Establish the baseline | Pakistan Today

Establish the baseline

Use the legal to underpin other responses

Pakistan is out of the Bonn conference. Shamsi airbase is to be vacated. NATO supply lines have been blocked. What will United States-Pakistan relations look like beyond this point?

First, as I have noted elsewhere, the charade of a strategic partnership needs to end. This was always a transactional relationship grounded in coercive diplomacy. The NATO attack – even if ‘accidental’ – has pulled the covers off it. The reported decision by US President Barack Obama to not offer formal condolences on the deaths of 24 Pakistani soldiers, despite a request to this end by the US ambassador to Pakistan, is a telling statement on this relationship. It would help to acknowledge publicly what the two sides, at the highest level, have known for some time.

Pakistan’s foreign minister, Hina Rabbani Khar, has said Pakistan will review the entire gamut of relations. That’s a good start. However, it is important to note that a realistic review does not mean Pakistan has to necessarily embark on a collision course with the US. But expectations of what they can do for each other must be pared down.

Some of it is already on the table, for instance the need by both sides to take all measures to curb non-state terrorism. Pakistan must continue to do what it can, given its constraints, to put down such groups on its soil. The US-led coalition should be responsible for doing the same in Afghanistan.

Those who cross the border from Afghanistan to attack Pakistani interests are to be fought by Pakistan while those who go east to west should be ISAF’s. The border is porous, and if the US-led coalition cannot prevent west to east movement, it is downright dishonest to expect Pakistan to be able to do that for the reverse. There are ways in which Pakistan can counter the accusations that go both ways: that it is not doing enough to curb militant movement from east to west and that it is also harbouring the Afghan Taliban without any reference to how the elements Pakistan is supposedly harbouring enter Pakistan in the first place.

Pakistan must also agitate the issue of fencing the border at certain places, a proposal that came up some years ago but was shot down by Kabul. There is inherent contradiction in the position which blames Pakistan for not doing enough to stop the east-west movement and then turns around, when Pakistan proposes measures, and accuses Pakistan of hardening the border and by doing that separating the tribes either side of the Durand Line.

When I raised this point at a recent conference in Berlin on Afghanistan, many Afghans said to me that their country will never accept the Durand Line. Afghanistan wants to beat Pakistan both ways because it does not want recognition of the Durand Line and accepting fencing is the path to state practice under international law which can then be cited.

Americans know this and they have been less than honest about it.

We also know, now because of at least three incidents (there have been more) – Raymond Davis, bin Laden, Mohmand – that the US will happily and readily sacrifice any larger strategic partnership with Pakistan to satisfy its operational goals. This is just one flaw.

The other is in the US’ higher strategy. In Nov 2010, when Obama went to India on a 5-day visit, this is what I wrote in an op-ed for The Hindu:

“Behind all the nice talk about setting the world right through a Lockean cooperative framework lurks Mr. Hobbes… Mr. Obama… (de-hyphenated) Pakistan and India by not including Pakistan on this visit even as Pakistan is supposed to be a vital strategic partner and a state that is, presumably, going to determine, by his own admission, not only the future of this region but of the entire world. This would be amusing if it did not indicate a deep policy flaw.”

So, steps have to be taken to review relations. However, the many Pakistanis who want a direct military response to the US need to understand two things.

One, in an asymmetric relationship, the weaker side should not go for a direct response. It makes no sense to play on a pitch that favours the stronger side. The trick is to find the space between inaction and direct action and to reduce the possibility of coercion by the stronger side without compromising on one’s strategic concerns.

Inter-state dealings are not about emotions but working out a sustainable course of action. Let me specify two such courses of action. One, why should NATO be conducting the inquiry into an incident involving fire by its own troops? Pakistan should insist on an inquiry that involves NATO, Pakistan and a third entity. Pakistani officials have said the inquiry will go nowhere but have not suggested proactively the acceptable composition of any such inquiry.

Two, the supply lines. The routes should remain blocked until the results of an impartial inquiry, a US apology, and – if it is proved that its troops fired at and killed Pakistani soldiers without any reason and in violation of established SOPs – compensation.

But – this is important given the absence of any strategic partnership – Pakistan is under no obligation, even under the UN Security Council legal regime on terrorism, to allow supplies through its land to Coalition troops to help in their war effort in Afghanistan. The only thing Pakistan can, and should, do is to let in only those goods and materials that are important to the development of Afghanistan and for which Kabul provides Islamabad a list. All such goods must clear customs at the port of entry and checked.

The US should be informed that no materials, including fuel, that help its war effort can pass through Pakistan. Statements emanating from the US show that America can do without the Pakistani route. Pakistan should welcome another choice by the US.

The next step should be the use of airspace. The US may be told that it can use Pakistani airspace only for non-military purposes. As for drones, Islamabad needs to take the issue to the UNSC, whose legal regime is very clear on the fact that no state can operate in the airspace or on the territory of another state without the latter’s permission. This means the US can operate the drones only if it shares information on what targets it wants to engage and why. If the US operates its drones without Islamabad’s permission, it will be in violation of Pakistan’s sovereignty and also of the UNSC legal regime.

None of this will make the US happy. None of what has happened makes Pakistan very happy. There’s realpolitik in all this. But by taking the legal route in consonance with its own law as well as the UNSC regime, Pakistan would be establishing a baseline. Anything that the US does after that would establish a clear violation for which the onus will be on Washington. Pakistan could make its choices more clearly beyond that point.

The writer is Executive Director of Jinnah Institute. The views expressed are his own and do not necessarily reflect JI’s policy



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13 Comments

  1. HinaKharisBest said:

    "First, as I have noted elsewhere, the charade of a strategic partnership needs to end."

    How convenient! pak army and their mouthpiece (such as Ejaz Haider) did not mind hoodwinking the world, thus continuing the "charade" since 2001, as long the army thought they were getting away with it! Now that they are caught with their pants down in front of the world (after OBL and open accusation of in ISI-Haqqani and Mumbai terror) the army wants the "charade" to end! LOL!

    • like to F*** You said:

      @HinaKharisBest: Army caught with their pants down so you could see what is the size. it will make you decide easier whether you want it or not.

  2. lucyinthesky21 said:

    The action by the USA has caused some distress to the fragile Pakistan political/theological rhetoric. The real war was caused many years ago and couched in the rhetoric for many years…long before oil was a major world commodity (so don't use oil as an excuse to explain the problem in Pakistan). Pakistan has surrendered its sovereignty to the theologists as has many of the Arab countries. How else does one describe Sharia Law. Pakistan is supposed to be secular but the influence of religion remains dominant. Pakistan wants aid from the west and is provided real dollars. It's politicians spend it on military hardware instead of good schools. At the same time they hate the providers of aid if they are Western but keep on accepting such aid. The only thing asked in return was the ability to curb the insane regime that ruled Afghanistan and allowed the likes of a Bin Laden to create a 911 crisis. Did Pakistan think the world was going to sit back and do nothing. It even had to eventually take out the same Bin Laden that appears to have been provided a harbor in Pakistan. Is the world to believe Pakistan did this unknowingly. Does Islam hate all westerners or is it just some Islamists hating some westerners? I know many very good Muslims and also sense that they have religious pressure in free western countries. Listen to Tarek Farah.

    My heart goes out to the soldiers killed and their families. If Pakistan is to avoid such future confrontations, it must demonstrate much more forcefully its will to stop aiding the "enemy". it is time for Pakistan to get back its own country and put the theologists out of politics and restrict their actions to matters of spirituality.

  3. Ken Bryant said:

    How do you propose to control the airspace? It's easy enough to block roads; airspace, not so much. If you try to enforce that, you'll lose your airforce, which presumably you were saving for India.

  4. Truth Seeker said:

    Daydreamer describing wishful thoughts. Pakistan made its choice the day it asked for two billion dollars from USA in October 1947. Out of requested loan, 510 million dollars were for defence purposes. Despite reduction in the size of the country and deteriorating economic situation , defence expenditure ratio has not decreased, so how can Pakistan survive with dignity when fifty percent population is either below the poverty line or touching it. Before challenging American belligerence, challenge home grown terrorism and don't nourish own terrorists as strategic assets._Let us wait for more explosive situations because Pakistani COAS has removed the constraints of Chain of Command. Now Post Commander is the final decision maker. It is the cleanest way to lay the blame at the door of poor NCO/JCO or a major. There are no successful generals in the annals of history, there are only lucky generals. Peacetime successful generals in reality or freaks or mavericks. By graduating from NDU one does not become an intellectual wizard, one has to be lucky and as the generals have realised that they are running out of luck they are shooting the ball in the lower court to absolve themselves of their responsibility, while enjoying all the perks of rank and status.

  5. Truth Seeker said:

    Ejaz Haider is well articulated and well read defence analyst and knows as to when generals delegate operational decisions to lower ranks. When they are loosing control of the situation or when they have lost all hope. With present state of affairs of economy, politics and worsening communication infra structure the only option COAS has, is to delegate the operational authority to the lowest rank so that NDU graduates can challenge USA and WEST where they plan to settle, when they have no responsibilities._

  6. Multilingual SEO said:

    I guess Pakistan's Govt has made a very good decision of not attending BON CONFERENCE as It will warn america that We cannot be dictated.

  7. Just praising said:

    Greedy cake eaters must be punished, well done NATO..!

    • Rizwan said:

      I think NATO forget, pakistani force broken the russia in 5 to 6 years, soon we reply America & NATO

  8. canadian said:

    pakistan, islam's puppet. the arabs will fight their wars to the last pakistani soldier, while pakistanis starve at home.
    you totally deserve islam, which comes with a serious dose of stupidity. remember, pakistan, whatever may come upon you, you deserve it, for you have let islam uproot you.
    good riddance, and may that god allah take all of pakistan and turn it into islamic virgins. your masters, the arabs, will surely love that.

  9. Baloch Khan said:

    Pakistan has no right to restrict NATO force to use the air-space over Balochistan which was occupied by Pakistan with force in 1948. Balochs, including Khan of Qalat, the then ruler of independent Balochistan, has clearly declared that Balochistan air-space should be used with the consent of Balochs and the ruler of independent Balochistan.

  10. SEO Company said:

    How convenient! pak army and their mouthpiece (such as Ejaz Haider) did not mind hoodwinking the world, thus continuing the "charade" since 2001, as long the army thought they were getting away with it! Now that they are caught with their pants down in front of the world

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