The Oman retreat


Where do you go to think seriously and bring sanity to a maddening situation? Far from the madding crowd to a peaceful Omani luxury resort of course. So thats what the military leadership of the US and Pakistan did. The US side was a phalanx of Admirals and Generals; the Pakistan side was just the Chief of Army Staff with two subordinate staff officers. This should have removed any doubts that existed about exactly where the buck stops in Pakistan not that there were such doubts. The Omani retreat was arranged precisely because there were no doubts in the US mind.

The US had watched the US State Department and The Pakistan Foreign Office spar over the Davis affair for weeks with zero progress and much degradation. There had been a series of disclosures, denials and admissions, speculations about CIA-ISI differences and the fate of US-Pakistan relations, threats, appeals and ultimatums, fumbling on both sides that led to an impasse and the ouster of a minister and party office holder in Pakistan and a sharp deterioration in Pakistani public opinion about the US as a free wheeling media roved freely over various sinister scenarios of which Davis was the tip of the iceberg. The governments dithered and, in Pakistan, political manipulations continued without let up even as the social fabric stretched to tear point and the Middle East erupted into street violence.

Whatever calculations and calibrations the Pakistani leadership may have made, the US did not want the US-Pakistan relationship to go into a free fall under media and domestic pressures. The US had to point out that once beyond a tipping point the situation would be taken over by political forces that could not be controlled. The US also wanted a peek into the Pakistani thinking on a response to a declining economy, political instability heading to a confrontation, subversive attacks in Balochistan, a standoff in Karachi, growing extremist power in Punjab and Taliban attacks in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. The US probably thought that an implosion in Pakistan would not be a Tahrir Square type concentration but a diffused centrifugal situation that led to dispersion of state power rendering it ineffectual. The US heard talk of revolution from responsible leaders with disbelief. They had already noticed extremist inroads into the states security apparatus and of course it never lost track of the reality that Pakistan was a nuclear weapons state with a potent threat to its security. These considerations drove it to ask the Generals to step in and do what the governments were failing to do especially because the US military was at a critical stage in Afghanistan and Pakistan was the key to control and resolution.

Going downhill is much easier and quicker than going uphill. The US-Pakistan relationship is heading downhill as speculation mounts about US intentions in Pakistan, a US-Afghan ( Northern Alliance remnants) India proxy war against Pakistan and uncertainties about the US end game in Afghanistan and its animosity to the ISI and Pakistans military. The Davis affair brought all these suspicions to the surface. This was, therefore, the right time for a long overdue interaction something that not even the strategic dialogue could achieve. The militaries will now brief and guide their civilian masters and hopefully bring about a qualitative change in the US-Pakistan Relationship by arresting the downhill descent and moving it in the right direction.

The writer is a former Chief of Army Staff. He is now associated with Spearhead Research.