Re-orienting Pak-US ties

Spearhead Opinion – 01.08.2017

By Hira A. Shafi
Research Analyst, Spearhead Research

Owing to obscurity, Hegel’s philosophy comprises of diverse interpretations. A personal view—supports Hegel’s designation as a ‘mystic logician’. Furthermore, as a personal view— The mystic Hegel, seemed driven to understand the ‘Absolute’ idea/truth, which, to him had to be the purest—thus implying ‘simple’; but ‘simple’ also meant one constituent of the ‘absolute’ – thus logically making it ‘the partial truth’. Perhaps, this sense of seeing All as One and One as All—led to the birth of Hegel the logician—who viewed the synthesis derived from the various ‘partial truths’ as ultimately evolving towards ‘an absolute’.  Hegel is often criticized, and at times forsaken, as he sucks readers in his elaborate circles of thoughts. But, perhaps, one who derives order from the’ mad philosopher’ is rightly called Chaos.

General Mattis at a recent press meeting, while answering a question on the lag in announcing the Afghan Policy, discussed the complexities involved in forging the correct strategy – which in his view takes time. When asked if a plan had been presented to the President, Mattis goes on to superimpose Hegel’s metaphysical thought structure on to this contemporary issue, says:

What you do is — probably use the example before, I used Hagel’s dialectic.  You know, here’s the situation.  What’s the problem?  You have to analyze the problems, break it down.  Then you have to fuse it back together, what the problem is and the solutions, line by line.  

You take it in.  You make sure you get agreement on the problem.  Then you make certain you get agreement on the lines of effort.  And then you look at what it takes for each of those.  Then you put that back together.  

So, you have basically a thesis, you know, on the problem.  You come back with people saying that’s not the problem, the broader problem, it’s the narrower problem.  And then you get a synthesis of that.  OK, fine.  

You get the problem statement, define one.  Then you look at what is the political, the policy end state.  Then you put the end ways and means together.  And again, I realize this probably looks easy, but it is not easy.

He presented this view in the context of synthesizing various internal perspectives to devise the correct approach on Afghanistan. One cannot say with certainty, what Mattis exactly extracts from Hegel; nonetheless, his example, even though, focusing on internal dialogue, still feels re-assuring.

Hegel’s, idea of the absolute is interesting—the absolute core can be both realist and idealist, but in either case, the very aspect of ‘synthesis’ seems to exhume important notions of conflict resolution.

Broadening Mattis’s use of Hegelian dialectics to a bilateral level:

A prominent view in the US visualizes Pakistan as a man with many masks and many hats—untrustworthy, chaotic; whereas on the other side, the US is often viewed as strategy less, powerful Ares, disseminating chaos wherever it heads. If taken in the Hegelian context, behind each chaos, the absolute idea, which could be the purest, yet the most complex, encompassing all ‘partial truths’ is that of ‘self-defense’.

Dr Moeed Yusuf, in his recent paper “A Marriage Estranged: The Strategic Disconnect between Pakistan and the United States” rightly notes:

“The roots of U.S.-Pakistan tensions in recent years lie in the most canonical principle of interstate relations: a fundamental divergence of priorities and self-perceived interests. Each country’s policies in pursuit of its interests, perfectly rational in its own mind, have been antithetical to the other’s vision for South Asia. But both sides have been reluctant to acknowledge this situation—perhaps concerned that doing so would unleash the dangers associated with a total rupture in ties.

How does the acknowledgement and acceptance of this relevant notion of ‘self-interests’ impact the situation? It may well, serve as a stepping stone towards convergence—under which, ‘Stabilizing Afghanistan’, is no longer an independent situation, but instead one of the problems, which requires the correct synthesis of two opposing views.

 Pakistan’s—often misguided– image under this approach also morphs, because one is compelled to accept that the ‘partial truth’ Is not the absolute ‘end state’—thus, logically ‘dealing with Pakistan first’ does not translate to peace in Afghanistan. However, by this logic— nor is total convergence on acknowledging and respecting each other’s genuine security concerns, a guarantee for peace in Afghanistan, because that too is ‘partial’.  

One notices this divide –on the Pakistan issue– with in the US—while many support a sterner approach, many also see the adverse implications which could play a role in destabilizing   Pakistan, that could  even more greatly threaten US interests. Thus, resulting in limitations in finding the ‘correct carrot and stick ratio’ for Pakistan.

This conundrum could be resolved, once both states re-orient from agreeing upon basic principles of that absolute truth and build upon it—to effectively attain the desired end state. The alternate, at this point, could ‘at best’ continue to preserve the status quo which too becomes a tricky matter keeping in view the evolving regional situation, and the advent of new terror groups in the arena.

The US on its part, needs to become what Pakistan has always sought ‘a friend not master’, whereas Pakistan needs to make internal convergence on a long term national vision and take calculated decisions accordingly. The US Afghan policy is due to be announced soon, a US delegation is also expected to visit Pakistan to discuss the regional situation.

So far, many signs point towards a sterner US approach towards Pakistan, but one can also not ignore, the conditionality attached to each ‘stick’ — which signifies that the US also needs Pakistan. Pakistan needs to carefully analyze and utilize these ‘negotiation spaces’, keeping in view its own short term urgencies and long term interest.

Dialogue, between the two needs to be real, and wary of the absolute end—i.e. acknowledgment and preservation of each other’s national interests’– both US and Pakistan need to then synthesize coherent regional strategies which may eventually play a significant role in stabilizing Afghanistan as well.

On a lighter note General Mattis was quoted as saying— ‘Bear with us. Once we have exhausted all possible alternatives, the Americans will do the right thing’. In an opinion piece in the NYT Jonathan Stevenson called this remark ‘vintage Mattis: witty, learned and confident in his country’s future’ but also suggesting that he disagreed with President Trump but was unable to do much about it.