What actually drove both countries apart were their respective approaches to Afghanistan imbroglio, especially in the background of Washington’s declared intent to complete its drawdown by December 2014. Having legitimate interests there and being a next door neighbour that stands to benefit or lose depending upon how situation transpires in the war-torn country, the American efforts to give greater role to India under different pretexts further annoyed Pakistan.
Five years in power is a good enough time for any government to translate its manifesto into concrete policy actions. As the country heads towards next general elections in 2013, the review of the government’s performance in different sectors of governance will pick up momentum. Both opposition political parties and media will put the government’s showing under tight scrutiny for different reasons. By identifying the loopholes in the government policies, the political parties will make a case for winning electorate’s support in an election year. The ruling political party would also like to present some of the main highlights of its stay in office to garner public support in a bid to get re-elected. This is what democracy is all about.
This rather long article is restricted to the review and analysis of the government’s foreign policy during its stay in office. Before we embark on this, it is important to clarify here that democracies are always messy given the nature of the system and a variety of stakeholders. Hence, it is likely that the policies adopted by the government may be driven by principles of political expediency and the need for political survival. It is equally important to mention that any review of the government’s performance in the area of foreign policy should be measured against the yardstick of the country’s standing in early 2008 when the government was voted into power.
To begin with, Pakistan’s relations with the US have been marked by ebb and flow. Prior to this government’s coming into power, the bilateral relations were characterised by the tight embrace between the Bush administration and the Musharraf government wherein the former declared the latter as a major non-Nato ally, an honour bestowed on Islamabad in return for its all-out cooperation in war on terror. The change of guards in both Washington and Islamabad in early part of 2008 allowed both countries an opportunity to expand the base of their bilateral relations. The Obama administration recognised new centres of power in Pakistan and chose to interact with the civilian government here instead of putting all its eggs in one basket’ military. The Kerry’ Lugar Act approved by the American Congress at the behest of the Democratic administration was an attempt to broaden the areas of cooperation and make civilian government the real stakeholder in the bilateral equation.
The striking of civil nuclear deal between both countries, which gave India a de facto membership of Nuclear Supplier Group without its signature of Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), threw spanners in the works. Of equal concern to Islamabad was the Obama’s administration’s unstinted support to India to get a permanent berth in the United Nations Security Council. Washington also rejected Pakistan’s demand for grant of civil nuclear technology.
All elements of national opinion regarded these measures of the Obama administration as a rebuke to Pakistan, which was a frontline ally in the so-called war on terror and rendered huge sacrifices in both man and’ material. Added to this was cacophony of voices from Pentagon, administration and Capitol Hill, which continued to grow shriller by the day asking Pakistan ‘to do more.’
The inherent dichotomies in President Obama’s ‘surge and exit’ strategy declared in December 2009 became sharper with the passage of time forcing Pakistan to take steps to protect its legitimate interests as their alignment with those of the US increasingly became a non-starter as both countries appeared to be headed in different directions. In return for Pakistan’s alleged support to Afghan Taliban, the US moved to pay Islamabad in the same coin by choosing to extend support to Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan in one way or the other. Despite being most allied allies, both countries vied for more space and seemed to pursue contrary policies.
Real life action of CIA contractor Raymond Davis in Lahore, which killed three Pakistanis in broad daylight, further accentuated the feelings of anti-Americanism across the length and breadth of Pakistani society further contracting space for the civilian government to go the whole hog with the US.
Thus, a relationship, which was already tethering on the brink of collapse, was dealt a severe blow when the Nato gunship helicopters bombed a Pakistani military check post (Salala) martyring all 24 Pakistani soldiers. The action created anger and anguish across Pakistan and the government had to order blocking of all Nato supply lines passing through Pakistani territory.
The government did well to convene an All Parties Conference to work out a national response against the said raid. At the same time, the PPP administration tasked Parliamentary Committee on National Security to revisit the entire gambit of Pakistan’s relations with the US and submit its recommendations in accord with the national imperatives. Till any such recommendations were duly approved by parliament, all strategic, military and intelligence cooperation was halted with the US. This was the most difficult time in the history of Pakistan-US relations.
The opening of Ground Lines of Communication after approval by the Parliamentary Committee on National Security and consensus of civil-military leadership was allowed subject to the US meeting certain benchmarks.
‘Pakistan of 2012 is a changed Pakistan where new centres of power have emerged and it is no more possible for the US to lose sight of these realities.
By linking the approval of any policy vis-Ã -vis US to parliamentary validation, the government made Parliament relevant through greater ownership of the political decisions.
‘The consensus of civil-military leaderships on broad contours of national security is a welcome development. The decisions so taken enjoy national consensus allowing greater space for the political government within which to hold talks.