Pakistan and US must reassess their partnership
Unless Pakistan and US manage to remove the deep seated suspicions they entertain about one another, there is little likelihood of any significant improvement in their relations. The relations may in fact further deteriorate. This would harm the common cause of putting an end to militancy in the region. While the failure would only partially damage the US interests, it would exacerbate the existential threat being faced by Pakistan. Ties can improve only if both try to accommodate each other’s concerns by displaying sufficient flexibility. As things stand a hubris ridden Washington attempts to dictate to Pakistan without giving any weight to its concerns. On the other hand, the decision makers in Pakistan act in a way that they are seen to be running with the hares and hunting with the hounds.
Both Zardari and Imran Khan have expressed what they expect from Obama during his second tenure. Zardari hopes the relations between the two countries would “continue to prosper”. Imran Khan wants Obama to put an end to drone attacks and order ceasefire in Afghanistan.
The US belatedly apologised for attack on Salala that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers. Islamabad in return allowed the NATO containers to carry goods for the troops fighting in Afghanistan. On Wednesday, fuel supply through Torkham was also restored. This has removed a major source of tension between the two countries. Oil tankers were the main target of militants before the supplies were suspended last year. The attacks had destroyed more than 200 tankers and left over a dozen drivers and owners killed over the past five years. Scores of local also died as a result of these attacks.
Another major source of worry for the US still remains unaddressed. Washington and Kabul both have accused the Haqqani network of launching some of the deadliest attacks inside Afghanistan, killing scores of US and foreign troops as well as Afghan soldiers. While the army had initiated air attacks in South Waziristan on its own, taking major political leaders into confidence days later, a national consensus was demanded before an operation in North Waziristan. A perception has arisen that when those who matter want to delay a thing, they send it to the Parliament. The decision to reopen the NATO routes was handed over to a parliamentary committee whose report was put in cold storage for weeks after it had been submitted. The parliament, as was widely expected, has failed to develop consensus on operation against the Haqqani network.
This has led to tit for tat retaliation from Kabul and Washington. TTP militants have been given safe havens inside Afghanistan from where they continue to launch deadly attacks on civilians and Pakistan’s security personnel. Quoting officials, a Washington Post report on Tuesday tells that the ISAF knows about the presence of Mullah Fazlullah, who ordered the attack on Malala Yousafzai, in Nooristan and Kunar but has declined to take action on two grounds. First, Fazlullah is neither a member of Al-Qaeda nor involved in attacks on US-led NATO troops. Second, because ISAF advisers believe that the Afghan army is allowing the Pakistani Taliban to operate. This was reportedly being done in retribution for Pakistan not doing enough to stop cross-border rocket attacks and armed infiltrators using Pakistan as a haven. Action against TTP militants operating from Afghanistan is thus conditioned with operation inside North Waziristan. Similarly, drone attacks are tied up with Pakistan getting its tribal areas vacated from militants.
There is a bipartisan consensus in the US over the use of drones to fight the terrorists as they are considered the most efficient way of killing the terrorist leaders. The American administration is least bothered about the proliferation of suicide bombers due to these attacks as they can only attack Pakistani citizens and army personnel. As far as Washington is concerned, it has secured itself against suicide attacks after 9/11. The US administration does not care if it becomes unpopular in the Muslim world. Hasn’t it supported Israel which frequently resorts to acts of state terrorism against unarmed Palestinians? What can dissuade the US from drone attacks is to ensure an end to cross-border attacks.
A state of denial about militants crossing over to Afghanistan will convince few. Leaders of banned militants working under different names in Pakistan continue to exhort people to launch jihad against the US. Even Imran Khan maintains that the war in Afghanistan is a ‘jihad’. If militants can crisscross between the settled areas and South and North Waziristan, why can’t they cross into Afghanistan to fulfill what they are told is their religious duty? The only way to ensure an end to drone attacks is for Pakistan to cleanse on its own the havens used by Arab, Uzbek, Chechen, and Pakistani militants. As things stand their largest concentration is in North Waziristan.
Pakistan has done well by renouncing the ill-considered notion of seeking strategic depth in Afghanistan. This was seen by Afghanistan as desire by its neighbour to treat it as a backyard. No independent country can allow another country to use it as a shield. It has to be ensured now that Pakistani Taliban do not use Afghanistan as a safe area to launch attacks on Pakistan’s territory. It suits both the US and Pakistan that Afghanistan does not once again become a sanctuary for terrorists and a launching pad for the export of terrorism.
If Pakistan wants concessionary access to Western markets, loans from the international financial organistations and aid from the US, it has to give something in return. Cooperation is always mutual. Pakistan has a choice either to fight the militants in collaboration with the US or fight them alone. The US has more options than Pakistan. Now that he has won the elections Obama is in a better position to revive the US Taliban talks. He can release some of the Taliban prisoners from Guantanamo to give a fillip to the talks. Instead of painting itself into a corner, Pakistan has to actively get engaged in tripartite talks.
So far the military has ignored the importance of a most vital element of national security. As the CJ has maintained, missiles and tanks cannot guarantee stability and security of a country nor are any more to be considered manifestation of a ‘hard power’. A country can achieve stability only if its economy is vibrant, the population is educated and healthy and it has a developed social infrastructure. A foreign policy with peace with neighbours as a cornerstone is highly vital for national security. Much needs to be done by politicians, which they have so far failed to do. As has been pointed out, strong institutions form the bedrock for building lasting mechanisms and sustaining socio-economic, political and cultural growth and development.
Pakistan’s relations with the US should be guided by enlightened self-interest. While cooperating with the US over shared objectives like fight against militancy, Islamabad must not be seen as a tool in the super power’s hands against any other country.
The writer is a former academic and a political analyst.