Life beyond Chicago

Published: May 27, 2012
The writer is a former foreign secretary and former ambassador to several countries including Iran, Russia and France

The writer is a former foreign secretary and former ambassador to several countries including Iran, Russia and France

When I wrote in this space last Monday on the Nato summit, the agenda looked clear. Nato would build on earlier templates to maintain its raison d’être two decades after the collapse of the Warsaw pact, decide if and how it can become, in Washington-speak, “a hub of global security” in a time of economic austerity, decide future projects for conventional and nuclear capabilities, approve the plan to wind down the decade -old campaign in Afghanistan and secure pledges for burden-sharing in sustaining the 350,000-strong Afghan National Security Force (ANSF). Considering Pakistan’s salience in the Afghanistan project till and beyond 2014 and that Pakistan’s leadership had used public and private channels to hold out the assurance that the ‘ground lines of communication’ (GLOCS) would reopen any moment, President Asif Ali Zardari should have been welcomed, if somewhat belatedly, as an indispensible partner.

By the afternoon of May 21, an unseasonable fog had descended on McCormick Place Chicago so far as Pakistan’s credentials were concerned. The media of the host country latched on to the word ‘snub’ administered reportedly because overland Nato supplies had, rather inexplicably, not resumed, with the Pakistanis still harping on an apology for the deaths at Salala — in the case of Pakistan’s ambassador to the US, somewhat unfashionably — and because haggling in the proverbial oriental bazaar over transit fees was assuming unrealistic dimensions. Bemused, many Pakistani analysts concluded tentatively that there was no real crisis but an orchestration in mutual complicity by which Pakistan would be portrayed as standing firm in defence of its sovereignty, honour and, of course fair compensation for the degradation of its infrastructure. As to a full restoration of amour propre in the form of an apology, wait for Act II.

This would have made sense but for the projection of events in the host country. Bruce Riedel, who is credited to have been the first expert to warn President Barack Obama against the perfidious Pakistanis, demurred: it was, he said, “bad form” not to hold a full-fledged meeting with Zardari in Chicago; the ‘snub’ was going to “come home to haunt us”. The Heritage Foundation’s Lisa Curtis, a permanent fixture on Indian TV channels’ talk shows concerning Pakistan, did not think it was a “personal snub” to President Zardari. President Obama said he “did not want to paper over the cracks” and mentioned recent tensions between Isaf and Pakistan. Given the interest in the US administration and Congress in Dr Shakil Afridi, an uproar against the 33-year sentence handed down to him by a tribal court under Pakistan’s draconian Frontier Crimes Regulations  has already begun. (Cue: enter Rahman Malik.)

Just when lesser mortals in Pakistan were piecing together the disparate images from Chicago, this newspaper reported an exclusive conversation of its US-based correspondent with Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar in which she described Pakistan’s participation as “very, very successful”. Khar gave the impression that Pakistan was able to carry conviction as “an enabler, facilitator, a responsible country” on the road to Afghan stability. The vote in the US Senate sub-committee on appropriations on foreign aid signalled the opposite as, indeed, did Senator John McCain when he accused Pakistan of extortion. So, perhaps, the Chicago summit did present a conundrum.

Be it as it may, there may be nothing enigmatic about the situation; it may simply be a question of living with inherent contradictions of a badly fractured relationship. Nato supplies may begin soon, the apology issue may be appropriately fudged and the haggling in the Oriental bazaar settled for a lower-end closure. Simultaneously, Pakistan may already have suffered a fresh setback inasmuch as it gets even more marginalised in the Afghan endgame.

Consider the future. The Nato-led combat mission ends in 2014; a new post-2014 non-combat mission props up the ANSF and a fragile political structure; security and counter-insurgency operations are transferred to an ill-conceived, ethnically unbalanced Afghan army with no credible peace process in place. Without an inclusive settlement, the worst case scenario is a civil war. Such a conflict will be a nightmare for Pakistan. This grim prospect is emerging when the Pakistani government and the army are in danger of losing the plot altogether. It is time to get back to the drawing board and think things through. There is not much time to lose.

Published in The Express Tribune, May 28th, 2012.

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Reader Comments (20)

  • Cautious
    May 27, 2012 - 11:05PM

    This grim prospect is emerging when
    the Pakistani government and the army
    are in danger of losing the plot

    The Afghan end game has already been decided – the USA will change focus from civilian to military and leave a small, cost effective and lethal military footprint which will allow America to achieve it’s strategic goal without depending on Pakistan. It’s likely that Afghanistan will descend into civil war which may not bode well for Pakistan – but that’s not an issue that is considered paramount to America or the rest of the World. You had your chance to help and you outsmarted yourselves right out of the game — now it’s time to sleep in the bed you made.


  • Ali Tanoli
    May 28, 2012 - 12:18AM

    Afghanistan dont have Arabian sea so its hard to stay in for U.S too long.


  • Mir Agha
    May 28, 2012 - 1:30AM

    Civil war in Afghanistan means erosion of support for US presence. It is certainly not a bad thing to have the fight be in Afghanistan with the foreigners desperately trying to patch up a viable “endgame”, something which is not in there capability. Trying to do something which couldn’t be done with a larger footprint is the height of hubris. The only thing Pakistan needs to do is to ensure as much as possible that the civil war perpetuates in Afghanistan with not too much consequences (refugees).


  • Babloo
    May 28, 2012 - 1:31AM

    So you are suggesting a ‘fudging’ of the situation so as to extricate Pakistan from a precarious situation it has put itself in ? What about honor, self respect, sovereignty ?


  • Arindom
    May 28, 2012 - 2:10AM

    @Ali Tanoli:
    Cash rewards, along with Spy Satellites and Drones and midnight Special Forces raids on Taliban/ Haqqani hideouts are enough to keep the AfPak pot boiling for next 20 years. This strategy doesnot need huge military transit facilities, nor thousands and thousands of soldiers on the ground.


  • Anjaan
    May 28, 2012 - 3:40AM

    It looks like a possibility that this time around, instead of going back to the drawing board as suggested by the author, Pakistani establishment has instead made up its mind to take the high risk high reward route, in other words take its high stake poker of brinkmanship to its make or break end.

    After that there would be “na rahega baas, na bajegi bansuri”.Recommend

  • Cautious
    May 28, 2012 - 3:40AM

    @Ali Tanoli.

    Afghanistan dont have Arabian sea so
    its hard to stay in for U.S too long.

    I would observe that even with 130,000+ men depending on supplies the USA seems to be doing fine without using Pakistan’s land route – when that footprint is shrunk to special forces, drones, and fighter bombers it’s unlikely that Pakistan’s leverage increases. Overestimating leverage combined with anti American blather is what put Pakistan in this unfortunate position.


  • Imran Con
    May 28, 2012 - 4:38AM

    @Ali Tanoli:
    Gold medal for gibberish.


  • Truthbetold
    May 28, 2012 - 5:19AM

    @Ali Tanoli:

    “Afghanistan dont have Arabian sea so its hard to stay in for U.S too long.”

    That is a very ill-informed or wishful conclusion. Afghanistan will have a route to the sea through Iran. India has already constructed the Chabahar port in Iran and the new road to Afghansitan.


  • The 21st Century
    May 28, 2012 - 5:21AM

    @Ali Tanoli

    Ever hear of airplanes? The “small, cost effective and lethal military footprint” that Cautious referred to will not be dependant on ocean shipping.


  • Prakash
    May 28, 2012 - 7:54AM

    Author is correct Pakistan has to act now to stop the Afghan slide to chaos and it was golden historical opportunity for Pakistan to fix instability on its western border utilizing the ISAF presence in Afghanistan instead it is trying to hamper the ISAF effort.


  • Jim
    May 28, 2012 - 10:05AM

    Forget about snub to Zardari and Pakistan, Americans will remember this ‘price-gouging’ for a long time. And they will be reminded if they forget. Pakistan may get $ 1000 or $ 2000 or whatever for a few weeks and months, but they may have kissed goodbye billions of $$$ in the coming years. Plus who knows what other horrors will come to visit you (floods, earthquakes, avalanches etc) and you will look to America/Nato for help. Foolish. Very foolish.


  • FactrCheck
    May 28, 2012 - 3:24PM

    Pakistan is looking to borrow $5 billion from the IMF. There are no loan agreements exist since the last one was cancelled in 2008. Let us play some game theory here and let us assume IMF loan does not come without the West supporting it and most of them are NATO countries.

    Not that the land route really matters when troops are being drawn down but for just argument sake, let us say open the land route we may consider giving a loan and we will pay $500 million installments. What do you think Pakistan will do?

    People, you are not in control and you have zero control over your country’s affairs, it is house built with match sticks, it is either going to collapse or catch fire.


  • Polpot
    May 28, 2012 - 3:28PM

    Post Chicago, the avalanche of snow that had fallen on Siachen had also enveloped the Pakistani Foreign Policy.
    The policy is now in deep freeze.


  • Polpot
    May 28, 2012 - 3:30PM

    Ms Khar with her slogan of ” very very successful” Chicago Meet reminds me of Ms Paris Hilton.


  • Polpot
    May 28, 2012 - 3:37PM

    Pakistan’s Role in the Afghan End Game: Snatching defeat from the Jaws of Victory


  • Meekal Ahmed
    May 28, 2012 - 3:58PM

    Look forward to you telling us, Sir, the road to “thinking things through”.


  • Polpot
    May 28, 2012 - 5:36PM

    “It is time to get back to the drawing board and think things through. ”
    Let me lend a helping hand.

    1.Let John Kerry visit Pakistan and be profusely apologetic. Then accept his apology.

    2.Announce that US has agreed to cut Drone attacks in a phased manner. And also
    announce that all drone attacks will be with prior Pakistani agreement.
    3. A detailed study will be jointly implemented to determine the costs per container.
    In the meanwhile since US has met the precondtions set by the Parliament, the supply for Nato will commence at the earlier rates.
    4. Announce a joint summit between Ms Khar and Hillary Clinton with great fanfare . Let Mr Zardari travel to Washington ( he doesnt mind)

    Ignore the posters on TE.They are spoilt. Pakistani US friendship will be higher than the Himalayas and deeper than the Oceans.


  • Singh
    May 28, 2012 - 6:25PM

    @Ali Tanoli:
    Tell me one country since WW2 which US left after establishing its foot print?


  • Ajay
    May 30, 2012 - 11:22PM

    @Singh: Great question. In addition there are many reasons why US got into this region- oil/gas in Black see area and pipelines to Arabian sea and foothold in region to check China, so why would US leave so easily? now add one more objective- unfolding Khilafat movement by Pakistani Talibans with fingers on nuclear triggers- hundreds of them !! Pakistan is playing with explosives, in my opinion.


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