Asif Haroon Raja
Pakistan-US relations that had soured after 1990, warmed up after 9/11 when Pakistan agreed to fight US coined war on terror as a frontline state. Their relations are apparently still friendly but clouded in suspicions and mistrust. Whatever steps taken by government of Pakistan for the benefit of US interests and at the cost of earning displeasure of the people of Pakistan are received with mixed feelings. No sooner Pakistan’s actions are applauded by some US officials; these are promptly washed off by other officials or US media through censures and ‘do more mantra’. Barring few, there is general consensus in Pakistan that it has suffered immensely because of its purported friendship with USA. It has lost much more and gained very little. Indian factor has played a prominent role in coloring the perceptions of US officials and widening trust deficit. Indian lobbyists are feverishly burning midnight oil to further widen this gulf and to turn USA hostile against Pakistan. They would have succeeded in their designs if the US military had achieved some of the objectives of war on terror and had gained an upper edge in Afghanistan and US economy had remained stable.
The US had to reconsider its policies in the wake of continuously deteriorating security situation in Afghanistan, which forced Obama Administration to rush in 21000 additional troops from Iraq in 2009 to stabilize the situation. US-UK joint operation in Helmand turned into a fiasco and ISAF suffered heavy casualties. When no improvement could be affected another heavy reinforcement of 30000 is being dispatched. This is in spite of US claim that not more than 100 Al-Qaeda operatives are operating in Afghanistan. At the same time, Washington has decided to start pulling out its troops from Afghanistan by July 2011 onwards and has also stepped up its efforts to win over Taliban. Its futile endeavor is however to break linkage between Al-Qaeda and Taliban and to invest in alternative leadership of Taliban that can stand up against Mulla Omar. It has not made breakthrough on any front. Death of seven CIA agents at US base in Khost is the latest debacle and an indication that Taliban-Al-Qaeda nexus is intact.
Looking around, one finds obtaining situation in Central Asian Republics (CAR) where US economic interests reside unfavorably disposed towards USA. This is because of resurgence of Russia and its increasing grip over CAR, growing military and economic power of China and defiance of nuclear North Korea. Nuclearization of Iran and its anti-Israel and anti-US policies are a pain in the neck both for USA and Israel. And so is Iraq where the US having shed river of blood and spent colossal amounts has failed to stabilize it. Shia elements aligned with Iran are ruling the roost. Hamas in Gaza and Hizbollah in Lebanon refuse to get cowed down by Israeli belligerence and remain in a fighting mood. Turkey which had refused use of its airspace and territory to US troops for invasion of Iraq from the north in 2003 retains its Islamic identity and independence of thought and action. Syria too maintains its warrior spirit against USA and Israel. It had fiercely reacted to a single drone attack on a border village last year which restrained USA from making another attempt. Whole of impoverished Africa is in ferment because of western looters policy of divide and rule and wanton plunder of their wealth.
Al-Qaeda has grown in size and strength. Apart from its bases in Iraq and Afghanistan, it has bases in Somalia, Yemen, Sudan and North Africa. While Yemen has heated up, in Somalia, Al-Shabaab linked with al-Qaeda has gained control over more than 90% of Somali territory. Al-Qaeda is linked with all Islamic movements like Afghan Taliban, Chechnya movement, Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan and Islamic movements in certain Far Eastern Asian countries. US ambassador in Islamabad has admitted that the US has credible information that large number of terrorists are homing towards Yemen and Somalia. Till recent the flow from Africa and Iraq was in the opposite direction. This reversal of tide has occurred because of brilliant successes achieved by Pak Army in Swat, South Waziristan and other troubled spots in the northwest. Pro-active and aggressive posture adopted by Pak army together with planned troop surge in Afghanistan has shrunk space for the militants forcing them to flee to safer havens elsewhere.
Somali coast off Indian Ocean has become another hotspot where pirates have posed a serious challenge to western commercial interests. From 2008 onwards, several daring raids have been carried out by Somali sea pirates to seize foreign ships for ransom. This practice is still continuing despite formation of joint counter-piracy force by Asian-Western countries. All these militant activities in various parts of Muslim world indicate that Al-Qaeda that was confined to Afghanistan till September 2001 has spread its tentacles far and wide and has now become an international organization. Aiman al-Zahawari based in Iraq has emerged as a strong and influential leader and like Osama bin Laden has successfully evaded worldwide hunt against him.
War on terror instead of getting curbed has become uncontrollable. It has not only made the lives of Americans highly insecure but has also made the world as a whole unsafe. Lots of hopes were pinned on Barack Obama to undo wrongful policies of George W. Bush and to promote peace and harmony in the world. He has proved to be huge disappointment. Instead of calling off senseless war on terror he is stoking it further. Resurgence of Taliban power in Afghanistan has deflated his fervor to some extent but not his resolve since he feels that he somehow would lose next election if he adopts defensive strategy. He has however been forced to revise his Pakistan specific Af-Pak policy in which the two countries were integrated into a single battle zone and India given a key role in Afghan affairs. It has belatedly dawned upon his team that what to talk of turning defeat into victory, exit from Afghanistan would become impossible without Pakistan support. This realization has compelled Washington to keep Pakistan on board with a heavy heart and it is these days trying to show its soft face.
Not only about 80% of Afghan territory has come under the influence of Taliban, rigged presidential election has made the position of unpopular Karzai more fragile. Performance of Afghan security forces predominated by non-Pashtuns is below average. The US is spending huge amount to expand and upgrade the quality of National Army and the police so that frontline duties could be assigned to them within next two years. There is however little hope for tangible improvement without the induction of Pashtuns. Likewise, Afghan regime will be unable to gain credibility as long as Pashtuns are denied their rightful share in power.
Rumbling within NATO countries based in Afghanistan is getting louder since they can see the writing on the wall. So is the case with American public which no more supports war on terror and wants its soldiers to return home. The US has so far spent over $38 billions but anti-Americanism among the Afghans has multiplied since they want them to leave. Anti-Americanism in Pakistan too has peaked because of biased and discriminatory policies pursued by Washington. Latest provocative step is the new discriminatory law framed to screen visiting Pakistanis on American ports while excusing India.
The US can upturn its image in Pakistan if it stops drone attacks in FATA and provide civilian nuclear deal to Pakistan similar to the one provided to India. It can boost its image if it forcefully forbids India to carryout covert operations against Pakistan using Afghan soil and restrains it from stealing Pakistan water. Other steps that can help build trust and confidence are construction of hydel power projects and provision of greater access to US and EU markets for Pakistani products. Pakistanis will become pro-America and render more sacrifices to safeguard US interests if the US helps Pakistan in easing the debt burden and plays a pro-active role to solve longstanding Kashmir dispute in accordance with the wishes of Kashmiris and UN Resolutions. These two acts would go a long way in dispelling misgivings and mistrust harbored by people of Pakistan and in building mutually sustaining and durable strategic partnership premised on mutual interests, mutual respect and mutual trust.
Practically, such an occurrence is far-fetched and a pipedream since Indo-Israeli lobbies enjoying strong influence over policy makers in USA would never allow it to happen. In 2010, distrust and antagonism would accelerate rather than de-escalate since the security situation in Afghanistan would keep spinning out of control. It would leave politically weakened Obama Administration with no choice other than to continue following Indo-Israel dictated dual faced policies of harming Pakistan under the garb of friendship. While making Pakistan more dependent upon IMF and US aid, tunnel-vision US leaders would release aid miserly, keep on blaming Pakistan for US failures and intensifying pressure to commence operation against Maulvi Nazir, Gul Bahadur and Haqqani network and intensifying as well as widening scope of drones. At the same time, it would keep expanding its presence in Pakistan to be able to hunt Pak nukes. Such hypocritical recourse would give short term benefits to India and Israel and a sadistic pleasure to USA but in the long run all will be losers. Those wishing for mutually beneficial relationship are living in cloud-cuckoo-land.
The writer is a retired Brig and a defence and security analyst. Email: email@example.com