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Pakistan on Trial Again

By Imtiaz Gul

Weekly Pulse, May 25 ,2012

Pakistan got an unconditional invitation for the Chicago conference. NATO officials took the resumption of the ground lines of communication- GLOC – for granted. Little did they realize that the Pakistani and US officials were still locked in bitter bargaining over the price tag i.e. the transit fees for the US-NATO supplies through Pakistan. Consequence, a bitter President Barack Obama skipped mentioning Pakistan’s name in his speech, while the official NATO declaration reiterated this country’s importance for the future Afghan strategy. 

n the end, the entire issue was projected be a haggling over the pricing of the transit through Pakistan. The US and NATO successfully conveyed this to the world, and that is why, days before the summit, cynics in and outside the country derided Pakistan’s decision to revive passage of US-NATO supplies as yet another capitulation under pressure. Others derided it as a compromise of national honour. And some ridiculed it as a lunge for dollars (without realizing that US never throws dollars in charity, nor is it blind to ground realities). The entire issue of demands by the Pakistani Parliament went lost in the entire debate. 

That is why one wonders as to why at all do we have to add degrading adjectives or prefixes to what results from geo-political compulsions of all stake-holders? 

Bare facts suggest that both Pakistan and the United States – also representing other NATO nations – tested each other’s patience and stretched themselves to the maximum. Clearly Realpolitik was at play on both sides; Pakistan – resting its case on recommendations by the globally acknowledged Parliament – demanded apology and compensations of all sorts as a precondition to reopening of ground lines of communication. The United States, on the other hand, desperate for resumption of GLOC and cognizant of Pakistan’s indispensable role in the Afghan peace process, dragged its feet on both issues. But Washington found it hard, if not impossible, to give up on Pakistan, and thus came the understanding after weeks of brinkmanship on both sides, paving for President Zardari’s participation in the Chicago summit. 

The underlying reason for this flexibility was that none of the parties could envision and afford a longer break in this need-based relationship. 

The roadmap for Afghanistan requires both to stay relevant, Pakistan more so for the geographical proximity and cross-border ethnic as well as commercial linkages. That is why several US officials camped in Islamabad since late April to work out a deal. 

On the face of it, Pakistan ended up taking the right decision whereby it demonstrated Flexibility. But as it turned out, this decision lacked political consensus at home on the one hand, and also without a final settlement on the issue of the transit fee. 

Now regardless of the invectives being used for Pakistan’s “dodgy, inflexible and vision-less” approach until the final deal, the real question staring the crisis-ridden country is ‘What Next’ even if both sides strike a deal? 

Is Pakistan ready to set aside India-focused cold-war mindset in favour of a politically better and economically prosperous future?

Will Pakistan attempt to rationalize its business relations with groups such as the Haqqani Network, which shelters anti-Pakistan and anti-Western mercenaries, or remain locked in a bloody war of attrition with the United States because of differences over this issue? This represents a huge challenge because all other countries use the American prism to weigh Pakistan on this particular issue.

Equally important is the reset with India. Since the United States – for its geo-political and commercial considerations – views Pakistan also through the Indian prism, one would hope that a real change of mind has taken place in Islamabad. Officials – both military and civilians – insist it has.

Also, the country is looking more towards regional friends and neighbours for fostering economic linkages, they maintain. Pleasant change indeed!

But, one major question that springs from this “change of mind” is whether Pakistan really believes in regional integration through trade and economic cooperation, and is really pursuing a paradigm shift – guided also by China – from militarism to commercial collaboration?

If it does so, it probably stands to win to gain goodwill from all over and can probably also rely on tangible support for infrastructure development and capacity building by friendly countries. During a recent visit to Islamabad, a delegation of the 27-member European Union, for instance, also expressed more or less similar sentiment and underscored its long-term commitment both to Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Vygaudas Ušackas, EU Special Representative to Afghanistan, Ambassador, and other officials told Pakistani officials and members of the civil society that as a strong and passionate supporters of integration, the EU encourages integration and regional cooperation .

They said, while the EU stands committed to universal values of peaceful coexistence, human rights and good governance, it also is ready to support in the common cause of fighting terrorism through a counter-terrorism and security strategy. Pakistan, it looks, can certainly initiate a separate comprehensive security channel with the EU countries, regardless of how its relations with Washington play out.

It is about time for Pakistan to shun tactics that it employs in the name of strategic objectives. It must seize the moment and build upon the goodwill it has won following successful negotiations with the US over GLOC and future cooperation on Afghanistan. It must learn from China that head-on confrontation, particularly with the sole super power, only entails conflict, financial bleeding and international ostracization.

No doubt, steadfastness and commitment to national security is virtuous, but overstretching it can be disastrous. Similarly, Pakistan has overplayed the NATO supplies card by demanding extra pound of flesh. It must realize that the window to exploit the GLOC is increasingly limited. Almost six months are already lost. And if we lose another few, the time for optimum utilization of this opportunity, and the ability to use it as a bargaining chip, becomes ever more constrained.

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