Roundtable: Afghanistan, the determining factor for Pak-US relations

Experts discuss the relationship in the backdrop of recent events.

News Desk July 20, 2012

Convergence or divergence of the viewpoint on Afghanistan is the key driver of the Pak-US relations. This was the crux of a roundtable discussion held at the Institute of Regional Studies held here on Thursday, said a press release issued by the institute.

Lieutenant General (retd) Talat Masood argued that even though an agreement on the logistical arrangements for the reopening of the NATO supply routes would soon be inked, US still had reservations about Pakistan’s efforts against the Haqqani Network (HQN), which the former considers a major threat to its forces in Afghanistan.

He maintained that assertions about Pakistan’s support for the HQN were exaggerated. He alluded to Pakistan army’s limitations in carrying out an operation in North Waziristan, and the need for coordination with the NATO forces across the border on the same as restraining factors in taking decisive action against the HQN. He further said that undertaking a military operation in North Waziristan at a time when the Americans are also negotiating with the Taliban would also be counter-productive.  “Pakistan’s future policy with respect to HQN might, thus, be determined by whether the US government designates the HQN as a terrorist organisation as suggested by its House of Representatives,” he argued.

Lt Gen Masood criticised drone attacks as “counter-productive” against the insurgency. He added that the attacks were “eroding the capacity of Pakistan as a state in the eyes of its people.” He disagreed with the notion, however, that the US was deliberately trying to destabilise Pakistan, maintaining that most of the problems that Pakistan is facing are of its own making. He questioned the commonly-held perception in Pakistan that the US wants to “denuclearise” Pakistan. He said that the US might have made contingency plans about Pakistan’s nuclear weapons in case of any emergency, but that would not amount to a concerted effort on the part of the US to denuclearise Pakistan.

Gen Masood said that the US and NATO were trying to give a greater role to India in Afghanistan because of their overall improving relations with the latter. He questioned Pakistan’s reservations about it though, arguing that Pakistan should not have any problem with any two nations wanting to improve their relations. He further said that, in trying to counter Indian influence in Afghanistan, Pakistan was getting adversarial towards Afghanistan, India, and the US, which, he argued, is not in Pakistan’s best interest.

“Pakistan should derive confidence out of its strategic location; India cannot replace Pakistan for Afghanistan,” he said.

Lt Gen (retd) Saleem Haider argued that the US did not appreciate Pakistan’s role as its ally. He cautioned against taking a military action in North Waziristan against the HQN, arguing that its fallout might be difficult for the nation to handle.

Ambassador BA Malik stressed improvement of Pakistan’s domestic situation as well as its relations with other countries in the region as leverage for having better relations with the US. “Our Indophobia has led us into an unequal alliance with India, and we haven’t been able to get out of it,” said the ambassador.

The US Embassy Deputy Political Counsellor John Hill shared some details about United States Agency for International Development’ assistance to Pakistan over the past few years, stressed that the US wanted Pakistan to succeed as a responsible nation in the international community

Published in The Express Tribune, July 20th, 2012.