Moving beyond a thaw

Published: August 14, 2012
Email
The writer was Pakistan’s ambassador to the EU from 2002-2004 and to the US in 1999
tariq.fatemi@tribune.com.pk

The writer was Pakistan’s ambassador to the EU from 2002-2004 and to the US in 1999 tariq.fatemi@tribune.com.pk

The signing of the Pakistan-US memorandum of understanding (MoU) governing supplies to US troops in Afghanistan has paved the way for the release of $1.8 billion in Coalition Support Fund, held up for two years. More importantly, it has permitted tentative moves towards a thaw in the frozen relations between the two countries.

The injection of nearly two billion dollars in Pakistan’s treasury was important, given the gradual decline in the country’s foreign exchange reserves. But of greater import is the expectation that the MoU has brought closure to the worrying decline in bilateral relations that began with the Raymond Davis affair and culminated with the Salala incident. What ensued was a bitter campaign of accusations and recriminations, in which the Pakistanis saw everything in terms of  ‘national honour’, while the Americans viewed everything as proof of Pakistan’s ‘duplicity’.

The aroused passions threatened to irretrievably damage their bilateral ties, increasingly critical to the successful conclusion of Afghanistan’s ‘endgame’. The MoU was followed by the newly appointed DG ISI’s first visit to the US. One can only hope that his talks with senior US officials were “productive” as claimed, because of the ISI’s traditionally pivotal role on both combating extremists at home and determining Pakistan’s policy on Afghanistan. In fact, even though Pakistan and the US have been close friends for many years, it has been their military and intelligence agencies that have been primary drivers of this partnership. This became much more pronounced after 9/11, when Pakistan chose close partnership with the US, in its global war on terror. Even after General (retd) Pervez Musharraf’s departure and President Barack Obama’s entry into the White House, there was little change in the substance of their ties, notwithstanding Secretary Hillary Clinton’s claims of a “strategic” relationship having been achieved.

Recent developments have confirmed that for the foreseeable future, whether Pakistan likes it or not, its relationship with the US will be determined by American perception of its cooperation on Afghanistan. This was highlighted in Senator John Kerry’s remark during confirmation hearings for Ambassadors-designate to Kabul and Islamabad that Pakistan remains central to what happens in Afghanistan. Latest reports indicating some “understanding” on the Haqqani network, with Pakistan willing to initiate a scaled down operation — provided the US assures it of sealing the border — should remove a major irritant. In fact, this network has acquired a stature far beyond anything its founders had envisaged, because it is not only the US but India and Afghanistan, too, that view it with special concern. And now, reports to the effect that Pakistan has facilitated the long-sought meeting between Afghan officials and Mullah Omar’s deputy, Mullah Baradar, should help in reducing Kabul’s (and America’s) misgivings about Pakistan’s attitude to the reconciliation efforts in Afghanistan. Moreover, if this is indicative of a gradual shift away from a desire to be the preeminent player in Afghanistan, it could help promote genuine understanding between Islamabad and Kabul. It is in this context that reports that Pakistan has been rethinking its  ‘doctrine of strategic depth’ vis-a-vis Afghanistan, is also a welcome step. This was alluded to by Ambassador Richard Olson in his Senate testimony. Recent initiatives to improve relations with India are also a step in the right direction, and not only because it finds favour with Washington, but on its own merits.

These events do indicate a thaw in Pakistan-US relations. But for bilateral ties to acquire a degree of predictability and permanence, we will have to work on multiple fronts that should include enhanced trade, meaningful American investment (building dams rather than repairing tube-wells) and engagements among civil society groups, politicians, journalists and academicians. There is no doubt that both Pakistan and the US should remain wedded to this relationship, though it has to be tempered with greater realism that includes lowered expectations. Exaggerated claims of  “strategic partnership” never jelled with reality, which is why when Salala happened, it threatened to destroy the relationship.

Published in The Express Tribune, August 15th, 2012. 

Facebook Conversations

Reader Comments (8)

  • Aug 14, 2012 - 11:44PM

    The improvement of Pakistan’s standing in Washington hasn’t occurred yet: if the restored supply chain proves once more to be an important source of Taliban supplies Americans will conclude that Pakistan has duped us yet again into keeping the Afghan conflict boiling. Matters are reaching the point where not even Senator Kerry can save the relationship – and if the Republicans increase their control of the Congress and regain the presidency in January, there will be new players to contend with.

    Recommend

  • Ken Bryant
    Aug 15, 2012 - 12:16AM

    You have a dangerously optimistic view of the “thaw”. As long as Pakistan remains the major source and trainer of Islamist attackers in Europe and North America, this fact will be the central fact in American-Pakistani relations.

    Recommend

  • cautious
    Aug 15, 2012 - 4:40AM

    OK I’ll bite. Just what does America get by granting money and trade to Pakistan? The author is still going to dislike America and so will most Pakistani’s.

    Recommend

  • Feroz
    Aug 15, 2012 - 7:17AM

    The hidden hand cannot fan anti Americanism and beg for aid simultaneously. If their is a change in goals it must be reflected with a sound strategy to back it. Having friendly neighbors is very essential for every country that believes in the welfare of its own people.

    Recommend

  • observer
    Aug 15, 2012 - 9:25AM

    US has prepared the ground for declaration of Haqqanis (a.k.a ‘strategic assets’), as FTO. Where does that fit in this new found bonhomie?

    Recommend

  • Ahmed
    Aug 15, 2012 - 9:34AM

    A very perceptive piece that may not please many in this country, but it is brutally honest and totally realistic. Should be necessary reading for our policy makers.

    Recommend

  • gp65
    Aug 15, 2012 - 9:45AM

    ” But for bilateral ties to acquire a degree of predictability and permanence, we will have to work on multiple fronts that should include enhanced trade, meaningful American investment (building dams rather than repairing tube-wells) and engagements among civil society groups, politicians, journalists and academicians. There is no doubt that both Pakistan and the US should remain wedded to this relationship, though it has to be tempered with greater realism that includes lowered expectations.”

    So US should have lower expectations while Pakistan increases expectations from US (building dams rather than repairing tube-wells). Dream on

    Recommend

  • yousaf
    Aug 16, 2012 - 2:11AM

    @author::In first two paras of your article you have drawn true picture of our mindset (unfortunately).We are angry when we get no money and happy when it is THROWN towards us.This phenomenon has not thawed rather it has thwarted our whole lifestyle.What a way of generating ‘foreign exchange’.We have corrupted even the rules/laws of economics

    Recommend

More in Opinion