Saturday, March 6, 2010

Our response to US frenzy

As Pakistan struggles to cope with its multiple challenges of fighting militants in Swat and in the tribal belt and taking care of millions of internally displaced persons it is subjected to enormous pressure from one of its closest allies, the United States. A stream of statements keeps pouring in from the US president, secretary of state, defence secretary, military commanders, the CIA, think tanks and the media on a daily basis on Pakistan’s internal matters. Doubts are cast on the safety and security of our nuclear weapons, concern is expressed over the fast pace of fissile production and weapons programme and lately even the diversion of US military assistance in the nuclear build-up. In parallel, the Pakistan military, and especially the ISI, has been subjected to intense pressure, making it a convenient international scapegoat. Misgivings have been expressed about the genuineness of the security organisation’s efforts, thereby implying duplicity of intentions — although of late there has been somewhat of a let-up.

What is driving the US to this verbal frenzy and how should Pakistan react to it? The reasons are manifold. First, President Obama has declared that the Afghan-Pakistan region, especially our tribal belt, to be the most dangerous place and the greatest security threat to world peace. The government’s writ being non-existent the assumption is that the top Al Qaeda and Taliban leadership is residing in the region. Obviously, if America’s security is interlinked to Pakistan then the media, think tanks and Congressional hearings will focus on all related aspects of Pakistan. Second, the US is tripling economic assistance and nearly doubling military assistance to Pakistan, totalling $1.5 billion a year for the next five years. With the economic recession in the US there is greater pressure for better distribution of resources and higher level of accountability, hence all those questions and conditionalities. Third, the Obama administration has been trying to project that the nuclear-armed Pakistan is facing an existential threat and has to be stabilised in the interest of US security. And by repeating the mantra of the fragility of Pakistan’s institutions and the dangers that could befall if the Taliban were to capture power it pressurises the Congress to provide economic and military assistance.

Fourth, Indian, Israeli and non-proliferation lobbies are also active in demonising Pakistan and trying to block, delay and reduce US assistance. And these detractors work overtime to keep reminding the Obama administration about Pakistan’s history of proliferation and its support of the Taliban and jihadi groups. Not realising that all these policies were adopted in a certain historical and geo-strategic context. The situation now is indeed very different, as Pakistan is locked in a survival struggle fighting the Taliban and militants on a broad front and needs all the support and understanding from the US and the international community.

The US itself was the greatest supporter of Afghan jihad in the 1980s and as Hillary Clinton admitted that “it is fair to say that our policy towards Pakistan over thirty years has been incoherent” and hence it shares the responsibility for the current failures in the region. This is a positive development because Washington in the past to cover its failures in Afghanistan has been placing all blame at Pakistan’s door.

It is perfectly understandable that the US or for that matter the world cannot overlook the current crisis in Pakistan, especially after experiencing 9/11. But US power centres at times tend to become paranoid about the security situation in Pakistan and all sorts of doomsday scenarios are projected, which in turn generate a reverse paranoia here. It then fuels a strong anti-American sentiment, giving rise to a host of wild conspiracy theories such as that the US primary aim in the region is to denuclearise Pakistan and weaken its security institutions. Besides, frequent violation of Pakistan’s sovereignty by drone strikes further reinforces this belief, acting as a constant irritant in bilateral relationship. The only gainers in all this are the militants.

Pakistan’s international image and credibility today is at its lowest. A nuclear power with rampant poverty and large pockets of militancy that until recently were growing unchecked, the world will always consider Pakistan to be the epicentre of problems. Also the perception that militants have links with the military and intelligence agencies has to be shed. This will only be possible if Pakistan truly abandons its policy of relying on non-state actors to achieve its policy objectives.

The outcome of the operation in Swat and other districts of the Malakand division is going to determine the future course of events. What is most crucial is the way Pakistan handles the massive refugee crisis. Initially, they have to be provided with the basic needs within the camps and on return they should be given full support to rebuild their homes, schools, hospitals, roads and everything that a normal community aspires for.

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