Trucks carrying US-NATO non-lethal supplies have begun rolling across from Pakistan’s Karachi Port on the Arabian Sea through to Afghanistan after a seven month suspension. The United States has hailed the opening of the ground lines of communication (GLOC), while Pakistan is touting the move as a goodwill gesture by a “responsible global player,” an act, according to Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf, taken in national interest. Sherry Rehman, the 180 Million strong countries’ ambassador to Washington, dubbed the resumption of supply lines as an “historic turn in the trajectory of relations with the US (interview with CNN’s Situation Room, June 5). Yet, while the ruling coalition projects this as a tactical victory, a storm is gathering around it, with almost all opposition parties threatening to protest the ambiguous deal with the US, which they decry as a step that has bypassed the Parliament. The opposition is unhappy with the muted and conditional “sorry” that the US Secretary of State expressed over the killing of 24 Pakistani soldiers killed in a US-NATO strike in November last year. The opposition also wants to know the details of the deal, but to the surprise of many, a Pakistani foreign ministry spokesman told media on June 5 that a formal agreement was still in the works.
This revelation also entails the question as to what has Pakistan gained after its insistence brought the supplies and the crucial relations with the NATO and US to a grinding halt. And also, whether the move will help mend and normalize relations? Can Pakistan really think beyond tactics, and can it translate tactical gains, if any, in long term strategic advantages? The prospects look grim – if the history of relations with the US and the known reasons for disagreements are any indicator.
Despite the resumption of the ground lines of communication (GLOC), the promised “reset “ for an enduring, friction-free partnership is not likely to come about even in the medium term. It is likely to remain hostage to multiple factors including Pakistan’s perceived long-term interests which are at variance with the short-term geo-political objectives of the United States. Moreover, it looks that Pakistan even bargained cheaply as compared to the details of deal between two states seven months ago. As “Seven months ago, in exchange for reopening the NATO supply lines, the US was ready to apologise, pay compensation, give assurances that Salala would not be repeated, respect Pakistan’s sovereignty and release over US$2 billion in Coalition Support/Kerry Lugar funds.”[i] But according to few details of the current deal, US will pay only $1.1 billion in coalition support fund (CSF) and will not pay extra charges on NATO containers. It also shows that US sustained, though at the cost of higher financial resources in its brawl with Pakistan, while Pakistan was squeezed economically, politically and militarily.
Little over two years ago, an advisor to the US State Department, surprised many when he told a gathering of Pakistani, Afghan, Indian and British intellectuals in London that “basically the sole super power status shapes the American attitude – that often comes across as arrogance.” This sounds so true when judged to the context of US defense secretary, Leon Panetta’s recent statements in New Delhi, Kabul and Washington offer a good corroboration of what the advisor said in London. “We have made clear to the Pakistanis that the United States of America is going to defend ourselves against those who attack us,” Mr. Panetta told an audience the Institute for Defense Studies and Analyses, New Delhi on June 6, 2012. “This is not just about protecting the United States. It’s also about protecting Pakistan. And we have made it very clear that we are going to continue to defend ourselves.” He further delineated that “The leadership of those who were involved in planning this attack are located in Pakistan, in the FATA (Federally Administered Tribal Areas).”[ii]
Next day in Kabul, Panetta thundered further when he voiced “increasing concern” that safe havens exist, and those like the Haqqanis make use of that to attack our forces. “We are reaching the limits of our patience for that reason.” It is extremely important for Pakistan to take action to prevent (giving) the Haqqanis safe havens, and for terrorists to use their country as a safety net to conduct attacks on our forces, ne observed.[iii] Panetta’s pronouncements underscored the deep-seated suspicion of Pakistan, and the propensity within the administration to run down the country by declaring it “incorrigible. That is why even on June 23, the Defence Secretary ruled out an apology “past expressions of regret and condolences were enough”.
Seen against this context, it seems, US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton’s expression of “sorry” on July 3 clearly flew in the face of the man who heads the Pentagon – the symbol of the American security
establishment. On the face of it, US State Department triumphed over Pentagon. In Pakistan, the government and the military spoke in unison and thus moved on, although mystery still surrounds the entire episode and little is known about the details of the deal.
Meanwhile, it is clear that Clinton’s “sorry” will hardly remove the multi-lateral mistrust of Pakistan that flows from the latter’s alleged nexus with the Afghan Taliban, the Haqqanis, and some Pakistani militant groups with global outreach. That is why, Carolyn Brooks, a political analyst and a former US administration insider, believes that If the U.S. would stop badgering Pakistan about Haqqani I am sure that Pakistan would gladly give him up, but unfortunately the U.S. knows nothing of “face”, and Pakistan still hasn’t recovered “face” since the NATO incident last November and the unfortunate deaths of the Pakistani troops.” Brooks, who used to run a blog Critical American Thinker, in reference to the Pakistani security establishment’s reactive bent of mind, also insists that “Pakistan, too, needs to find a way to come into more of a Western way of thinking if it wants to continue to receive MONEY from the west. “Money talks, bullshit walks” is an old American adage. It is just a fact of life.”
What she probably means by the Western way of thinking is for Pakistan to realize that American and Indian presence in Afghanistan is now almost a fact just as much as Pakistan’s interest in Afghanistan because of the inalienable geographical proximity ( 2,560 km border). Pakistan’s security establishment shall have to factor that in when thinking of its engagement with Kabul. Washington and Kabul shall also have to accord recognition to this Pakistani interest. This might create middle ground for all the four countries to hammer out a mutually acceptable collaborative framework, which could also help remove mutual mistrust.
Without necessarily agreeing to all these points, let us face the reality; Pakistani economy is in doldrums and its impact will be visible in a few years as the population and the army of unemployed swells. For turning it around, Pakistan needs international goodwill, aid and investment rather than animosity.
Against this backdrop, it looks that perennial state of conflict, stubborn state of denial and inflated egos will continue spilling more economic disaster, rather than improving the plight of the teeming millions in this country. And the disaster will be even more pressing for the military establishment itself, unless it wants to turn the country into another Afghanistan, Sudan or Somalia. The army and its supporters in the civilian government shall have to shun reactive mode and get into a pro-active, more calculated economy-oriented policy framework that draws support from the US and its allies rather than indignation and condemnation.
Meanwhile, if the main contours of Pakistan’s so-called defense doctrine did not change, the multilateral mistrust out of Washington, New Delhi and Kabul in particular will keep defining and upsetting its external relations for the worse. And this upsetting will have serious consequences for its fragile economy, and leaderless politics.
[i] Najam Sethi, “Time for Change”, The Friday Times, July 6, 2012.
[ii] “UU to keep up attacks on al Qaeda in Pakistan: Panetta”, The Express Tribune, June 6, 2012.
[iii] David S. Cloud and Laura King, “Panetta: Militant havens testing limits of US patience with Pakistan”, The Christian Science Monitor, June 8, 2012, available at http://www.csmonitor.com/World/Asia-South-Central/2012/0608/Panetta-Militant-havens-testing-limits-of-US-patience-with-Pakistan
Tags: coalition support fund, cross border attacks, defence doctrine, fragile economy, ground lines of communication, Haqqani network, leaderless politics, multilateral mistrust, NATO Supply, Pak US Relations, Pakistani Parliament, poverty, safe havens, Salala Check Post, unemployment, US apology