not see this happening any time soon and this is more perilous to PAK than to the US.

    What is left to negotiate in this matter is tariff and if reports from other news media are correct that is only one being negotiated. So flexibility is on the money and tariff not on the drones and apology.

    And we all know PAK can finally settle for money. So, no sweat.


  • Logic Europe
    May 8, 2012 - 1:25AM

    life is a bit more complicated


  • Anjaan
    May 8, 2012 - 2:02AM

    The author has come around to the obvious …… time to be flexible, another way of saying that there has been enough of dramabazi, now give up the pretense, eat humble pie, take the dollars and the free weapons, and open the NATO supply route. After all there is a lot to gain in this hard times, simply by giving up the pretense of taking a bold stand.Recommend

  • Imran Con
    May 8, 2012 - 2:08AM

    It’s hardly worth debating. Pakistan has worn out most of the planet’s patience. The Pakistan government is beyond thick. Just look at all of them repeating the same thing over and over like it’s news. “Our conditions are that drones need to stop” gets said repeatedly as if they haven’t heard everyone else yelling in their ear “we’re not stopping them.” Also the ever so fun “give us the drone technology to do it.” When it should be extremely obvious nobody is going to trust Pakistan with those and they won’t acknowledge it just like they don’t acknowledge everything else they’ve been given or put those things to the proper intended use. Also you have the obvious “we’ll use them for our gain because we’re so clever” Pakistani tone to it. That’s always annoying and it’s always obvious.


  • fahim
    May 8, 2012 - 2:11AM

    we always find a logic to escape when are in backfoot, which is rather too often. I can bet search ET for past 6 months and feed hundred articles to play hard ball to Americans no matter what. Even parliament took a strong foot forward, only to find that all our strategies are mostly useless or requests immaterial to our opponents, as other nations give a damn what a failed state thinks. In defence, we promptly seek refuge in alternate theories like this, and wisely justify our change in position. Be it the wars we started, OBL, PNS, Balochistan, CBT with India or pulling troops from Siachen, we never fall short to wiggle our way out with completely opposing views.


  • ayesha_khan
    May 8, 2012 - 2:32AM

    So if I can sum up, what you are saying is:
    It is tn Pakistan’s interest to open the supply routes EVEN IF
    – US does not apologize
    – US does not stop drones.-

    Did I miss something?


  • Rationalist
    May 8, 2012 - 2:49AM

    “For the war to stop then the Pakistanis and the Americans must work together and that is only possible if they are talking to each other.”

    Wrong! Now the truth: The war would have ended a lot sooner if Pakistan had not pursued the strategy of supporting the anti-Afghan terrorists. Well, in fact, the war would have never started if Pakistan had not created the Taliban and supported and housed all the top Al Qaeda terrorists.

    “The Americans played hard with Pakistan after Salala by first refusing to accept their obvious mistake when they killed 26 Pakistani troops in a deliberately targeted attack that violated all precepts of war by using disproportionate force, practically picking out each soldier in engagement with gunship helicopters.”

    Not true. The incident happened because the Pakistani troops were giving protection and cover fire to the anti-Nato terrorists. This incident was just another outcome of Pakistan’s policy of double-games.


  • ashok
    May 8, 2012 - 2:53AM

    Pakistan-USA transactional relationship is a perfect example of HOAR CHOOPO for both.


  • Adeel759
    May 8, 2012 - 2:59AM

    Unexpectedly flawed argument. Author went on to having the problems resolved without giving any explanation of his Problem Resolving Idea of “Agreeable Methodology for Drones”. How easy he makes it, impressive AM Sahib. Why cant you pass this “Agreeable Methodology For Drones”, the unique idea to GHQ


  • Thoughtful
    May 8, 2012 - 3:19AM

    There will be no apology for Salala. Regrets ,condolences ,yes, but no apologies. The US report blames both sides. Should not then both sides apologise. Firing across borders periodically is not an acceptable standard operating procedure guys.


  • Adeel759
    May 8, 2012 - 3:26AM

    Understandably, AM Sahib is not concerned about the sentiments of the People Of Pakistan as Pakistani Generals have never been, not the first time. But AM Sahib politicians are ought to, and they are listening to the voices being raised. On other hand it was, PakMil which made these politicians take tougher stand on Apology, Drones and Supply Line, backfired huh.


  • Falcon
    May 8, 2012 - 3:52AM

    Shahzad Sahab-
    First of all, I love your grasp on the issue of local militancy and I agree with your proposal to a large extent. However, I am afraid you are making a naive assumption that America is in the region to just keep terrorists in check and if peace prevails, they will leave. There is a good probability that is not the case and they are here to pursue their ‘strategic interests’ in the region. However, I do agree that till the time things get better in Afghanistan, they will continue to have a marketing material to sell this war to tax-payers back home.


  • Sunil
    May 8, 2012 - 4:09AM

    Wow — those were a lot of heavy words.Recommend

  • Babloo
    May 8, 2012 - 4:21AM

    A punjabi tale..
    a person found guilty, is offered choice of punishment.
    He can eat 100 gandais ( onions ) or 100 chittar ( slaps ).
    He offers to eat 100 onions.
    After eating the 3rd onion, he opts to go for 100 ‘chittars’.
    After the 5th chittar, he opts to go for eating onions instead.
    He continues to change his position , alternately eating onions or receiving chittars.
    He ends up eating 100 onions and receiving 100 chittars.
    Pakistan’s bargaining position with USA, as it blocks NATO routes, reminds me of the person who ended up eating 100 onions and receiving 100 chittars.


  • Moko
    May 8, 2012 - 4:55AM

    NATO forces believe that the militants fire over the shoulders of the Pak army on the border. Is it with tacit co-operation from Pak army , or just a Taliban strategy ? If NATO forces are on a hot chase, and the Taliban cross the Pak border, NATO forces fire on the real/virtual enemy. Collateral damage.


  • Kaalchakra
    May 8, 2012 - 5:40AM

    Shame on anyone who recommends Pakistan give up its principled strand and agree to totally false accusations by the US. With faith, unity, and discipline Pakistan can make mince-meat of America and America will soon meet the fate of Soviet Union.


  • Adeel759
    May 8, 2012 - 6:04AM

    @Syed Ali. Not only that he is recommending Old Salary, his idea of Agreeable Operational Methodology For Drives is also too simplistic.Recommend

  • ashok
    May 8, 2012 - 7:39AM

    Change before you have to!


  • Singh
    May 8, 2012 - 7:52AM

    Wake up you are day dreaming in broad day light. Can you control the Lyari first. hehehehe


  • Rao
    May 8, 2012 - 8:18AM

    The time has been changed, USA does not need Pakistan now, so Pakistani policy maker should not live in fool’s paradise.By the way, they have never been rational ,these policy makers including military establishment has pondered Pakistan for their own interests.


  • Imran
    May 8, 2012 - 8:29AM

    Pasha is the person responsible for leaving the Pakistani nation in this mess. The world has called your bluff and now you would have to work at a downgraded salary.


  • Imran
    May 8, 2012 - 8:32AM

    About a month ago this “genius” was saying just the opposite. I just wonder what made him qualify to be Air Vice Marshall. The sorry state of affairs of the Armed forces is primary because of soldiers of the likes of him. Lets hope the next lot will have thorough professionals.


  • You Said It
    May 8, 2012 - 9:37AM

    Summary of article: our genius generals came up with brilliant strategy to pressure US to agree to our terms on drones and apologize and give us aid because they knew US needed us more than we needed them. Except it turns out US doesn’t need us after all.

    So to the galaxy of brilliant GHQ strategies which includes such gems as: “strategic depth” (1990s), “defence of East Pakistan lies in West Pakistan” (1971), “”they are not our soldiers, they are freedom-fighters” (Kargil), we can now add “they need us more than we need them”.


  • ayesha_khan
    May 8, 2012 - 10:38AM

    @Rationalist: “The incident happened because the Pakistani troops were giving protection and cover fire to the anti-Nato terrorists. This incident was just another outcome of Pakistan’s policy of double-games.”

    This is a game they perfected in Kashmir where routinely Pak soldiers would offer cover fire to jihadis throughout the 1990s and until 2002 when Parliament failed attack made Vajpayee bring theroops to the border in an eyebal to eyeball confrontation. At that point Musharraf blinked and started down the path of ‘out of box solustion’. No sooner did Musharraf leave (Aug 2008) that the new people forgot the past lessons and tried 26/11. They get away with India but cannot get away with US


  • jimmy
    May 8, 2012 - 11:58AM

    @Kaalchakra: lol osama was caught by usa armed forces right under pakistan’s army nose..what makes you think u stand a chance against usa…they will blow u up in minutes… besides u did nt win the soviet war …it was 3 vs 1 : usa, pak and afghanistan (plus militants) vs russia …if it was only russia vs pak…they would have destroyed u in pieces….stope dreaming…tell me why does china sell you military equipments which they themselves or no one in the world ( iam talking abt the major military buyers, excluding india) buys them…only pak does…nt even china uses them ! use yr brains…


  • Polpot
    May 8, 2012 - 12:20PM

    My two bit to solve this stalemate

    The Govt should take a prominent hoarding in Islamabad and paint it with a message that the Americans have indeed apologised.

    Ask the Americans to paint the drones white…and call them Pigeons of Peace.

    Matter over. Where shall i forward my resume for the FO?


  • Javaad Ali
    May 8, 2012 - 3:54PM

    We should ask those Pakistani Citizens (Yes ….. they ARE Pakistani CITIZENS) who have lost their near and dear ones in the drone strikes if those who haven’t lost anybody can conveniently do an about face and kiss Uncle Sam.

    I lived in the US for 10 years and have a great regard for many Americans

    I also know that that the mess we Pakistani’s are in today is primarily our own doing

    But will still NOT support a drone strike on my fellow Pakistanis however Damn Good that weapon may be


  • Hedgefunder
    May 8, 2012 - 4:05PM

    “Shame on anyone who recommends Pakistan give up its principled strand and agree to totally false accusations by the US. With faith, unity, and discipline Pakistan can make mince-meat of America and America will soon meet the fate of Soviet Union. “

    Which world do you live in? Ever bothered to look around you??
    US is just awaiting another opportunity of any further evidence of Pakistani complicity, and trust me they will put Boots on the ground !
    After all there isn’t much Sovereignty in northern Pakistan left, except for what those in power really feed you !!!!
    Trust me, this war would have ended, had Pakistan been sincere in their partnership from day one !


  • May 8, 2012 - 4:38PM

    Pakistan can only get out this Afghan Mess through patient negotiations . You cannot do it in a rush whatever the Parliament says. The Envoys Conference had suggested caution.


  • Meekal Ahmed
    May 8, 2012 - 5:30PM


    Pakistan make mince-meat of America?

    How? You gotta plan we don’t know about?


  • Pakistani
    May 8, 2012 - 5:35PM

    I am so disappointed by reading this blog and article, what happened to our self esteem we have lost as a nation, how pity that we are afraid of US being a Muslim, do we deserve to be called Muslim?


  • G. Din
    May 8, 2012 - 5:39PM

    “Time to be flexible with the Americans”
    You don’t get it, do you, Air Vice Marshall? No one is going to ask you your opinion any more. It is time to show how sincere you are by how quickly you grasp the few scraps that are thrown your way. Show even a little hesitation and your goose is cooked. That is what you get when you try to act smarter by half with those who can roll over you and not even notice the bump!


  • Vanjara
    May 8, 2012 - 6:18PM

    I can’t believe some of the offensive comments by Indians that this newspaper allows. No other paper in any other country would let them through, not even in the West. Sometimes I can see why so many people in Pakistan believe the ET is nothing more than a propaganda organ of the CIA.


  • Ashvinn
    May 8, 2012 - 6:23PM

    Let know when you do mince America, will make good curry of the American meat.Recommend

  • Kaalchakra
    May 8, 2012 - 6:30PM


    America is not as strong as you think. Faith, unity, discipline – without that no ultimate victories can be achieved.


  • Hedgefunder
    May 8, 2012 - 6:39PM

    Why are you reading ET, then??? Which western publications are you refering to??? Ever bothered to read any???


  • Hedgefunder
    May 8, 2012 - 6:44PM

    “America is not as strong as you think. Faith, unity, discipline – without that no ultimate victories can be achieved.”

    So where are the above mentioned qualities in Pakistani society???
    I suppose these are all stored in your Madrassas, all across the Country !!!!


  • SM
    May 8, 2012 - 10:00PM

    Pakistan has been more than flexible in the face of the do more, do more mantra the Americans keep chanting… The Americans get their way on everything. I say no more yes or flexibility to the Americans.


  • SM
    May 8, 2012 - 10:02PM

    @John B:
    Who cares what you Americans think? You need to get out of our region and focus on your region. You are a problem for Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, Turkey .. need I name more?


  • You Said It
    May 9, 2012 - 2:55AM

    What has being Muslim got to do with NATO supplies and drone strikes? Certainly being Muslim hasn’t kept Pakistan from saying one thing to the US about being allies and then supporting terrorists who attack US forces.

    The world is a fairly simple place: you either do what you promise, or others do it. Our ghairat was lost when we didn’t keep our word on being an ally. Why pretend to save it now?


  • observer
    May 9, 2012 - 9:40AM


    Who cares what you Americans think? You need to get out of our region and focus on your region.

    Does the advice also apply to the putative descendants of Arabs in the South Asian region?


  • Pakistani
    May 9, 2012 - 11:09AM

    @You Said It.

    I am amazed that you know what ghairat is, and still you are saying what Muslims has to do with NATO supplies and drone attacks, I think you should study about the Dhaka fall and try to know who was actually mukti bhaini is? and how these yahood and nassara make conspiracy against Muslims, although people like Mir Jaffer, Mir Sadiq and now another name added Mir Hamid was also Muslims who are part of these conspiracy weaved against Muslims.

    However, we as a nation should not be a part of any supplies who are killing Muslims in any part of the world.


  • A Peshawary
    May 9, 2012 - 11:46AM

    All these retired generals, AVM and other retired forces senior officials, no doubt were and are the saviours of our nations. It is also a fact that a amassed lot of land/property and money during their services. Why cant’ they continue serving the nation by using thier energies, wisdom and wealth into prodcutive channels? instead of becoming political pundits. They should take business intitiatives to help lot of poor families by creating employement opportunites for them. They have become wizards of drawing room and midea gossips. Please let us become business tycoons to support our fregile economy. Most propbably it not their domain.
    A Peshawary


  • malik
    May 10, 2012 - 10:39PM

    How come suddenly all the think-tank chiefs have come round to the view that arm-twisting US has to be stopped ?

    I guess the establishment knows that the money they have in the kitty is not enough to keep the kitchen burning for more than 2 months and that’s why the coordinated noise to coax some funds of Americans have started coming.

    I have a feeling that the government and the army have an inkling of gloomy days ahead; otherwise, so many articles will not appear all of a sudden, all talking in same tone, all saying that Pak has no option left but to agree to the terms of US. We are always told that US needs Pak more than Pak needs US. Is this theory being dumped now ?


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