Fragile contradictory relationship

Many analysts and journalists resort to marriage clichés when describing Pakistan’s relationship with the US. It is time to put such clichés to rest; Pak-US relationship is not a marriage. It is a transactional relationship between a superpower and a third world country due to its geostrategic position. We are both trapped in this relationship – the US in Afghanistan and Pakistan due to its policies vis-à-vis Afghanistan. Pakistan’s relations with the Taliban are not a secret but ever since the outgoing chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen, linked the Haqqani network to Pakistan’s premier spy agency, the ISI, emotions in Pakistan have been rising gradually. “The Haqqani network, for one, acts as a veritable arm of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence agency,” said Admiral Mullen.

The hype surrounding Admiral Mullen’s statement led the Pakistani media, especially the electronic media, into a jingoistic overdrive. Apart from some notable exceptions in the electronic media and a section of the English press, it seemed as if we were all ready to take on the US. Talk show after talk show discussed Pakistan’s options in case of a possible war with the US. Had it not been so tragic, the media’s performance would only have been considered quite comical. It was tragic because the media of a country reeling from all sorts of crises – religious extremism, sectarianism, terrorism, economic meltdown, power shortage, floods, dengue epidemic, etc – was actually deliberating whether we could win a war against the world’s sole superpower. Pakistani politicians started making strong statements in this regard and Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani blamed the US of fanning anti-American sentiment in Pakistan due to its “negative messaging”. A special Corps Commanders Conference was held at the GHQ on Sunday. An All Parties Conference (APC) called by Prime Minister Gilani took place yesterday. More than 55 politicians and the army top brass gathered to discuss Pak-US relations. “PM Gilani likely decided to include even small parties not in parliament to make sure they support, and don’t protest, the outcome,” tweeted journalist Omar Waraich.

The media and the public’s mood could have impelled both countries towards a confrontation but, fortunately, the White House distanced itself from Admiral Mullen’s statement by not endorsing it. Pakistan’s military has not given any heated statements either. The mood at the APC was also that of non-confrontation. It is important for both Pakistan and the US to keep their relationship intact despite its inherent contradictions and difficulties.

When General Musharraf was in power, the Bush administration turned a blind eye to Pakistan military’s dual policy. George W. Bush’s vision was narrowly focused on al Qaeda. As long as Pakistan handed over Al Qaeda members to the US, the latter did not question Pakistan on its covert support to the Taliban. When Barack Obama came to power, things changed considerably. Pakistan was pressurised to take on the Taliban, especially the Haqqani network that has been consistently attacking foreign troops in Afghanistan. The Americans are obviously irked given that the proposed troops withdrawal looms nearer; some argue the US is not going anywhere even after 2014. Pakistan’s military establishment is still wedded to its strategic depth (read death) policy. So, what are the options for both countries?

There are little chances of [US] boots on the ground. It is likely that the US will carry out more drone strikes. The US will either strike at Haqqani targets from a distance beyond our reach or at the most carry out an OBL-type raid where they will move so quickly that Pakistani forces would not be able to stop or retaliate. But the latter option will only take place in an extreme situation.

As for Pakistan, to take on the Americans is unreal. Our military and political leadership know this. They know that differences with the US need to be resolved diplomatically. What the military also needs to realise is that the strategic depth policy must be scrapped. It is not only hurting the Afghans or the US-led NATO forces but the people of Pakistan are the worst affected. The Taliban are terrorists, period. They do not differentiate between ‘friends’ and ‘foes’. Instead of keeping the so-called ‘good Taliban’ on our side, Pakistan should stop supporting them. Instead, we need to respect Afghanistan as a sovereign country and not treat it like a colony. Maintaining good ties with all our neighbouring countries will go a long way in bringing peace and prosperity to Pakistan.

(Originally published in Mid Day)

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