Isolation via foreign policy
It took almost a week for the Interior Ministry to confirm that it was in fact Mullah Mansur, the recently elected Taliban chief, who was killed in a US drone strike in Baluchistan. The US was first to release reports of his ‘unconfirmed’ death that were soon confirmed by president Obama. Then the Taliban themselves announced their leader’s demise. However, our over sensitive and exceedingly paranoid security czar, Chaudhry Nisar took his time, and understandably so.
The fact that Mullah Mansour was killed on Pakistani soil by the US, the same soil he had frequented using a Pakistani passport that was issued twice in Quetta would be hard to digest for the thickest skinned interior minister. At a domestic level it shows the incompetence of our security and intelligence apparatus. It also highlights the presence of corrupt Taliban sympathisers in NADRA who facilitated Mansour in getting a Pakistani Passport and CNIC, under a false name, twice, to travel within Pakistan and to other countries from Pakistan.
From an international perspective, it is embarrassing to say the least. The incident vindicates the US in terms of their persistence that we harbour, breed and protect selected terrorist groups and their leaders. Action against the Haqqani Network has been, and still is a serious bone of contention with the US. India maintains the same view about our support of radical ultra-right groups that have been attached to attacks in India.
Mansour’s killing could not have come at a worse time. In the past month our foreign relations with the US and our neighbours have taken a nosedive. Prior to this incident, a bill was passed in the House of Representatives that put conditions on the release of USD 450 million for the purchase of F-16 jets to Pakistan. The conditions include action against Haqqani Network, release of Shakil Afridi who was instrumental in confirming Osama Bin Laden’s identity that resulted in the operation in Abbottabad, active coordination with Afghanistan to restrict militant movement and to ensure that US funds are not used to persecute minorities.
Similar conditions have been placed on Pakistan in the past, mostly on the insistence and strength of Republicans who push bills in the House of Representatives that go to the Senate to be finally signed or vetoed by the President. President Obama has usually pushed for military aid to Pakistan. Only last year he proposed that the civilian and military aid to Pakistan be increased six-fold to $ 1 Billion. But that was last year. Obama is almost out of the White House and the recent pressure to block aid coupled with the Mansour incident makes it particularly tough for him to veto this bill.
What makes this change in the US’s attitude towards Pakistan more evident is the stance Obama took after the incident, saying, rather warning that they will go after leaders of terror groups whenever and wherever they find them in the future. So, all the discourse that follows after such incidents about sovereignty and drone attacks, all the regret that is felt by the foreign office and Interior Ministry, the condemnations and all the hue and cry is futile. The US has and will in future carry out such attacks as long as we provide safe havens to such groups and their leaders. It’s not just a perception it’s a matter of fact.
It is funny that these cries of sovereignty being violated get amplified only when there is a drone attack or a team of ‘US Navy Seals’ flies into Abbottabad but the presence of rogue/extremist elements that freely cross over/live and operate in Pakistan is overlooked. This selective anger is quite ironic given that it is ignoring these very elements in the first place that forces the US to violate our so called sovereignty.
The nuclear race has also gained pace in the last few months. India has developed two new technologies this year. The first one is ‘Second strike capability’, i.e. submarine nuclear ships that can reply with a strike if a country sets off a nuke first. Secondly, they have successfully tested anti-ballistic missiles which, in theory, are capable of intercepting incoming nukes. Naturally we are quite bothered with the pace at which India is developing its nuclear arsenal. Historically, we have kept up with the race as well.
But to what end? These new technologies are expensive, really expensive. It begs the question that in a country that is surviving mostly on debt, where most of the resources are diverted towards high visibility infrastructure projects and defence; can we really afford such expensive ‘deterrence’? That too, at the expense of education and health, sectors that get the smallest piece of the pie in every budget in any case and are the first casualty when cuts need to be made. The latest budget is no exception either.
The divergence over foreign policy also presents a predicament. The civilian side opts for a relatively accommodative approach; the real policy makers however are reactionary and confrontational in nature and practice. A case in point is the recent announcement of development of a deep sea port on the Iran coast, the Chabahar port, a joint project between India and Iran to serve as a link to Afghanistan, bypassing Pakistan. While the foreign office believes that the new port can be complimentary to Gwadar, which is just 72 Km away, two former defence secretaries (retired Army Generals) feel that it is a security threat.
And it is not that we are deliberately being sidelined from the project either. Iran has invited not only Pakistan but other regional nations to join the $500 million project. Even China, our favourite best friend, is in favour of any possible association. In an interaction with Asian newspaper editors, China’s Prime Minister, Li Keqiang said that the new project is not a threat to Gwadar or CPEC, instead an opportunity that all regional countries can and should take benefit from.
Similar disconnect can be seen when it comes to Afghanistan. While the approach should be to reduce the trust deficit between the two countries, we keep provoking them through confrontation. The border closing at Torkham was another unfortunate incident. While it is imperative to monitor and control militant elements crossing over into Pakistan, it is equally important that business and trading conducted through the boarder by around 15,000 people who use the crossing daily is not completely stopped.
It seems that the blame game of who protects which terrorists more to carry out attacks on their soil is never ending. A US drone kills a Taliban leader on our soil, “told you so” says Afghanistan. In return, we catch six of their spies and parade them on TV, claiming their handlers are generals of the Afghan Army. The killing of Mullah Mansour is being claimed as a serious blow to the QCG (Quadrilateral Coordination Group). But had Mullah Mansour really been willing to come to the talking table at all since the QCG was formed?
The reality is that there is disconnect between the civil-military foreign policy. The problem is not as simple as making a full time foreign minister. That will not change much. It is quite apparent as to who dictates foreign policy in Pakistan. The minister will only be the messenger. The only way forward is adopting a modern, accommodative and current form of diplomacy. We still resort to registering our strong condemnation of ‘acts against the state’ and ‘threats to security’ at the highest world forums. But is anyone really listening?