In recent years, the Pak-US relationship has never been an easy one. The bonhomie that the brass of both countries displayed in public only barely masked the massive distrust on either side, with the US definitely more vocal about it. But the skids were really put under it once OBL was taken out in a brazen attack deep in Pakistan on May 2.
The assaults, albeit mostly verbal until now, from all quarters in the US have since come thick and fast, with Pakistan’s military establishment blamed for much of everything that has gone wrong in Afghanistan. In the Pakistani quarters concerned, the resentment already ran deep. The Nov 25 NATO helicopter gunship attack killing 24 Pakistani soldiers on a border checkpost only made it erupt.
Our generals saw red, but given our ‘technological backwardness’ a military retaliation was not an option even to be contemplated. The NATO supplies were blocked, an irreversible deadline to vacate the Shamsi Airbase (why this closure was not extended to the Shahbaz Airbase is perplexing though, for there even the fig leaf of having let it to the UAE which sublet it to the US does not exist) was set. There was also talk of taking up the matter to the UNSC which hasn’t ripened into action yet, while the Bonn conference was boycotted.
All this stands duly endorsed by the federal cabinet, though the efficacy of the last measure is in question. With 90 countries attending, the avowed purpose of the conference is to form policy on post-2014 Afghanistan and its internal and external arrangements. Though a similar exercise at Istanbul some time ago was a futile endeavour, but by absenting itself Pakistan definitely loses an opportunity to present its case on a policy forum, where it could also have put some egg on NATO and the US face by raising the issue of the latest killings.
Since our track record of blowing hot and cold with the US and its so-called war on terror is not an enviable one, and we have quite often choked on our anger after some placatory moves from Washington, one is not certain for how long this altercation will last.
This however is a decent opportunity to stand back and have some measure of the extent of our fall from (the US) grace and how it has come about that our military posts were now coming under deliberate, murderous ‘friendly’ fire. Trumpeting about violation of sovereignty and inciting the public fury mostly through certain known entities or blaming the present civilian government will just not do. The Afghan imbroglio, the chummy relations with the US in this regard in the 1980s and in the decade just past, with the creation of the Taliban in the interregnum, the unrequited love for depth in Afghanistan and the damage that it has wreaked on us have been the security establishment’s handiwork.
Again our major difference with the US seems to stem from our justified anxiety in having a bigger say in the post-2014 Afghanistan than our ‘friendly’ eastern neighbour. Encirclement or a two-front war is indeed a political and military nightmare. That and the US’ failure in eliminating the Taliban despite its much-touted ‘surge’ and later failure in negotiating with them, have turned Pakistan into a convenient whipping boy for American leaders’ own mistaken policies. Remember November 2012 is at hand as far as the US presidential elections are concerned.
And things are not likely to stop here. For the Taliban are equally determined to wait it out until 2014 before promptly reclaiming Afghanistan – at least its southern and eastern parts where even now its writ runs more than the Karzai government’s, which without its American props would have as much a chance of survival as a snowball in hell. Given that scenario, unless the settlement includes the Taliban, Pakistan is going to remain in the US crossfire.
Not just Pakistan but none of the neighbouring nations want the US here, but it is the elephant that has forced its way into the room, and no one can take it out – unless it vacates the place of its accord (which it says it would in 2014, but not lock, stock and barrel, aiming to retain its military bases with sizable presence).
Even so it is quite right that, though late by a decade in the present instance, Pakistan has started seeing things in the proper perspective, in what is being proclaimed as its requirements and national interest.
The US needs Pakistan, for there is no solution to the Afghan imbroglio and no honourable exit without the latter. That is a situation that should be used to our advantage – with diplomacy taking an upper hand. Hopefully, the matter will be settled to the satisfaction of all the regional countries before the next US elections, as most of the presidential candidates are already breathing fire against Pakistan in their primary debates. Better to live with the devil you know…
The writer is Sports and Magazines Editor, Pakistan Today.