Before sending his ISI chief General Zaheerul Islam to Washington to meet the CIA Director David Petraeus, Pakistan Army Chief General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani set the tone after meeting the top US commander in Afghanistan General John Allen: “The meeting helped towards improving strategic and operational understanding between the Pakistan military and ISAF”.
In Washington, General Islam expressed Pakistan’s desire to move to ‘new beginnings’, resetting cooperation in the two countries’ strategic projections. The ‘new beginnings’ indicate progress from where it was disrupted when the former ISI chief General Ahmad Shuja Pasha broke off talks with his counterpart in high dudgeon several months ago. Pakistan follows policy cues of its army with public opinion swinging along as moulded by the media and a divided political community competing in keeping the army on its right side.
Pakistan’s defiance did not last long because a voluble parliament and such ‘civil society’ organisations as the Difa-e-Pakistan Council (DPC) hammed it up and destroyed the fine nuances of the strategy adopted by the army when it closed Nato supply routes after the November 2011 Salala incident. The upshot of this overkill was that in July, Pakistan was politically cornered with its frayed economy sending out distress signals to an international community that was not willing to listen. The drop scene was that Pakistan reopened the supply route ‘for free’ but got $1.1 billion from the Coalition Support Fund that its policy had put in abeyance.
The Allen-Kayani meeting was obviously significant, possibly achieving some kind of agreement on how to handle the Haqqani network on the Pakistani side attacking Afghanistan and the terrorist Maulana Fazlullah’s gang in Nuristan and Kunar in Afghanistan attacking Malakand in Pakistan. The foreign office in Islamabad seems to have found its voice — with a go-ahead from the GHQ — when it declared dead the policy of strategic depth for which Pakistan had sacrificed more than it should have. If the army was once wedded to it, it may have backed off after seeing the dire straits that the Pakistan economy was in and the changing mood of the captains of the national economy who were in favour of opening up the occluded trade with India.
The new voice in the foreign office was expressed through Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar who defied the much dreaded DPC and opportunistic politician by saying that the ‘I am sorry’ type of apology from America was enough for Pakistan to forgive and forget, emphasising that Pakistan could not afford to be isolated. The phase in which the foreign office put its shoulder to the strategic depth obsession of the army was put aside at the risk of offending the non-state actors of the DPC. Pakistan is, therefore, well on its way to ridding itself of the international pariah status and thinking straight about confronting its internal weaknesses.
The theme of opposition to drones developed by Pakistan and its media will not be easily suppressed. To get Washington to stop them will depend on how honest Pakistan is in pledging to get after the terrorist outfits on its side and admitting its limitations in this regard. The other side will have to mount new operations in Kunar, a Wahabi stronghold, and in Nuristan, a province with little or no ISAF presence, to stop the Fazlullah gang from carrying out attacks inside Pakistan. Though Nato’s ability of precisely targeting enemies through drones might achieve results, Pakistan may have problems coping with the Haqqani network whose outreach in Pakistan is considerable outside North Waziristan. Pakistan has to overcome its passion with sovereignty and nationalism. Both concepts are unrealistic and have come to be associated with victimhood and an inclination to promote suicidal policies. The only viable strategy is one geared to promote Pakistan’s economy. There are signs that the GHQ is now desirous of this change. The war against terrorism will be fought in Pakistan whether we like it or not. And Pakistan cannot fight it alone.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 4th, 2012.