Things have to change
The latest standoff between the United States and Pakistan was explosive. In recent history, hardly have we seen such damage being inflicted on each other by countries that are allies. The attack that took place on the 26th November was a clear cut infringement. It was lethal and unprecedented. For the first time, we actually hit back at the US with rage. The attack was not an accident; it was an attack that “defies military logic” (as was stated by the DGMO).
The position of the posts that were attacked were already conveyed from our side to the ISAF and NATO knew that these were Pakistani checkposts with no militant sanctuaries anywhere near. Similar incidents involving US aggression have taken place on 10 June 2008, 30 September 2010 and 17 July 2011. Hence, NATO and ISAF are repeat offenders.
As expected, Pakistan has clearly rejected the NATO report findings deeming them unacceptable. But Pakistan needs to straighten out the facts to set the course for its foreign policy regimen like whether or not to open supply routes for NATO.
The war in Afghanistan has been costly for our poor country. This is something we have in common with the US. Due to economic instability, the political landscape in the US is almost as turbulent as that of Pakistan. The Pentagon has enforced a legislation which will cut their defence expenditure by 450 billion dollars as people in the US demand jobs, lower taxes and health care. Obama is facing severe challenges as he supports ongoing reforms and his announcement of withdrawal of troops earlier than expected is generating a lot of heat for his administration from the right wing. Whether or not Obama gets reelected may have direct effects on Pakistan and Pak-US relations, especially as the Afghan endgame unfolds.
Here in Pakistan too, things are in flux. The latest memo scandal has rocked the political landscape and the emergence of Imran Khan has introduced another variable into an already tumultuous scenario. Civil-military relations are at the nucleus of this tumult. There are talks of a national security council within Pakistan, something that will eventually pave the way forward for long term change within Pakistan. Transparency will not be an easy road but building blocks are emerging.
If we analyse the history of Pak-US relations, we can deduce that the paradigm within which they have operated is flawed. It has been more or less a transactional relationship where Pakistan has been hugely dependant on US aid, both in terms of weapons and money, the stoppage of which is a lever which the US can employ at will. We have to dispassionately evaluate the situation we are in and see whether this state of affairs is sustainable.
Today, we stand on the offensive and the situation today is different than in the past. It cannot be denied that this incident has caused damage to the US administration as well. Thus, this may be an opportune time to revise our rules of engagement with the US and our place in the post-US Afghanistan framework. The US is being forced out of the region because this war is bleeding the Americans dry. They cannot make a safe exit without the help of Pakistan and this can be used as a bargaining chip.
With respect to the Afghan endgame, ignoring the Bonn Conference was not a great move and it is critical that Pakistan attend any future forums to present the country’s perspective effectively to a global audience. No more giving mixed signals as we cannot afford to be unclear as a country. The next Bonn Conference cannot be abandoned under any pretext. Pakistan has to stand tall within the eastern bloc – any attempts at aggression against Iran must be prevented and Saudi Arabia has to be on that negotiation table supporting Pakistan as this has direct consequences for both. Our key success always must be our strategic defence policy and our foreign policy mandate, clearly in our own interest.
Realistically, we cannot ignore the fact that the US has been our biggest ally to date and we cannot simply say goodbye to it in a day. What lies ahead is uncertain but what we are certain of is that we need to start leading our horses towards the Big Four – China, Russia, Iran and Turkey. We are not self sufficient as yet and we need a certain level of backdoor diplomacy to seek solid ground.
Pakistan has suffered many casualties because of its alliance with the US and its involvement in the war in Afghanistan. But our own flawed policies cannot be exonerated in this respect. Those who have become casualties of this war were also casualties of our defective policy paradigms – on the strategic and foreign policy fronts. As we enter the new year, we must rectify these problems and try to establish our relations with the US on a basis that is more equitable and protective of our national interest.
The writer is a freelancer and broadcaster for a local FM channel.