Nato Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen has invited President Asif Ali Zardari to the historic gathering of over 60 world leaders in Chicago on May 20 and 21 to resolve the Afghan issue before the Nato forces start leaving Afghanistan. President Zardari is said to have accepted the invitation as per earlier negotiations to finally resolve the deadlock which developed at the end of 2011 between the US and Pakistan and which had led to Pakistan boycotting the 2011 Bonn Summit.
The Defence Committee of the Cabinet has given the go ahead to lift the almost six-month-long blockade on Nato supplies passing through the country, an issue that had brought US-Nato relations with Pakistan to their lowest. A consensual but abnormally slow-grinding process, producing a set of recommendations took the country’s foreign policy out of the ambit of normal diplomacy. After realising — despite a lot of ‘patriotic’ commentary by angry analysts — that letting parliament in on foreign policy was an excessive step, the establishment finally decided to go back to tried-and-tested diplomacy.
Parliament had front-loaded two issues that were pre-eminently suited for diplomatic negotiation and likely to give Pakistan an upper hand, had diplomacy not been undercut by emotional representatives of the people equally driven by an emotional establishment: drone attacks and an apology by the US on the Salala incident. Thus, Pakistan needlessly tested the limits of its power and influence as a frontline state only to find that relying on emotion and notions of honour, instead of reason and logic, to determine such an important policy matter was a route that it should never have adopted.
The Bonn conference on Afghanistan in December last year bore no significant results, which was no surprise. Pakistan had stayed away, the Iranians attended but were rather tentative in their commitment, aid donors had held back to see what other aid donors would do, and Afghan president Hamid Karzai had painted a discouraging picture of what looked like indefinite dependence of his country on international largesse. The timing of the Bonn summit was bad. Pakistan-US relations had hit rock bottom, though everybody still recognised that Pakistan remained the most important of the regional players. America’s relations with Iran were bad then and remain bad this time too, unless Teheran reformulates its stance. Is there a window of opportunity for Pakistan to do some give-and-take on Afghanistan to get the US-Nato approval on the Iranian gas pipeline? Another topic on which the popular feeling in Pakistan is quite intense. First China and then Russia — both sanctions-busters vis-à-vis Iran — have backed out of constructing the pipeline on the Pakistani side.
It is time we became realistic about the conduct of Pakistan’s foreign policy and realised that Afghanistan is a nettlesome issue on which we don’t have a coherent policy except for that embarrassing and only half-heartedly claimed doctrine of “strategic depth”. High-ranking officers of the army serving in the field against Taliban terrorists have said that Pakistan would be in trouble if the Taliban took over again in Kabul. Equally, past decisions have put Pakistan at cross-purposes with the anti-Taliban elements in Afghanistan called the Northern Alliance.
Both the drone and “apology” issues have to be recalibrated away from the high passion of the various state and non-state actors in Pakistan. Regaining mutual confidence — which should be properly anointed by suitable assistance to Pakistan to save its economy from going belly-up — is the goal in the achievement of which the Bonn summit should have been a useful locus for Pakistan. Pakistan has broken out of suicidal isolation by a last-minute bout of sanity. Both parliament and the military should step back and see what they did and how they could have done things differently, especially given that in the end Pakistan got neither an apology from the Americans, nor a halt to the drone attacks.
Published in The Express Tribune, May 17th, 2012.