WHERE WILL THE ROADS LEAD?
Despite all that has happened and the many other incidents of substance that could happen in the near future, there is no doubt that some kind of workable relationship between the two will emerge. Should that expectation bite the dust, Pakistan will become even more unstable. It is also important to point out that such a “workable” relationship will, however, be limited. Any trust between Islamabad and Washington has vanished completely. It is well-nigh impossible to re-establish that trust unless a sea change occurs in the leadership of both countries.
Pakistan’s other demand at this point is for the United States to stop the incessant drone attacks in Pakistan’s tribal area.
After Osama bin Laden was eliminated, some pundits claimed that the existence of Osama in Pakistan—with Pakistan claiming ignorance all these years—had been a unique sticking point that kept the relationship unstable. His death would clear the way for better relations, they said. And some in the United States even went so far as to claim that bin Laden’s death would help pave the way for a political settlement in Afghanistan by making it easier for the Taliban to sever ties with al-Qaeda. Those pundits have been proven wrong; not only did they fail to understand Taliban–al-Qaeda relations, they also missed the fact that by 2011, Osama bin Laden was a mere “passenger” within the terrorist community, not in the driver’s seat.
Considering the pieces that have been placed on the table by each side, it is not difficult to start a working relationship. Pakistan demands of the United States an apology for the deaths of at least 24 Pakistani soldiers caused by ISAF shelling at the Salala outpost. Washington will lose nothing by extending this apology, particularly since the investigative report prepared by USCENTCOM investigators has enough evidence to establish the fact that malcommunication and other inadequacies led to the shelling.
Pakistan’s other demand at this point is for the United States to stop the incessant drone attacks in Pakistan’s tribal area. There is no doubt that the U.S./NATO troops want to weaken, if not eliminate, the Haqqani group and other insurgents working in that area. But Washington must also realise that these insurgents are Pakistani citizens and that the terrain is such that it is extremely difficult for the Pakistani military, good in conventional warfare but virtual novices in dealing with insurgents who do not play by the rules, to deal with them effectively—and act accordingly. The Pakistan military will earn very few friends at the cost of creating legions of enemies if it carries out the kind of military campaign that Washington demands.
The most important thing for Washington is to acknowledge that the foreign troops are being attacked by tribal militants simply because the foreign troops are there. If they leave Afghanistan, threats from the Haqqani group will vanish instantly.
The onus to open the supply lines, and thus pave the way for developing working relations, lies with the United States. If Pakistan withdraws its demand for an apology for the killing of its soldiers by the ISAF, accepts the drone attacks as legitimate and viable, and reopens the supply lines, Washington might be thrilled. But acceding to these U.S. demands will decisively strengthen the anti-American Islamic jihadis within Pakistan and seriously weaken both Islamabad and Rawalpindi. Is that what the Obama administration wants?
having a hostile Pakistan blocking its exit route will surely exacerbate the difficulties.
Washington is now in the process of making plans to withdraw from Afghanistan. Even if it does not want to leave with all its bags and baggage, having a hostile Pakistan blocking its exit route will surely exacerbate the difficulties. Moreover, should the United States want to maintain a few thousand troops permanently in Afghanistan, continuing to identify Islamabad as an enemy nation and act accordingly will not make that a very viable prospect. A working relationship with Pakistan, on the other hand, could help Washington forward its plans to sort things out with the Afghans before their partial withdrawal from that country in 2014.
Despite statements issued from Washington from time to time expressing the absolute necessity of improving relations with Pakistan, the “my way or the highway” attitude in Washington is evident. While U.S. negotiators sat in Pakistan cooling their heels, U.S. defence secretary Leon Panetta, skipping over Pakistan to visit India and Afghanistan, issued statements designed to antagonise Islamabad. In Kabul, he said, “We are reaching the limits of our patience, and for that reason it is extremely important that Pakistan take action to prevent this kind of safe haven.” It is not clear what he meant by that; but what is clear is that it was meant to nettle Islamabad.
And, predictably, that happened. Days after Secretary Panetta issued a seemingly veiled threat, Pakistan’s foreign minister, Hina Rabbani Khar, in Kabul, attending a conference, asserted once more that Pakistan wants an apology for a NATO cross-border strike that killed two dozen of its soldiers last year before it will consider reopening supply routes to foreign troops in Afghanistan.
Islamabad is well aware that Lavoy is a mere intelligence officer, not a diplomat. Is it any surprise then that General Kayani refused to meet him?
Finally, when the United States announced in early June that the Obama administration would send a high-level envoy to start talks in Islamabad, who did it send? It sent an assistant secretary of defence, Peter Lavoy, a mere intelligence officer. When the situation called for sending someone at the secretary level, Washington chose to send a lightweight, who sat around for three days in Islamabad seeking a meeting with General Kayani and returned on 10 June with nothing to show.
To begin with, sending Lavoy to resume talks was a nonstarter that could only have been meant to indicate Washington’s unwillingness to reopen talks. Islamabad is well aware that Lavoy is a mere intelligence officer, not a diplomat. Is it any surprise then that General Kayani refused to meet him?