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Crisis and Cooperation: Pakistan-U.S. Relations

Jul 28, 2012 Written by  Dr. Sohail Mahmood, Guest Contributor

US Pakistan relationsOn November 26, 2011, in a brazen incident NATO attacked the Salala post on the Pakistan-Afghanistan border in which 24 Pakistani soldiers were killed. Pakistanis were shocked at the incident since it was unprovoked. Pakistan reacted by immediately closing the Ground Lines of Communications (GLOCs) for NATO supplies into Afghanistan. Also, it demanded an apology and an investigation. Later on, an investigation was conducted by NATO which suggested that mistakes had been committed on both sides. Pakistan firmly rejected the NATO version. It characterized the incident as “unprovoked, deliberate, and planned." The United States seemed to be forthcoming at the demand for an apology, but later backed down because another terrorist incident in Kabul was blamed on the Haqqani network based inside North Waziristan of Pakistan.

Resultantly, relations between the United States and Pakistan were severely strained, reaching to the lowest ebb in history. Finally, some seven months after the Salala incident Hillary Clinton the United States apologized, and on July 3, 2012 Pakistan and the United States reached an agreement to reopen the closed GLOCs. However, the United States still characterized the Salala incident as being the result of a mutual mistake and did not touch upon the key Pakistani demand of cessation of drone attacks inside Pakistan. More importantly, Pakistan was assured by the United States that there would not be any repetition of such an incident. Pakistan’s reaction in closing the GLOCs cost the United States at least $700 million, as it rerouted supplies across more expensive northern routes. It was reported that he final bill may have been significantly greater.

Prime Minister Raja Pervaiz Ashraf said that the decision to open the GLOCs was taken in the national interest and in light of parliamentary recommendations. The agreement was announce as a “turning point” by Hina Rabbani Khar, Foreign Minister of Pakistan, who further stated that “the progress achieved so far" would now help the two countries to engage seriously on other issues. United States Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton held a three-way meeting with the Khar and Afghan Foreign Minister Zalmai Rassoul in Tokyo, Japan on July 8, 2012. She “acknowledged the lingering difficulties hindering US-Pakistani cooperation, without getting into details”. Clinton expressed hope on July 8th that Pakistan’s recent reopening of the GLOCs might lead to a “broader rapprochement in US-Pakistani relations after a difficult period for the reluctant allies.”

The Recent Politics of the Pakistani Opposition

As expected, opposition parties, nationalist groups, and Islamic radicals in Pakistan were greatly angered at the development of the GLOCs reopening. Undoubtedly, the popular outcry against the United States was immense. Given the high anti-Americanism in Pakistan, these protests would attract the people of Pakistan, and the opposition was bent upon simply riding the wave of the popular disgust against the United States. No matter the politics and the spin of the so-called breakthrough in Pakistan-United States relations, the reopening of the GLOCs can be seen as an overall positive development for both the United States and Pakistan. Contrary to the impression given by the Government of Pakistan and the opposition political parties, the drone attacks were happening with the permission of both the Zardari Government and the Pakistan Army. The only thing was that the Pakistani government was not willing to admit it because of the fear of a political backlash. Increasingly, Pakistanis have turned against the United States, and the politicians as well as the Army brass knew full well that saying so would be a political risk for them.

In some ways the drone strikes is a fake issue. There was a convergence of national interests, as seen by the Pakistan military and Pakistani government, on allowing these drone strikes inside Pakistan. Therefore, the lingering issue of drone strikes in North Waziristan can be resolved in some manner, like sharing responsibility.

The real sticking point in Pakistan-U.S. relations and the main divergence of national interests was not the war on terror inside Pakistan. but the one in neighboring Afghanistan. This problem is real and remains. The real issue of conflict is the so-called endgame in Afghanistan after the United States and NATO /ISAF troops depart by the end of 2014.

Post-2014 Afghanistan?

The departure of U.S. and allied troops from Afghanistan by end of 2014 does not suggest that there will necessarily be peace in the country. There is a real danger of a civil war erupting in Afghanistan. The politics of Afghanistan is complex, and the country is weak and fragmented on ethnic lines. The Afghan Taliban are somewhat supported by Pakistan, while the Northern Alliance is supported by the U.S. and India. The Hazaras are supposedly supported by Iran. In the eventuality of the departure of United States and ISAF/NATO troops, the Taliban will make a bid for power in Afghanistan; however, the Taliban can be expected to be resisted in taking over Hazara, Tajik, and Uzbek areas. Today, the Taliban control the southern portion of Afghanistan only.

Meanwhile, the United States has signed a strategic partnership agreement with Afghanistan to assist it in building the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) at a cost of $4 billion. In total. Afghanistan has received nearly $60 billion in civilian aid since 2002. The World Bank says foreign aid makes up nearly the equivalent of the country’s gross domestic product. On July 8th international organizations and countries pledged $16 billion in a major donors’ conference held in Tokyo. The $4 billion in annual civilian aid comes on top of $4.1 billion in yearly assistance pledged last May at a NATO conference in Chicago to fund the ANSF from 2015 to 2017. However, the flow of aid is expected to sharply diminish after international troops withdraw, despite the ongoing threat the country faces from the Taliban and other militants. Given the reality of Afghanistan, the chances of a half decent national army are very slim. The present Karzai government in Afghanistan is not only very corrupt, but also weak and ineffective.

The Next Steps: What should Pakistan and United States do jointly in Afghanistan?

In the interest of regional peace it can be argued that both countries must join to earnestly plan for a viable endgame in Afghanistan. Nothing can be more significant than a doable Afghan endgame strategy for both countries, including brokering a power-sharing arrangement in Afghanistan. Different power groups in the country, especially the Taliban and Northern Alliance, must be brought to the negotiating table for this exercise. Intense and coordinated diplomatic activity shall be required for any meaningful intra-Afghan dialogue. These negotiations will surely be tedious but are needed nevertheless.

There is not much time left, as these negotiations will be prolonged and tedious at best, and unworkable at worst. Only Pakistan can host this negotiations arrangement. No other country has more at stake in the post-western Afghanistan than Pakistan; the United States must support the initiative, and later include India, China, and Iran.

That said, what should Pakistan do?

  1. The negotiations between the United States and Taliban in Qatar have stalled. Therefore, Pakistan must facilitate a Taliban-United States deal to the extent possible.
  2. Renounce the old discredited policy of ‘Strategic Depth’ and ‘a friendly Western border’ propounded by the Pakistan Army. Most importantly, the Zardari government must wrest control of the Afghanistan policy from the hands of the military. It must immediately announce a stopping of support for the Haqqani network and the Lashkar-i-Taiba. Unfortunately, the Zardari Government is too preoccupied with the internal political and economic crisis to do much in this area.

The United States, on its part, must also take immediate action in a number of areas:

  1. The Pakistan military is worried that India is making inroads in Afghanistan and desires a role in the future of the country. More importantly, it believed that the United States was encouraging India in this development. The military leadership was apprehensive of any Indian role in Afghanistan and also firmly believed that these developments were happening at the cost of Pakistan. Therefore, the United States must do whatever it takes to reconcile India and Pakistan. It should support a final solution to the lingering Kashmir dispute.
  2. Stop covert CIA activity in Pakistan immediately.
  3. Reach out to the Pakistani civil society in a new effort at ‘winning hearts and minds’.

Pakistan-U.S. relations have been seriously strained. The level of mutual distrust has created a crisis situation now. Therefore, both can, and should, work as real partners rather than rivals. There is no reason for the deep mistrust to prolong any longer. Meanwhile, the clock is ticking. Pakistan does not have much time to change direction.

Dr. Sohail Mahmood is the Chairman of the Department of Politics and International Relations at the International Islamic University in Islamabad, Pakistan.

Photo: U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Thomas Nides in Islamabad on April 4, 2012. Courtesy of the U.S. Embassy in Pakistan.

Tagged under India    Pakistan    Afghanistan    Waziristan    Afghan National Security Forces    ANSF    Taliban    Hazara    China    Iran    Tajik    Uzbek    NATO    ISAF    Zadari    Karzai    GLOC    Hina Rabbani Khar    Tokyo   

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