We are nearing the crunch time in our relations with USA. Admiral Mullen and Defence Secretary Panetta have directly and publicly accused Pakistan of complicity with the terrorist groups, going to the extent that our major intelligence agency was involved in the attacks on the US Embassy and other vital points in and outside Kabul.
Panetta’s belligerent statement that the US was at war in Pakistan has, to some extent, been moderated by recent observations emanating from Hillary Clinton.
Statements apart, there are telltale developments indicating the way the wind is blowing. Drone attacks have been increased and extended. Well equipped NATO forces have been deployed on the Afghan-Pakistan border close to the North Waziristan areas. Also, an Afghanistan-India strategic agreement has been signed in New Delhi.
Presently, Hillary Clinton is in Pakistan holding talks with the civil and military authorities. Before coming to Islamabad, she spoke about her mission to Pakistan, in Kabul: “We intend to push the Pakistanis very hard as to what they are willing and able to do for us…….to remove the safe havens and the continuing threats across the border to Afghans…….we must send a clear unequivocal message to the government and people of Pakistan that they must be part of the solution and that means ridding their own country of terrorists, who kill their own people and cross the border to kill in Afghanistan.”
Prior to leaving for Libya, Afghanistan and Pakistan, Hillary spoke at different forums in USA and explicitly spelt out the points she would take up with the Islamabad authorities. Said Hillary: “I think there are three things that we want Pakistan to work with us on.” According to a transcript released by the State Department these three things are: “We believe that we have to continue fighting, we have to start talking and we have to keep building.” She further said that US knew “for a fact” that there were certain elements within the Pakistan military, which help the militants. More of what is expected of Islamabad: “You can squeeze sanctuaries…….making sure that they don’t cross the border.” As for “talking”, she urged Pakistan “to unequivocally state publicly that they want to see the Afghan Taliban and those associated with them (which would include the Haqqani network) to begin negotiating towards a resolution with the Afghans themselves and that they will stand with us behind that kind of negotiation…….we need to reach out and talk with those who are willing to reconcile on the three terms that have been laid out: Renounce violence, break with Al-Qaeda and respect the laws and Constitution of Afghanistan, including protection of the rights of minorities and women.” Regarding the third objective, i.e. “building”, she wants Pakistan to become a part of the plan to create the regional architecture that would emerge from the November conference in Islamabad and the Bonn moot in December. She would like Pakistan, thus, to become a part of “the international community that promotes economic integration in the region, that understands that there has to be security for there to be prosperity.”
Hillary’s first meeting last night (Thursday) was with the Prime Minister where COAS General Kayani and DG ISI Pasha were also present. This was just a curtain raiser with a lot of rhetoric dished out from both sides. Give peace a chance, said Gilani. Also, respect the APC resolution. Why not – responded Madam Clinton. The US acknowledges the value of the message contained in the resolution; USA recognises Pakistan’s contributions in the fight against terrorism. She also referred to the role Pakistan has further to play to take care of the militants who launch attacks against us and Afghanistan in Kabul and other places. In addition, she would like Pakistan to help in the negotiations with the Taliban.
There shall be tough talking in the subsequent meetings with the President and the military authorities.
General Kayani has already unveiled his mind. He is not willing to go on toeing the line given to Pakistan. Pakistan’s concerns and interests have to be fully safeguarded. The carrots of aid no longer will cajole or lure GHQ and the Government of Pakistan. The stick may not be able to coerce Rawalpindi and Islamabad to do Washington’s bidding.
How will Uncle Sam react to the firm stand taken by the Army Chief? Can the USA afford to launch operations inside Pakistan? Even if its moves are restricted to intrusions by the Afghan forces, how will it help achieve the three objectives Hillary has in view? If Pakistan is pushed to the wall, how can the proposed regional architecture be constructed on the basis of the Istanbul, Bonn (and Chicago) conferences?
While analysing the fluctuating contours of the Pakistan-US relations, one needs to make a note of the changing relationship between the Pentagon and the GHQ. The US appears to be moving away from the earlier strategy of seeking to secure its objectives via Rawalpindi, as the present military top brass is no longer willing to work as mercenaries. Washington is veering round to relying more on a democratic civilian set-up. The current ruling elite could be conveniently manipulated. It is weak and vulnerable. It has failed to manage internal affairs. It is inclined to lean on external support. The elections are not too far off.
An increase in American military presence in Pakistan is bound to evoke a sharp reaction.
Is a destabilised Pakistan good for US interests in this part of the world?
It is time an extended dialogue is opened with Washington, which takes into account Washington’s objectives and Pakistan’s reservations and interests.
If Washington is so keen to enter into serious negotiations with the Taliban, why should it object to Pakistan talking to the so-called militants and insurgents active in Pakistan? Can Pakistan afford to further fuel the fires of revenge attacks and mounting insurgency? How long can the military go on fighting the aggrieved Pakistanis in the tribal areas? Too much of valuable funds have been thrown into this raging fire.
Imran Khan’s voice needs to be heeded. “Peace” must be given a “chance”.
Let the APC resolution guide our thinking and behaviour.