Pakistan’s longstanding nightmare scenario has been a two front threat – from India in the east and an externally supported incursion from the west. The two front threat is now a reality except that it is from the Pakistan Taliban (TTP – Tehrik Taliban Pakistan) aided and abetted by Al Qaeda in the west and from its own internal situation that is an amalgam of a nationalist separatist movement in Baluchistan, the lawlessness in Karachi, a rising nationalist feeling in Sindh, militant extremist organizations with linkages to the threat from the west and a steady economic decline whose impact will inevitably be long term. India is now considered a silent spectator or a behind the scenes operator. Given the US presence in Afghanistan and the stable strategic US-India relationship the US-Pakistan relationship assumes great importance and significance.
There is a perception within Pakistan that the US is the master-mind behind an orchestrated grand conspiracy to undo Pakistan. Various studies with graphic maps that throw up implosion scenarios are quoted and dredged up in support of this perception. If this is indeed the case then all the US has to do is quietly and discreetly support the threats that Pakistan faces and in doing so it would be further cementing its relationship with India and Afghanistan. The perception within the US is that Pakistan is the epicenter of terrorism and either incapable of or unwilling to arrest its descent into chaos or shoulder the responsibility of being a nuclear weapons state. Even those who think that the US has a benign attitude towards Pakistan concede that considering Pakistan’s present turmoil the US would be preparing to safeguard its interests in a worst case scenario. Securing Pakistan’s nuclear weapons is a major US interest. The possibility that military and security organizations may have been penetrated by extremist influence is being seen as a reality after the assassination of the Punjab governor by his security detail, the attack on the Mehran Naval Base and high profile kidnappings.
The recent arrest of high profile Al-Qaida leaders from Quetta in Baluchistan has two sides. The positive view is that this has revived US-Pakistan cooperation and has been a shot in the arm for the US-Pakistan relationship. The downside is that everyone is now convinced that Al Qaeda is holed up in Pakistan, that the Quetta Shura is a reality and that the epicenter of terror is truly in Pakistan with other militant organizations like the TIP (Turkmenistan Islamic Movement) and Jundullah and others also using Pakistan’s space. India has long blamed Pakistan based militants for its urban violence though it has now admitted to ‘domestic modules’ being a reality. Recently there have been calls from influential voices within the US for suspension of support to the Pakistan military and even for a complete cut-off of all US aid to Pakistan. In a recent article the author highlighted two major mistakes by the US – the first being the attack on Iraq in the midst of the conflict in Afghanistan and the second being support to the Musharraf regime in Pakistan because of its double game. There are other voices too that blame the US for continuing the war after the Al-Qaeda and the Taliban had been routed in the initial attack and only law and order policies were required to bring them to justice. There is also the view that the US fell into the Osama set trap of declaring a war that has brought it into conflict with the Muslim world and that is costing a staggering amount.
The media and public opinion are powerful factors that influence policy and define the limits to which policy makers can go. The Raymond Davis affair could have been a botched robbery attempt till a US Consulate vehicle crushed a Pakistani to death and escaped from the scene and later from Pakistan. The media and public opinion already influenced by reports of inordinate access into Pakistan by the US through a liberal visa policy turned this into a major issue. The US thinks that the media and public opinion was deliberately instigated to create the conditions for the reversal of the visa policy and a review of US presence in the country – however, no one has ever been able to explain what Mr Davis was doing in one of the most crowded and difficult to reach areas of the city. A subsequent Drone attack on a tribal jirga further complicated ties because the US stated that a legitimate target had been struck – a gathering in broad daylight in the open. The environment that these incidents created must have influenced the decision for a unilateral incursion deep into Pakistan to take out Osama bin Laden but this became a watershed event for the US-Pakistan relationship. Poll after poll indicates negative public opinion against the US within Pakistan and continued Drone attacks and an orchestrated media and think tank onslaught against the military and ISI (inter services intelligence) does not help matters – in fact it fuels the ‘grand conspiracy against Pakistan’ theory.
Recent mass attacks from Afghan territory against Pakistani posts are a throw back to the German strategist Von Schlieffen’s revolving door plan in the First World War – draw in the enemy in one sector and get into his rear from another sector once he is extended. In this case after repeatedly blaming Pakistan for providing sanctuary and support to the Afghan Taliban for attacks inside Afghanistan there came the attacks on Pakistan in areas further north – and now the US has agreed to surveil Afghan areas from where these attacks are coming as a gesture to Pakistan that it hopes will be suitably reciprocated in due course. The recent coordinated Taliban attack in the heart of Kabul, obviously intended less for effect and more to demonstrate reach, has indicated that the transition in Afghanistan unless backed by rational reconciliation and clearly stated future strategic partnership plans can run into difficulty. This attack comes after several high profile assassinations and bombings in Afghanistan and Pakistan. In tandem with the finger pointing at Pakistan’s military – ‘establishment’ – for being the hindrance in bilateral relations with eastern and western neighbors as well as the ‘dual policy’ in the west, the ‘establishment’ is also blamed for living in the past, for not accepting present day realities and being obsessed with the threat from India to the exclusion of everything else – the so called ‘military mindset’. Such ideas do grave injustice to a military that is patiently supporting democracy and that is fully aware of the cost being paid by Pakistan in human lives and economic costs as well as the overall internal instability. The mantra that ‘the military is calling the shots’ has many supporters and for many reasons!
Pakistan’s response has many facets. There has been a flurry of high profile visits to China and Iran as well as Central Asian countries and joint meetings with Russia and Afghanistan there. The Iran – Pakistan pipeline is gaining traction as is the thrust to resolve the energy shortage. The dialogue with India is making slow progress and obviously has the support of the ‘establishment’. The old strategic depth scenario has been replaced with the push for a stable balanced and peaceful Afghanistan for economic reasons and for peace in Baluchistan and the western border areas. Steps have been taken to set the stage for a political solution to FATA. The violence in Karachi is being addressed. Political instability that would be the driver for all policies still eludes Pakistan and hopes are pinned on free and fair elections without any pre-election manipulations. Right now Pakistan faces flood conditions due to rain in its southern province and a Dengue fever epidemic in its most populous province. This may be a good time to reset US-Pakistan relations – starting with the two Presidents meeting, not alone but in a working group scenario with all the policy-influencers on both sides included. If this happens and ends on a positive note then the environment have to be created in which badly needed new policy thrusts can be formulated and presented. Pakistan cannot, and should not, project the image of a dysfunctional state if it wants to realize its potential, ensure human security, achieve economic viability and end its exploitable vulnerabilities.
Spearhead Analyses are the result of a collaborative effort and not attributable to a single individual.
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