Let’s be practical

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Pak-US relations need to be mended

It has been almost two months since NATO supply routes were reopened, and Pakistan got a big, fat cheque for all its troubles. Analysts, here and in the United States, have been in a bind, trying to figure out the key to Pak-US relations. Pakistan has been a rogue ally to the United States. And the United States’ leadership has been suffering from buyer’s remorse after realizing that the short term placement of Pakistan by buying it out in the face of grander schemes has backfired. So what is a super power and a third world country to do in such a situation? Pakistan is too volatile to be actively isolated by the United States. This policy has been tried before, in 1998, and that did not bode well, neither for Pakistan, not for the entire region around Pakistan. Should Pakistan be placated with more money? Does the key to regional peace and stability in Pakistan rely on incoming cheques?

There has been a general mood of kissing and making up in Washington and Islamabad since the $ 1 billion CSF funds was released for Pakistan, and since Pakistan reopened the supply routes, but despite apologies, assurances and promises, the fact remains that the issues that had caused friction in the first place remain unresolved today. Yes, Washington and Islamabad are definitely on their way to a better relationship (much better, perhaps than last year), but what is a good relationship if it does not produce desired results?

Both countries have great issues to settle but before they do that, both leaderships must ask themselves what kind of a relationship they want. Former ambassador to the United States Hussain Haqqani only very recently said that the next move should be more focused on a friendship, not an alliance. That seems to be the official line in Washington, as well. A US official very recently told me that the United States now intends to build a people-to-people relationship. This is not out a sudden upsurge of love for the Pakistani people, but because Pakistan’s relationship with the United States is increasingly relying on regional factors, and less domestic (even though the issue of the Haqqani network and drone attacks still needs to be addressed – but we’ll get to that). The economies in Europe – for the lack of a better word – are faltering. Emerging economies have taken a whole new meaning and the United States is turning towards South Asia/South East Asia as a stabilizing force. This means that a long-term investment in Pakistan’s future is an important factor the United States is unwilling to disregard, despite internal opposition to Pakistan for being a schizophrenic ally.

This means the United States has finally understood Pakistan’s place in its policies. Gone are the days when Pakistan was a short-term ally for a much grander scheme. No, Pakistan is now an important regional player, no matter what the domestic situation looks like.

But before Pakistani officials puff up their chests and look around importantly, I must reiterate Pakistan’s extremely dangerous relationship with the terrorist networks, the extremely fragile democracy, the alarming poverty, and rampant discrimination. And the army. Yes, the army. All these factors combined have played a strong role in Pakistan’s own blunders over the last one year. It is with great indignation that we denounce the drone attacks, as we rightly should. But we often suffer from convenient memory losses and forget the role our own leadership has played in allowing these drone attacks to happen. These drone attacks have been happening since 2004. That makes it a total of 8 years that these attacks have occurred on our soil and have increased in intensity since Barrack Obama took over. But wait…how can Pakistan’s government put its foot down and say it cannot be allowed any further? The government itself has shared intelligence, and allowed the drone attacks to happen from our very own Shamsi Airbase. Or have we forgotten the WikiLeaks cable that was leaked where General Kayani not only agreed to the drone flights but in 2008 also asked for an increase? Even when Pakistan was playing the moody lover to the United States and had cut off NATO supply routes, and Pak-US relations seemed to be at their worst, these drone attacks had only seen a 2 months’ respite and had resumed in January 2012

The issue of drone attacks is not just a matter of sovereignty, but is also a great human rights abuse case. Statistics on militant-civilian death ratio has varied under different organizations, but there is a generally agreed upon sentiment that these drones carry a heavy civilian death rate, which might just be the reason for the growing number of militants in the area.

The United States does want a long term relationship with Pakistan; that much is clear. And Pakistan does need the United States to continue with the back-scratching, yes. This does not, of course, mean that Pakistan’s relationship with the United States is all related to defense and security. But both the countries need to get it on and settle the matter of drone attacks.Coming to an agreement on drone attacks, especially one that favors Pakistan, will go a long way in building people-to-people relationship. Both the countries have, in a nutshell, the same concerns. Building on that will be crucial and the next logical steps forward should be assurance to both leaderships from one another that they both intend to move forward with mutual respect and mutual interests.

Given that an erratic relationship that has only resulted in thousands of deaths (mostly on Pakistan’s turf) in this black hole history has called War on Terror, things need to be fixed. It might be difficult given that both countries are now in election years and politicians are more inclined towards populism rather than pragmatism. But looking at how terrorists are rearing their head again, especially given the recent spate of attacks in Pakistan, it is absolutely essential that work be done on the intractable differences be worked on so that Pak-US relations can be established on terms beneficial for both the parties.

The writer is a student of International Affairs at the American University of Paris and a staff member at Pakistan Today.