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Change we need


By Imtiaz Gul

 The Friday Times, August 03, 2012


There is finally a deal on ground lines of communications between Pakistan and the US, and the new ISI director-general had his first formal interaction with his CIA counterpart in Washington. But that may not change much in a relationship that is defined by two conflicting narratives.

These narratives constitute the foundations of mutually averse, at times hostile, perceptions of each other in both countries. Let us consider one example of that.

"As a matter of international law, the United States is in an armed conflict with Al Qaeda, the Taliban and associated forces, in response to the 9/11 attacks, and we may also use force consistent with our inherent right of national self-defense," John Brennan, the White House counterterrorism adviser, said at a Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars seminar on April 30. "There is nothing in international law that bans the use of remotely piloted aircraft for this purpose, or that prohibits us from using lethal force against our enemies outside of an active battlefield, at least when the country involved consents or is unable or unwilling to take action against the threat."

Brennan was the latest among a number of US administration officials who defend the use of drones outside of "hot battlefields" like Afghanistan. US Attorney General Eric Holder had said it was legal to target US citizens who pose a threat to the country. The Pentagon's top lawyer has said the same. Even President Obama has said publicly that it is permissible to use drones to kill "active terrorists" in Pakistan's tribal areas.

Secondly, President Barack Obama has less than a month to sign the US Senate's recent endorsement of a bill into law which will designate the Haqqani Network as a terrorist outfit that threatens US interests - a view reflected in the following quote by Representative Mike Rogers, a Michigan Republican who is chairman of the House Intelligence Committee: "The Haqqani Network is engaged in a reign of terror. Now is the time for action, not simply paperwork and talk."

Thirdly, Obama is also likely to sign into law another bill by US lawmakers cutting aid to Pakistan in 2013 by half, for the simple reason that the American patience with Pakistan has worn thin.

Fourthly, the American-led coalition forces in Afghanistan issued a blunt rebuttal on July 29 to a Pakistani assertion that American forces had on 52 occasions done little over all to stop Pakistani militants from using Afghan territory (Kunar and Nuristan) as a springboard for attacks on Pakistani forces in the mountains along the poorly marked frontier.

This rebuttal seemed intended to zero-off Pakistani perceptions that for its refusal to act full-throttle against the Haqqani Network and affiliates in North Waziristan, US-led coalition forces were practically indulging in a tit-for-tat exercise by letting Mullah Fazlullah's militants move into Pakistan for attacks on security forces.

This clearly points to at least three conclusions: the United States, despite national and international criticism, will press ahead with the drone strikes (which is the key element in the new Smart Defense Strategy currently peddled by the Pentagon, ie a combination of drones and marines on permanent bases). So the drone campaign will continue as long as the CIA keeps spotting Al Qaeda-linked militants or terrorists it considers harm US interests.

Secondly, the sympathy lobby for Pakistan is fast losing ground to an increasingly hostile and skeptical Congress, largely dominated by the Republicans and lobbyists for the American military industrial complex and the security establishment. Most of the soft vote within the Congress and the Obama administration - represented by Hilary Clinton, who is still trying to urge an engagement with Pakistan - has diminished and given way to the hawks who recommend action against Pakistan if it refuses to crack down on the Haqqani Network and its affiliates. What drives this determination is the perception that the Haqqani Network is deeply entrenched with the bigger enemy Al-Qaeda - both promoting and benefiting from criminal activities in a war economy. That is why the network needs to be physically eliminated - so runs the argument. And if both Washington and Islamabad fail to reach a future course of action against the Haqqanis, the designation of the network as a terrorist outfit would invariably bring more pressure, and possibly limited sanctions on Pakistan (withholding of the CSF or other security and economic assistance, for example). Mistrust continues to accompany the volatile need-based relationship.

During a recent lecture, former ambassador Husain Haqqani also highlighted these divergences to urge both countries to find the middle ground for a healthy partnership. He drew on a recent PEW Research Center Poll, according to which only 12 percent of Pakistanis have a favorable view of the US, while only 15 percent of Americans had a favorable view of Pakistan, compared with 81 percent who do not.

"The disapproval of the United States among some segments of Pakistanis is deeper rooted than some of my countrymen would want you to understand, believe or realize," Haqqani said.

He advised both Pakistan and the US to stop viewing each other as allies because "deviating national interests" run contrary to the basics of an alliance. The focus, he said, should be more on trade, and engagement among civil society groups and politicians.

"What you have to do is find the room in between where you can bring your government at a meeting point with the other government, where both of you can actually do business for the mutual benefit of both of the countries," he said.

But finding the middle ground is a tough proposition. It requires Pakistan to introspect and redefine its national security interests. Being a smaller, crisis-ridden country, a victim of its own follies and failures, Pakistan needs to shun the cold-war era policies, and get into a proactive, economy-oriented policy framework if it does not want to become another Afghanistan, Sudan or Somalia.

Expecting the United States to realign its global geo-political interests with those of Pakistan is extremely delusionary. Neither would the American allies change for the sake of Pakistan. This change has to come from within - if the leadership in Islamabad and Rawalpindi wants to be treated with dignity.   

Imtiaz Gul is the Executive Director of the independent Centre for Research and Security Studies, and the author of the forthcoming book Osama: Pakistan Before and After, Roli Books, India

Email: imtiaz@crss.pk