Sunday, March 1, 2009

For US, patience is the key word in Pakistan

Pakistan at the moment is no less than an ‘international migraine’ where nuclear weapons, terrorism, political instability and poverty all run into each other. Militancy in Pakistan has been spreading inward from the lawless tribal region along the Afghan border. Unlike the rest of South Asia, it has “ungoverned spaces” on its sovereign territory where non-state actors are setting up their own mini-states.

Says a report in Daily Times, “Pakistan is a fast failing state manifesting patterns of activity less characteristic of South Asia and more patterned on Afghanistan and Somalia…” Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani says Pakistan remains committed to fighting terrorism using dialogue, development, and deterrence. Yet experts say after nearly ten months of effort, the government has failed on all counts. It has failed to rein in regional terrorism. It has been unsuccessful in de-hyphenating its relations with India and the fate of Kashmir hangs in balance, as always.

Of all the tasks the United States faces, persuading the Pakistani army to dismantle its militias "is the hardest," writes Newsweek's Fareed Zakaria. The United States, at present, is at crossroads with regard to Pakistan. Despite the efforts of President Asif Ali Zardari, the US-Pakistan relationship is on the wane due to former's belief that the army is not fully confronting the jihadi threat. Also dozens of US missile strikes in North West Pakistan has led to an anti-American feeling in the area while severely undermining public support for counter-terrorism measures.

US-Pak ties down the line
The United States and Pakistan share a strange relation, so to say. To the world they are the best of allies, but inwardly, they are forever suspicious of each other’s intent. They stand by each other because of their own self-seeking interests. Many in Pakistan see the United States as a fickle partner intent on short-term gains in the region. The long and checkered Pakistan-US affiliation has its roots in the cold war. US concerns about Soviet expansionism and Pakistan’s desire for security assistance against a perceived threat from India nudged the two nations to negotiate a mutual defence agreement in 1954…

The relationship, marked by periods of both co-operation and discord, was further taken forward after the 9/11 attack on the US. It was a period of great bonhomie when Washington enlisted Pakistan as a pivotal ally in the US-led counter-terror efforts. US government aid was doled out with little accountability or conditionality. Even as the then US president George W Bush went on praising his Pakistan counterpart Gen Pervez Musharraf in his public speeches, little did he know that the general and his men had been successful in hoodwinking him and the United States of America. On the one hand he was assuring the Americans that only he could fight against the Taliban and on the other, he was backing the militancy and the militants.

According to a BBC report, 80 per cent of the $11.8bn funneled to Pakistan since 2001 was gobbled up by the army with an unprecedented lack of transparency or accounting by either Islamabad or Washington. Some of the over $20bn of US aid to Afghanistan has been siphoned off to fuel local corruption, pay expensive American consultants or carry out over-billed development projects, the report quoted political commentator Ahmed Rashid as saying. And more recently, New York Times journalist David E Sanger in his book says that the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and National Security Agency (NSA) intercepted a high level conversation claiming the Taliban as a “strategic asset” for Pakistan.

The author records in his book that in late May 2008, a two-star General in presence of US spy McConnel said: “In the long run, America will not have the stomach to bear the burden of staying in Afghanistan. And when the Americans pull out, India will reign. Therefore, the Pakistanis will have to sustain the contacts with the opposition to the Afghanistan government meaning the Taliban so when the Americans pull out; it’s a friendly government to Pakistan”.

The Trust factor
So when we talk about US engagement in Pakistan, we talk of trust. Can the Obama government rely on Pakistan? The answer is clear no, but all the while he will have to tell Pakistanis how much America loves them. One, because Pakistan has always been a US ally and has nuclear weapons;
Two, Washington knows well that it is responsible for the present crisis in Pakistan. According to Rep Dana Rohrabacher, “American policy since the 80s has been irrational and it has been so flawed that I believe it has led us to what is now this current-near-crisis in Pakistan…” The US owes an answer to the world vis-à-vis Pakistan. Three, the terrorist they train and send to India are the ones that may attack US too. And finally, a trust deficit between the two countries has made it difficult for US to see the issues in regional context according to Joint Chiefs Chairman Admiral Mike Mullen.

Watch out Obama
But Obama’s Day One in the office proved that when it came to dealing with Pakistan, he would be quite unlike his predecessor. It began with cutting the crucial military aid to Islamabad and the new Democrat administration pledged to better monitor and account for all US aid. The aid money will now flow only if Islamabad strengthens democracy and fights terrorism. Clearly this didn’t go down too well with the Pakistan establishment. In response to the move, Pakistan envoy to the US Hussain Haqqani said, “Pakistan hopes that Obama will be more patient while dealing with Pakistan. We will review all options if Obama does not adopt a positive policy towards us”.

Even though, the new US administration has made it clear that its missile attacks in the tribal areas should be seen as a key part of reducing militancy, it should not forget about the civilians in those areas. As it is Bush’s policies have created a deep anti-US feeling amongst the public, media and the army, Obama should not be asking for more. This anti-American sentiment will be an asset for the jihadis who attack democracy and human rights thereby pushing the nation into further chaos.

Shuja Nawaz, a Pakistani who directs the South Asia Center of the Washington-based Atlantic Council of the United States, was quoted as saying in the Washington Post, “Obama can't just focus on military achievements; he has to win over the people too. Pakistanis may be willing to overlook an occasional missile lobbed at foreign terrorists if Obama makes a sincere attempt to improve conditions in Pakistan.” According to Ahmed Rashid, “Obama will need a comprehensive policy for Pakistan that strengthens democracy, woos Pakistan's main street by a more people-orientated aid program, while ensuring that the army remains a US ally and is not alienated”.

The army and the intelligence in Pakistan have always suffered from India-fixation. The new US administration will have to tell Pakistan that they have to look beyond India. They first have to deal with the enemy within which is fast engulfing the country and if they don’t, then probably the whole of Pakistan will go the Swat way. What the Obama administration needs to do is facilitate the withdrawal of the Pakistani military from the country’s political life. All in all, it won’t be easy for Obama to solve the Pakistan muddle. He will have to step in where Pakistani leaders all these years failed to tread. Obama’s steps in Pakistan are the only answer for achieving victory in Afghanistan – another Taliban hotbed and South Asia’s next ticking time bomb.


Anonymous said...

This is Obama's moment. Apart from tackling his home problems, beggest being the recession and job cuts, the new epicentre of terrorism - Pakistan - should get on top of his agenda. It looks like he is not going to let the Taliban take control of an extremely important country in the sub-continent. It's Obama vs Pak now.

Anonymous said...

It's Obama vs Pak now. Apart from handling his home turf - recession and job losses -- the new epicentre of terror becomes his first big challenge. He is against terror. Will he do to Pak what Bush did to Afghanistan/Iraq?

Rosy Mishra said...

Very well-written! About the US policy on Pakistan, I would say it's imperative to act now before the problem gets worse. Obama's national security team must realise that the mission to salvage Pakistan's vast unpoliced region can be best accomplished by buttressing Islamabad's ability to wrestle with militants for political authority in the region, not by merely stepping up attacks which will only thrust more tribes further into the Taliban quarters.

Kamraan Haider said...

US can never trust Pakistan. No country should ever make that mistake, not even China, which has so long bee a Pakistan ally. The Zardari govt completely ignored China when they took over the reins of Pakistan..At that time they were busy greasing their palms with US officials, because US means aid to them. They will go behind any country that offers them aid. It is said that beggars cannot be choosers, but just doesn't fit Pakistan. China and US should do a rethink...I like teh way Obama's is dealing with Pakistan. My advice to US is: "Never make any request to Pakistan, just order them to do it"

Alice Tucker said...

What patience? What did India get all these years by being patient with Pakistan. Pakistan is a threat not only to South Asia, but entire world. It has become a badland of Taiban. That country should be ostracised!