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Mending Pak-US ties: the Challenges

 

By Imtiaz Gul

Weekly Pulse, May 11 ,2012

Mutually conflicting interests and different approaches to some of the fundamental issues continue to dog the Pakistan-US relations. Through revised recommendations, Pakistan’s parliament spelt out the main contours of its anti-terror cooperation with the United States-led NATO countries, placing apology over the Nov 26 attack on the Salala post on top of recommendations. While demanding discontinuation of drone strikes, it also made resumption of ground lines of communications (GLOCs) contingent upon an official word of regret. 

As far Washington, Defense Secretary voiced his country’s priorities ever more candidly. “We are going to do everything we can, use whatever operations we have to, in order to make sure that we protect this country and make sure that that kind of attack never happens again,” , Panetta said in a PBS TV interview. “The United States is going to defend itself under any circumstances.” Earlier on April 30, White House counterterrorism adviser John Brennan had defended the drones as a legitimate tool in the “ U.S’s armed conflict with al Qaeda, the Taliban and associated forces.” 

Hilary Clinton, the foreign secretary, too, followed suit and in her interview with the NDTV bemoaned “lack of action against Hafiz Saeed and LeT for the Nov 26, 2008 Mumbai attacks, saying both India and the US wanted all those involved in the attack be brought to justice. 

Key players in Washington have also cautioned Islamabad of ‘multiple repercussions’, if the six-month-long blockade of Nato supplies is not lifted, something Ahmed Mukhtar, the defence minister, also sounded out, saying the implications of continued supplies suspension could include a halt in US assistance for various infrastructure revival projects, and also squeezing the goodwill available to Pakistan as of now. 

Key officials in the most important offices admit that relations with USA are too important to stay suspended for long, but they are as much frustrated over the suspended Ground Lines of Communications (GLOCs) for the US-NATO supplies as the Americans themselves. The issue at hand is how to recalibrate the relations with the United States and at what cost – daunting challenges indeed for Pakistan. 

The first issue relates to the integrity and sincerity of the entire process that began in the parliament; most officials and MPs have, thus far, kept projecting “apology” as the major sticking point. Other officials insist that the Americans were ready but then withheld the word of regret over Salala after some very important people in Islamabad told the Americans to hold it until the PCNS gave its recommendations. What is the rationale for holding off the Americans? If they were ready to offer the request for forgiveness back in February, why was the issue allowed to linger on and is now being projected as the American stubbornness? Wouldn’t this have made the job of the Parliamentary Committee on National Security (PCNS) easier and quicker? And did the Obama administration need clearance from Pakistan for offering the long overdue word of regret for killing two dozen Pakistani soldiers and officers? 

Secondly, what will the hyped up “reset” actually mean? Will the new transactional deal delink cooperation with, and assistance for Pakistan from frictions and misgivings arising out new acts of terror in Kabul? So far, Pakistan has been at the receiving end. But, if one were to believe officials, Grossman was told point-blank (with regards to the Haqqani network’s involvement in April 15 Kabul attacks) to stop finger-pointing to Pakistan “because it will take us nowhere.” 

This recurring phenomenon has repeatedly poisoned or embittered the relationship and requires a more comprehensive approach rather than allowing knee-jerk reactions to violence in Afghanistan and dumping them on Pakistan. 

The third challenge relates to the more than three billion dollars the US owes Pakistan under Coalition Support Funds. Though technically reimbursements for the services rendered, the US administration and Congress still treat these funds as Aid-to-Pakistan, making them hostage to every fresh round of tension and acrimony such as the bin Laden raid and the Salala attack. 

If seen in the context of the incidents, the CSF primarily hinges on the sweet will of the US administration and remains vulnerable to recrimination and unending mistrust. The real success of the “reset” will become demonstrable only if our interlocutors turn this around? 

The fourth challenge comes from Leon Panetta’s statement on the drone attacks: “We are going to do everything we can, use whatever operations we have to, in order to make sure that we protect this country and make sure that that kind of attack never happens again,” Panetta said in a PBS TV interview. 

Earlier on April 30, White House counterterrorism adviser John Brennan had defended the drones as a legitimate tool in the “U.S’s armed conflict with al Qaeda, the Taliban and associated forces.” "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,” Brennan had said at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. 

Clearly, the American position stands in sharp contrast to Pakistani demands and protestations over the drone strikes. How will the government circumvent the PCNS recommendation on the issue? Will the Pakistani interlocutors dissuade Americans from such attacks, or persuade them for a quasi – even if symbolic – joint management of the remotely controlled predators? If not then what about the PCNS being the key to the foreign policy? Or will it be business as usual i.e. overt condemnation and covert approval? 

Eventually, pragmatism should and will guide normalization of relations with US, but it will have to sees how will this actually translate into securing Pakistan’s medium to long term political and economic interests? Much will probably depend on to what extent can the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the General Headquarters and the political leadership narrow down their intellectual and tactical discord into a long-term strategic framework urgently needed to deal with the US-NATO alliance. All the stake-holders must also realize that the global geo-political objectives of the alliance simply precede morality and international law, and dictate a relentless pursuit of these goals. 

The biggest flaw in the approach towards the United States lies in applying the moral yardstick to American words and deeds.



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