Confrontation Sans Logic

Eventually Pakistan and the US will recognise the compulsions of their partnership, notwithstanding the prohibitive costs

The affair between Pakistan and the United States, closest allies for a better part of Pakistan’s life as a state, is becoming curiouser and curiouser. Both sides are indulging in ungainly rhetoric of a confrontation neither of them can afford, and the reasons for all the sabre-rattling are not very clear to the people of Pakistan.

Whatever may have happened in recent months to make the spokespersons on both sides lose their cool, the root cause of the tension between them has been present all along, namely, the tendency on the part of each side to interpret their partnership exclusively in its own interest. The very first agreement between the US and Pakistan, the security pact of 1952, became the subject of conflicting interpretations. The US took pains to make it clear that it was helping the modernization and re-equipment of the Pakistan defence forces solely for use against communist powers but Pakistan stuck to the belief that it had a right to use the US military aid in its fight with India. When the latter’s illusions were shattered in 1965 it behaved as if it had been betrayed by its patron’ally.

Similarly, Pakistan saw in its strategic partnership with the US on Afghanistan during 1980-91 more than the other party and felt let down when the US withdrew from the scene once the Soviets had pulled out, leaving Pakistan to deal with the dangerous end-game.

The post-9/11 US-Pakistan partnership too has been rocked time and again by disagreements on the partners’ respective obligations. The ‘do more’ mantra had its origin in the US belief that Pakistan was less keen to support the American-NATO war objectives than to safeguard its future interests in Afghanistan and the region around it. A US attempt to find a solution by appealing to Pakistan’s civilian governments, vide the Kerry-Lugar Bill, only widened the cleavage in its relations with the operating partners on this side. This led to a serious erosion of the intelligence-sharing understanding between the allies and the beginning of the US strategy of unilateral acts. Pakistan ignored quite a few of such incidents, or contented itself with mild protest, but the raid on Osama’s hideout was seen as an act of unmitigated treachery and to this day Pakistan military’s actions and postures are influenced by the memory of that ‘stab in the back’.

The developments since Abbottabad raid of May 2 are too recent to need recounting. Matters have deteriorated to an extent that Pakistan is threatening the US that it too has other options (than US partnership) and the Americans are said to be thinking of leaving an ‘ungrateful’ Pakistan to stew in its own juice. The government, many political parties and the media, by and large, have chosen to follow the pied piper in military uniform. The tiff with IMF is being interpreted as a US design to put economic pressure on Pakistan. In reply the people are being told that Pakistan has the ability to survive any rupture in relations with the US. The possibility of a war with the US is being mentioned with a casualness that is quite bewildering and all sorts of arm-chair defence experts are reminding Washington of its humiliation in Vietnam.

As could have been expected the situation is being exploited by all and sundry to gain political advantage. The army is happy that fencing with the US top brass gives it an opportunity to salvage its reputation that had been tarnished by the Abbottabad debacle and almost all political parties are competing with one another for the military’s favours by offering to become the vanguard of the anti-American jihad.

It is a peculiar feature of the present confrontation that the military leaders of the US and Pakistan are talking to one another as repositories of sovereign authority over their countries and their governments are at best their coordinates. While some signs of uneasiness have been noticed in the White House, Islamabad seems incapable of any such heresy. Nobody is misled by initiatives such as Mr Gillani’s exertions to hold an all-parties conference. Its outcome, full-throated support to the military, was known even before the invitation letters were sent out. The omens for Pakistan are not at all good.

One does not know what to say about the jingoist noises being made in many quarters. Everybody knows about the people’s duty in the event of a showdown. That is not the issue. The issue is whether Pakistani people should fold up their thinking apparatuses, whatever of them has survived, at any appeal to their scarcely defined patriotism. Is there sufficient justification for a race to the brink?

There can be many valid reasons for reviewing the terms of engagement with the United States but the reported cause of the present estrangement ‘difference of opinion on the attitude towards the Haqqani network’ does not seem to be one of them.

Unfortunately, Pakistani response to the US military leaders’ accusations has lacked finesse. First any contact with the Haqqanis was denied. Then contacts were admitted with a rider that contact did not mean support to the Haqqanis.
Unfortunately, Pakistani response to the US military leaders’ accusations has lacked finesse. First any contact with the Haqqanis was denied. Then contacts were admitted with a rider that contact did not mean support to the Haqqanis. It was also said that ‘others’ too had contacts with the guerilla force. Finally, a photograph of Jalaluddin Haqqani sharing the limelight with Ronald Reagan was retrieved and released. This cannot be described as effective advocacy. It is like criticising the US for turning against Osama on the ground that they had been allies in the war against the Soviets.

Besides, nobody has tried to explain as to why Pakistan should defend Haqqani almost the way Mulla Omar defended Osama. The Haqqani network is resisting the US coalition in Afghanistan and Pakistan has no business to side with any of the parties to the intra-Afghan conflict.

One of the most weird theories going round in some circles is that the Haqqani group offers some kind of insurance for Pakistan’s relations with the Afghanistan of tomorrow or that this network’s disappearance will put Pakistan at a disadvantage other regional powers. Such theories, if anybody is at all entertaining them, are based on assumptions that have been proved wrong in the past. Everybody in Afghanistan is biding time in the hope that the foreign troops will really withdraw from the land. The future rulers of Afghanistan are unlikely to be anybody’s stooges without any consideration. Like the Central Asians before them they could prefer the hands of rich patrons to an embrace with a resource-strapped Pakistan.

It is possible that the Pakistan military finds it difficult to take the US into confidence about the real causes of its inability to comply with their wishes. If it is afraid of a backlash from the people, or from within its own ranks, that matter will need to be tackled imaginatively; it will not be solved by making the country a hostage to militants and their sympathisers.

In any case, lack of information breeds cynicism. All those who do not see any logic in the present hysteria are saying that the negotiations going on behind the scenes will not fail. Eventually Pakistan and the US will recognise the compulsions of their partnership, notwithstanding the prohibitive costs. Things may not remain the same but there will be no radical shifts in the short run. Uneasy relationships between any two countries can have long lives if the parties concerned cannot spurn the demands of their vested interests.

By: I.A. Rehman

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