Saturday, March 6, 2010

Relation with the US

Managing relations with a superpower for any country, or foe, is always problematic. In case of Pakistan it is more so, as its vital security interests are closely intertwined with US and on many issues there are serious differences. Pakistan and the region are currently facing a grave security challenge due to major policy failures on the part of Washington and Islamabad. With the change in leadership in US, expectations were high that ObamaÕs administration will apply American power more gently and demonstrate greater understanding and sensitivity to the complex Pakistani situation. And formulate a policy that also accommodates PakistanÕs genuine security interests. It was equally expected from the PPP led coalition civilian government that it will be fully committed in fighting expanding militancy and terror and will take concrete measures to protect the lives of people and restore confidence both domestically and of the international community.

Instead what we are witnessing is that there is a deficit of trust and US is making repeated allegations that Pakistani intelligence services are assisting Taliban forces and likewise assisting Al-Qaeda.

The primary US objective of the Obama Af-Pak policy is to optimise PakistanÕs support in their fight against Taliban and Al-Qaeda. In the process they are leaning heavily on Pakistan and want quick results that are not possible. Besides, undertaking military operations Pakistan justifiably feels that it has to undertake measures that will address the basic reasons that have given rise to militancy.

Moreover, misunderstanding has arisen due to differences in perception about the nature of threat with Pentagon having its own set of priorities and the GHQ insisting on its own. Washington wants the Pakistan army to be fully focused on the western border and robustly engaged in counterinsurgency operations.

The there are differences about ISI maintaining links with militant groups in the tribal belt and in Afghanistan. These links of ISI are not meant to support these groups but to obtain information about their activities and using its influence to weaken one group against the other. For instance, at one time Mullah Nazir was being supported by Pakistan to counter Baithullah Mehsud. This was resented by the US military as Mullah Nazir has been active in its support of Afghan insurgency. In fact all major intelligence agencies, CIA, RAW, etc., have their own connections in regions of their interest and is nothing unique. The CIA to cover its own failings scapegoats PakistanÕs intelligence agencies. Furthermore, Washington in order to pressurise Pakistan also orchestrates a vilification campaign against ISI and the army. One thing is however clear that despite United States pervasive influence over Pakistan it will not be possible for it to act and political leaders and no amount of US pressure will compel it to sever relations with them. This by no means implies that Pakistan is helping the Taliban or any other militant group to undermine its allies but merely protecting its interests. The broader question that by maintaining links with Taliban Pakistan indirectly strengthens the Talibanization process within the country is a major issue and has to be addressed at the policy level.

Interestingly, Washington is supposedly engaged with moderate Taliban elements and Saudi help is being sought. They are not inclined to talk to Haqqani and Hikmatyar but the question is what would be the incentive for Taliban to talk. Maybe a Loya Jirga would help in promoting reconciliation of opposing forces and facilitate presidential elections in Afghanistan.

On the issue of drones US policy continues to create serious political problems in Pakistan as it fuels anti-Americanism and gives a big handle to Taliban to win support. President Zardari may not be in a position to take a firm stand on drones but in this way his position is being undermined and raising the profile of the militants. The drone attacks are pushing the militants into urban populated areas making the task of defeating them more difficult. Drones however are extremely accurate and their precision strikes could be very useful if these were given to Pakistan. In case drones cannot be supplied, being cutting-edge technologies then these should be given on lease to Pakistan for five to ten years. The argument that these cause collateral damage is not convincing as those people who are hosting foreigners in their homes are accomplices and cannot be considered as innocent victims. Failure of the government to highlight this point has resulted in further maligning the use of drones.

Pakistan should also bring to US and NATOÕs attention how it is being adversely affected by the conditions in Afghanistan. Corruption is so rife in Afghanistan that it has totally destroyed AfghansÕ faith in government. This coupled with absence of security further strengthens the hands of Taliban. In all these years there has been no serious attempt at reducing opium production by US. To expect our tribal belt to stabilise with Afghanistan in such dire straits would be very difficult. A more holistic policy is necessary to stabilise the region.

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