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Turkish Advice for Pakistan: Rethink Rationally


By Imtiaz Gul

Weekly Pulse, March 30 ,2012

As the government agonizes over the review of relations with the United States, and expects the parliament to rubber-stamp the recommendations by the Security Committee, one wonders whether Pakistan can afford a head-on confrontation with the United States, and thereby risking international diplomatic isolation. Another point to ponder is whether a perennial state of conflict with India, now a major US ally and a magnate for both Corporate America and Corporate Europe, can take Pakistan out of its current multiple crises? Is the leadership, particularly the General Headquarters, ready to listen to sane advice from foreign friends such as Turkey and China? 

In very recent interactions with Turk leaders in Istanbul, one could discern concerns about Pakistan’s uneasy relations with neighboring India and Afghanistan, as well as the United States. Pakistan, said officials as well as a couple of members of parliament very close to this country, shall have to rethink its external relations in a more pragmatic and realistic way. 

“Pakistanis are usually very emotional about India and Afghanistan. They also indulge in finger-pointing across the border,” said a very influential member of the ruling Justice and Development Party, requesting anonymity. As long as this continues, relations with India and Afghanistan will remain dogged. Similarly, the MP pointed out, Afghans may be averse to “Indian boots-on-ground”, but not to the Indian money. The same is true for relations with the United States, he said, adding that codependence in a volatile region makes Pakistan more vulnerable to risks of instability. Friends in Turkey point out that India is present in Afghanistan in many ways and the only way for Pakistan to confront it is through infrastructure investment there. 

Economics determines the scope and strength of your relations with other countries, said Mustafa Akyul, a prominent journalist and author of a popular book Religion without Extremes. 

“Improve and strengthen your own economy the way Turkey and India have done this. India has moved on with the primary focus on economy.” This is what Pakistan needs to do in order to make up for the time and resources lost in the past decade. Similar advice keep coming from Beijing as well, but the Pakistani leadership, the hardcore within the military establishment, refuses to listen to rational voices. 

While redefining the terms of engagement in border regions (drone strikes, military operations in return for Coalition Support Funds ), and reviewing the cooperation (cargo supplies via Pakistan, military to military relations) is legitimate and must be pursued, one must ask as to what realistic choices does Pakistan have?

Very limited, it seems; in no way can Islamabad withstand the military superiority of the US. Neither can it, nor should, expect the US to relent pressure on issues which the American establishment considers crucial to its geo-political goals. Crucial among these goals is the hunt and elimination of Al-Qaeda-led opposition – wherever it may be found. And central to the pursuit of this objective is the drone warfare – over 300 attacks since June 2004, when former Taliban commander Naik Mohammad was killed in a similar strike on his hideout in Wana, South Waziristan. The drone campaign will therefore continue. The US may, and should, agree to recasting the drone strategy by perhaps creating a joint ownership, whereby Pakistan can project them either as joint ventures or exclusively its own effort.

But by doing so, Pakistan must act as a state rather than as a merchant; asking for damages to infrastructure and perhaps taxing the US-NATO cargo is totally legitimate, but instead of appearing as a greedy merchant, Pakistani leaders must negotiate long-term benefits with the US. Why can they not ask the US to lift its opposition to the gas pipeline from Iran. This big confidence building measure could serve as balm to many bruised egos here and also clear the way for another valuable source of energy.

More importantly, the Pakistani establishment must shed its romantic obsession with the country’s“ strategic location.” This has only prevented it from thinking strategically i.e. long term. This exactly happened in the case of NATO supplies; two-thirds used to flow through Pakistan, but by November, this had come down to less than 50 percent because of the Northern Route via Russia. When it came to protecting their geo-political interests, the US-led alliance will readjust and, most probably, absorb even higher transportation costs. Is Pakistan ready to make even minor adjustments to its stated positions. Logic dictates it should. Statesmanship requires that it takes a more dispassionate and realistic view, and seek advice from friends such as Turkey and China, rather than sticking to a policy that continues to bleed it, sullying its global image and retarding growth at home. Or does the leadership want to sink Pakistan to the levels of Afghanistan, Sudan and Somalia?

Imtiaz Gul is the Executive Director of the independent Centre for Research and Security Studies, and is currently a Fellow of International House of Japan/Japan Foundation, Tokyo

Email: imtiaz@crss.pk