Closure and reopening of GLOCs has exposed the fragility as well as indispensability of Pak-US relations. America has learnt that exercise of raw power, strategy of arrogance, arm twisting and coercive brawls could only go to a certain limit; and beyond that they would be restrained by law of diminishing returns. Ultimately supply routes through Pakistan emerged as centre of gravity, and the bluff of ‘Northern Distribution Network’ fell flat on the ground. Debilitating condition of the Salang pass and its likely collapse has indeed sent chilling sensations down the American spine.

Pakistan has learnt that weak economy, permitting permeation of foreign influence, projecting victimhood, having secret trucking with major powers while keeping own public ignorant has its low side and no one can befool everyone all the time. Moreover, it’s far easier to let the proverbial camel entre its head inside the tent, but as the camel tends to occupy the whole tent, it is not possible to evict it at one’s own sweet will.

David Sanger in his recent book ‘Confront and Conceal: Obama’s Secret Wars and Surprising Use of American Power’, details how President Obama has phenomenally enhanced America’s drone wars and secretly intensified cyber warfare. He precisely describes that consequence of covert raid to kill Osama bin Laden was the moment America “lost Pakistan.” On the discourse in America regarding how to handle Pakistan, he concludes that current fad of abandonment or isolation of Pakistan is not a policy, rather an act of desperation.

The challenge of re-railing the strained US-Pakistan relations is huge. It is time to let diplomacy prevail. Handing over the function of diplomacy to parliament was a gross error of judgement. Oblivious to the complexities and urgency of the matter, parliament proverbially ‘slept’ over the issue and became hostage to mob mentality. Inordinate delay in finalizing ‘guidelines’ ended in slipping past the opportune moment when America was more favourably poised to accommodate Pakistan’s sensitivities. Apparently not a single word of parliamentary recommendations has been taken care of while succumbing to reopening of supply lines.

Sketchy and patchy statements that have come forth following the reopening of GLOCs carry an impression of some shady deal, details of which both the governments intend holding back from public in run up to respective elections. Americans have tried to generate an impression that it has not ceded any space and the ‘client state has been duly disciplined to resume the course on previous wages’. On Pakistani side, a silly effort is on to depict it as a ‘grand national victory’, by coining ambiguous superlatives, without really disclosing the tangible gains.

They way MOFA spokesperson handled the questions about GLOCs during press briefing on 06 July has radiated the impression that MOFA was neither in it, nor is with it; as if decisions were taken elsewhere. Though an impression is being radiated that reopening the supply routes is a unanimous decision of national leadership, the other side of political divide was too eager to distance itself from the decision. It certainly is not a decision having popular public support in Pakistan. High expectations raised amongst the public, like a transit fee of $ 5000 per container, have evaporated in thin air. People are wondering that after seven months of suspension of NATO supplies, was it only a half hearted admission of mistake and repair of roads that Pakistan was looking up to? If the details are not made public, the issue would soon get politicised in both the countries through narratives and counter narratives.

Earlier while approving the new rules of engagement with America, Pakistan’s parliament had delinked the issue of supply routes from other core issues. Unless the wholesome picture emerges, the mystery would continue to feed the void.  Media clowns will have a field day to float personal and group conspiracies, demean the nation and project the national leadership as a gang of thugs.

Credit goes to the civilian and military leadership as well as parliamentarians from both sides of isle for sticking to the principled position and resisting American pressure during this difficult period. Pakistan suffered a lot due to its upright stance as all sorts of threats ranging from halting of military and economic aid, anti-Pakistan moves at regional and global levels and even suggestions of US boots on Pakistani soil were aired.

The decision of resumption of supplies has certainly helped averting a permanent breach in Pakistan-US relations which would have been in the interest of none of them. It would also allow Pakistan to replay its role in Afghan affairs at a time when the coalition forces are poised to withdraw. However, the US policy-makers need to learn a lesson and abandon the tendency of bullying and sanctioning the allies; lest Pakistani public comes out in an act of defiance and physically blocks the supply routes.

Intriguingly, Pakistan has decided (or has been forced) to not to levy any transit fee on NATO and defend it by saying it proved that Pakistan’s stance was principled and was about national honour and dignity. People are wondering and asking whether the democratic leadership has done something different from Musharraf style chickening out; have we sold ourselves cheap yet once again?

Ambassador Sherry Rehman praised the US for ‘strategic patience’ and said the decision was an ‘important milestone in bilateral relations’ of the two countries. She added that no ‘secret’ deals had been cut.

Presumably Pakistan and the United States are likely to enter an agreement which seeks to remove ambiguities in an otherwise fragile relationship. The agreement is expected to spell out areas of cooperation between the two countries and their respective limitations regarding the relationship. The understanding reached as part of the ‘package deal’ has paved the way for resumption of supplies. America was initially reluctant to negotiate such an accord since the existing ‘vague’ arrangements served its purpose better. However, seven-month long standoff provided both sides an opportunity to narrow down their differences.

Government owes an elaborate policy statement to the parliament and the people. Nation should be taken into confidence about the future course of bilateral relations. America is used to and poised to follow a trajectory of arrogance and coercion. Policy statement must go beyond ambiguous superlatives and let the people know how the government plans to create a hedge against American hegemonic strategy.  Pakistan needs to continue with its efforts to balance its relations with other major power like Russia and diversify its vulnerable dependencies and interdependencies.

Air Commodore (R) Khalid Iqbal
July 6, 2012