Tough Talks

Spearhead Analysis – 23.10.11

Team Clinton that visited Pakistan was a high level group—in fact except for President Obama almost everyone was there. The team leader—Hillary Clinton—was buoyant, cheerful, confident and all smiles in her public interactions. She laughed loud and long when a questioner called America a demanding mother-in-law. She also talked tough. She did not differ with the US media who had previewed the purpose of her visit as being to deliver tough ultimatums to Pakistan—do this or else! She also said that Pakistan was a partner but also a challenge and that the challenge part had overtaken the partner part. She said that the US wanted action against the Haqqani Network—“not in months or years but in days and weeks”. She balanced the tough messages by adding that there had been agreement to resume the interrupted strategic dialogue after reviewing progress. She spoke about a bilateral investment treaty, reconstruction opportunity zones, about supporting Pakistan to improve education, health care and the energy shortfalls clarifying that the US had delivered a total of US$ 2 billion out of the Kerry-Lugar-Berman Bill commitment. There were no deadlines, no definite commitments and no promises. The implications were clear within the messages—Pakistan had to do things to change from challenge to partner and that it was primarily Pakistan’s responsibility to get its priorities right, stabilize internally, generate revenues and formulate policies that were in its own interests.

A noteworthy point was that Mrs Clinton quoted Pakistan’s Army Chief twice—once on his use of the term ‘squeezing the militants’ and secondly on his agreement that there “convergence was 90 to 95 per cent and divergence only 5 to 10 percent”. There was no elaboration of how important the 10 per cent divergence was and whether it could actually undermine the 90 percent convergence. There was also no clarification on ‘squeezing’ being an acceptable strategy in dealing with the Haqqani Network or whether the US wanted more drastic and urgent action. She did declare that the US would not act unilaterally in Pakistan but did not add that this would hold even if there was a target that the US determined was really high value. She agreed that there was anti-American opinion in Pakistan (though it is really anti US policy!) and added that there was similar anti-Pakistani opinion in the US. She also did not deny that there was a high level of distrust and that this was the reason for the unilateral raid into Pakistan to take out Osama bin Laden.

In fact the level of distrust is so high that Pakistanis are suspicious that they are being set up for some kind of trap and that this was the real purpose of the high level visit. The briefing of other ambassadors by the US Ambassador on the visit added to these suspicions. It is entirely possible that the Pakistan Foreign Office would also brief them to set the record straight so that there are no surprises later. The well timed positive statements by the Indian Prime Minister and Foreign Minister on India-Pakistan relations and US-Pakistan relations and President Karzai’s emotional assertions of friendship with Pakistan in an interview with a Pakistani journalist added to the overall perception of this being an orchestrated affair. The majority of Pakistanis, however, took the Team Clinton visit seriously. There was appreciation of the working group format so that there are no ‘one on one’ talks with more confusion than progress. This should be the format for all future interactions. There was appreciation for Mrs Clinton’s view that footholds by militants lead to loss of control. This found resonance because Pakistanis are concerned about being branded the ‘epicenter’ of terrorism and having their image tarnished. And they want internal stability so that there can be political and economic viability. The Secretary of States’ endorsement of the All Parties Resolution was also appreciated though our Foreign Minister pointed out that Parliament would be the final decision maker. There was strong appreciation for her admission that the US had no hard evidence to back the allegations made by Admiral Mullens against Pakistan.

Perhaps what created an overall positive impression was the emphasis on peace and reconciliation being the preferred approach and the understanding that the ISI was not the only agency to have wide ranging contacts because without such contacts intelligence agencies could not deliver results. Her impression of the talks having been ‘frank and open’, of both sides having ‘heard’ each other and that she was ‘reassured’ that both were on the ‘right track’. One assumes that Pakistan’s concerns and interests have been fully understood. By now it should be clear that coercion and irrational pressure cannot deliver results. Nor does demonizing institutions through the media and public statements help—if anything it confirms suspicions and hardens resolves. Very important was Mrs Clintons unambiguously stated belief in Pakistan’s potential—something that is lost sight of as Pakistanis grapple with trivia and lose sight of the bigger picture. Unless Pakistan prepares for the future it will be by passed by others better positioned to exploit a changed environment. This means focusing on the economy, internal stability, infrastructure and strategic relations not just with the US but with all the neighbors. Much will now depend on how both sides follow up on these talks and create the environment that sends the message that US-Pakistan relations are back on track. This will require a bilaterally orchestrated effort by the US and Pakistan.

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

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