The US and Pakistan

Pakistanis are being constantly told that the Raymond Davis episode and the Osama bin Laden event soured relations between the US and Pakistan and that these are the issues that have brought the bilateral relationship to a new low. They are not being told what it was about these events that made them so significant. Could it be that a CIA operative under the cover of being a diplomat was where he should not have been and that he killed two Pakistanis in broad daylight and then a US Consulate vehicle sent to retrieve him crushed another Pakistani dead? How do you get over something like that? The raid into Pakistan that led to the killing of OBL and was carried out without taking Pakistan into confidence left its Army and Intelligence to face the humiliation of being publicly accused of complicity or incompetence or both. This was indeed a watershed event and has had led to consequences that such events inevitably lead to. Perhaps it is relevant to consider that these events were the result of a perception on the US side that Pakistan was not cooperating as an ally should and a perception on the Pakistani side that the US had gained covert access into Pakistan through devious means and their intentions were not clear. If so, then several months later not much has been done to clear the air — in fact it is more fogged up than before. There is a crying need for clarity over divergences and perceptions.

The Pakistan military and ISI have been targeted from several quarters. First we had the pressure to launch military operations into North Waziristan without a consideration of the consequences for Pakistan. The alternatives to such overt action, while there was talk of US withdrawal and reconciliation through talks, were never really fully explored. The military and ISI were blamed for resisting US pressure under the refrain that it is the military that calls the shots on security and foreign policies — a belief that has firm roots thanks to Pakistanis themselves. Then we had Ambassador Blackwill’s plan for the partition of Afghanistan so that Taliban (Pashtuns actually!) could be hit on both sides of the border. Then we had George Perkovich suggesting a policy that would deny aid and support to the military and strengthen the civilian government — suggesting that they were separate entities and it was the military that was the problem. Next we had Bruce Reidel weighing in with a ‘containment’ policy for Pakistan and then Ashley Tellis suggesting that the US should forget talks, postpone withdrawal, develop alternatives to the NATO supply route through Pakistan, secure basing rights in Afghanistan, reduce equipment transfers to Pakistan, replace Coalition Support funding to Pakistan’s military with civilian aid and stand behind Pakistan’s civilian government to cut the military’s influence on decision making. In between the US media asked for a restructuring of the ISI among many other insinuations all aimed at the military and the ISI. Admiral Mullen dealt a final blow before his departure when he called the Haqqani Network a ‘veritable arm of the ISI’. More recently Anatol Lieven has said that if treating Pakistan as an ally is not working then the US could negotiate by treating Pakistan as an enemy and by grouping it with the Taliban. There is also the article titled ‘Pakistan-the Ally from Hell’ — the title says it all. The all time favorite theme of Pakistan’s nukes not being safe and secure has also picked up steam with far fetched notions like mated weapon systems being moved around in delivery vans! — and transcripts of fictional telephone conversations. Currently there is much debate over a mysterious memo allegedly delivered to Admiral Mullen through an intermediary urging him to restrain the military and save the elected government — again an attempt to create a civil-military rift and as a follow up it is being put out by the conspiracy mafia that this was an ‘intel op’ to undermine the government!. India and Afghanistan also have concerns over the Pakistan military and the ISI and would be cheering, and not just from the sidelines. So, pushed to the ropes by this onslaught Pakistan is resisting pressures as best as it can to protect its national interests. The US-Pakistan Strategic Dialogue should be resumed without preconditions to bring maturity and sustainability in the US-Pakistan relationship — this relationship remains important and rhetoric should not determine its future course.

There is a broader picture that Pakistan has to bear in mind. The US-India strategic relationship that has evolved from the US-India Civil Nuclear Technology Agreement and that is now drawing India into the Asia-Pacific region and strategic relationships with other US allies. The India–Afghanistan strategic agreement and India’s growing influence in Afghanistan. The US-Afghanistan Agreement being discussed for US presence in Afghanistan beyond 2014. The futuristic ‘new silk road’ that promises to make Pakistan and Afghanistan hubs for energy and trade flows but which will remain a pipe dream till there is peace and stability in Afghanistan. There is also the US confrontation with Iran that has linkages to Syria and the broader Middle East. There are also ongoing efforts to start an Afghan led but broadly supported reconciliation process in Afghanistan. In the shadow of these developments there is slow progress on the India-Pakistan dialogue and some positive developments — a process from which India and Pakistan and the region all stand to gain because the India–Pakistan situation is now conditioned by asymmetries and nuclear deterrence. The Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) has gained traction as Russia and China act to secure their spheres of economic and regional influence. Pakistan remains a critically important player in the end game that is starting in Afghanistan. The Arab Spring and the Iraq and Libyan games have had a profound impact on strategic thinking and now the focus is on Syria and Iran — the importance of internal stability and security has been highlighted as never before and external intervention has taken on a whole new meaning and format. A combination of cyber warfare, stealth technology, covert operations, support to internal dissidents and drones have heralded a new era of warfare. Pakistan has to ensure that it is in a position to benefit from present and the post-Afghanistan environment and not a weak link in the evolving scenario.

For Pakistan its internal situation is most important. There is a realization that there has to be political stability, economic viability and internal cohesion to enforce the writ of the state against insurgency, radicalization, militants and internal divides as well as ward off external pressures. Till this state is achieved Pakistan cannot allow its vulnerabilities to be exploited from its near abroad nor can it ignore human security. It is for this reason that the military has deliberately opted to exit from the political scene and remain in the shadows even in stressful situations and clearly indicate its support for democracy and a threat reduction strategy as part of over all foreign policy. The military is now effectively a part of the comprehensive security concept and not its sole custodian — a change not being understood by all. Pakistan, like the US, is also moving towards elections and the dynamics of the political situation are acquiring urgency and developing new facets with ‘change’ as the buzzword. This is no time for civil-military or any other divides — not even the perception of such divides — because the need and popular demand is for free and fair elections that give a level playing field to all. Pakistan has to develop and orchestrate all the elements of national power because security is no longer military centric and foreign policy cannot be worked by an internally weak state nor can a nuclear armed state afford to be seen as failing or dysfunctional when it has the capacity to put its house in order.

Spearhead Analyses are the result of a collaborative effort and not attributable to a single individual.

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