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Dealing with American Challenge

At a time when the relations between Pakistan and US go from bad to worse, it is important that Pakistan formulates a comprehensive national policy to deal with the security challenge.

As the anti-Pakistan cacophony by the top American administration officials reached frenzied pitch accusing Pakistan of supporting the Haqqani network, Pakistan bounced back with a vengeance. Both political and military leaderships found themselves on the same page in their response against what has been termed as the most scathing criticism to date of Pakistan and ISI by the Obama administration officials, who went to the extent of dubbing the Haqqani network as ‘veritable arm of ISI’.

The comments made by Admiral Mike Mullen, Chairman Joint Chiefs of the Staff Committee, at a Senate hearing, sum up the mood of the Obama administration. He said, ‘In choosing to use violent extremism as an instrument of policy, the government of Pakistan and most especially the Pakistani Army and the ISI, jeopardize not only the prospect of our strategic partnership but Pakistan’s opportunity to be a respected nation with legitimate, regional influence.

In the same hearing, Secretary of Defence, Leon Panetta, also threatened to take ‘operational steps’ against Pakistan on its failure to rein in the Haqqani network. In a major development, Senate Appropriations Committee made the aid announced under the Kerry-Lugar Bill conditional on Islamabad’s compliance with the US demands.

The response to these allegations from the Pakistani side has been prompt, coherent and timely. The Foreign Office said a ‘categorical no’ to these allegations and talked of Pakistan’s commitment to ‘eliminate terrorism and promote peace, stability, reconciliation and development in Afghanistan.’ While talking to media in Karachi, the Prime Minister said that ‘the United States could not live with us and it could not live without us. He warned of the dangers of sending ‘wrong messages to 180 million people.’ In a policy statement delivered on the occasion of Donors Conference in Islamabad, Prime Minister Gilani said, ‘Blame-game is self-defeating. We strongly reject assertions of complicity with the Haqqanis or of proxy war.  It will only benefit the enemies of peace. Only terrorists and militants will gain from any fissures and divisions.  Pakistan’s credentials and sacrifices in the counter-terrorism campaign are impeccable and unquestionable.’

More significant was the statement of the Army Chief, General Ashfaq Pervez Kayani, who called the statements of Mike Mullen ‘very unfortunate and not based on facts.’ He also urged the need of blame game giving way ‘to a constructive and meaningful engagement for a stable and peaceful Afghanistan, an objective to which Pakistan is fully committed. Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani warned the Obama administration of losing an ally if the latter continued to publicly accuse Islamabad of exporting violence to Afghanistan.

The relations, which deteriorated to a tipping point following the Abbottabad operations by the US Navy Seals, were further battered by Pakistan’s decision to expel the US trainers, wind up operations of under-cover agents and refuse visas to the Americans. As Obama’s drawdown strategy gets underway, four interconnected incidents have led to sharpening of differences between Pakistan and the US:

Firstly, the September 13 witnessed the Taliban attacking the American embassy in Kabul and besieging it for 19 hours. Secondly, an explosive laden truck rammed into the NATO base, which wounded 77 American soldiers. Thirdly, the American authorities believed that June attack on the Inter-Continental Hotel in Kabul took place with ‘ISI blessings’. Fourthly, the killing of Prof Bhuranuddin Rabbani in a suicide hit in Green Zone in Kabul by Taliban has further deepened the American (mis)perceptions about the likelihood of Pakistan’s spy agency working in cahoots with the Haqqani network.

The relations, which deteriorated to a tipping point following the Abbottabad operations by the US Navy Seals, were further battered by Pakistan’s decision to expel the US trainers, wind up operations of under-cover agents and refuse visas to the Americans.
 What is most amazing in the recent spurt of allegations against Pakistan’s army and ISI is the joining of forces by the ‘doves’ and ‘hawks’ in the Obama administration. The leading figures of both camps such as Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Admiral Mike Mullen, on the one side and Secretary of Defence Leon Panetta and CIA chief General David Patraeus on other have found a common cause against Pakistan. Joining the clamour is the White House whose spokesman Jay Carney also urged Pakistan to break any links with the Haqqani network. This ‘meeting of minds’ on what has been termed as ‘Pakistan challenge’ within different elements of the Obama administration is ominous. More so the case when voices from the Capitol Hill calling for reviewing the aid to Pakistan are also gathering momentum.

Policy confusion and lack of direction that characterises Obama’s drawdown plan is mainly responsible for the present state of affairs between Islamabad and Washington. The inability of ISAF and NATO forces to create conditions necessary to justify ‘graceful’ exit from Afghanistan by 2014 by crippling Taliban has resulted into anger and desperation to scapegoat Pakistan. The audacity with which the Taliban have taken on the Americans in their stronghold i.e. Green Zone of Kabul is mind-boggling. Pakistan’s interests, being a key ally in the war on terror with a legitimate stake in the region, should have been taken into account while formulating strategy on Afghanistan. Such an approach should have paved the way to the achievement of shared goal of peaceful Afghanistan.

At a time when the relations between both countries go from bad to worse, it is important that Pakistan formulates a comprehensive national policy to deal with the security challenge. All key political leaders such as Nawaz Sharif, Ch Nisar Ali Khan, Altaf Hussain, and Ch Shujaat have called for building national consensus on the issue. The Prime Minister has taken a right decision to convene an All-Parties Conference to take political parties on board. It is also in the fitness of things to immediately summon a session of parliament to discuss the challenges facing the national security. The Parliamentary Committee on National Security has a job cut out for it. In such circumstances, there cannot be a better response than the demonstration of national unity. The signs for emerging national consensus are bright.

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