Spearhead Analysis - 09.02.12The Path to Reconciliation
By Nida Afaque
The coming of a new year brings hopes of a brighter and better future. Unfortunately, few would say it holds true for the US-Pakistani relationship. It sure hasn’t had a sunny past as a precursor. In the past year, the Raymond Davis affair, OBL raid by US Seals, Salala check post attack together with recurrent drone attacks and accusations of being in cahoots with the militants has caused this relationship to plummet into a deep abyss.
Pakistan reacted to these transgressions in a bold fashion by shutting down NATO supply routes, forcing US to vacate the Shamsi Airbase and threatening to shoot down any drones that enter its air space. However, it’s safe to say that to some degree the frozen relationship has thawed. Drone attacks have resumed and although the Pakistani government denies giving consent, it hasn’t shot down drones either. Officials on both sides speculate the reopening of supply routes most probably once certain conditions have been met by US. Reports claim that an imposition of taxes can be expected. This would probably be a better deal for the US forces which are paying up to six times more for the northern distribution routes.
Pakistan’s economy is intrinsically linked to the United States. According to the US Commercial Counselor, the key to renewing relations between the two countries is through trade. With the precarious situation with Iran persisting in the region, US has even offered cheaper fuel alternatives to persuade Pakistan from continuing with the Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline project. Pakistan has yet to build its infrastructure for the IP project which contradicts the statements of the leaders who uphold the deal. It hasn’t even cited a lack of finances as a problem. All this goes to show that US still has some sway on Pakistan in this matter.
At the same time, US-Pak ties have encountered some negative developments too. Pakistan was offended by the findings of the US investigation report on the Nov 26th assault which implicitly termed the Pakistanis as an adversary whereas they feel the fault lies in the lack of a unified command in Afghanistan. A Pakistani doctor was found to be assisting the US in the OBL raid, something the US Defense Secretary has openly admitted to. Clearly, the US does not trust Pakistan and has adopted methods to counter this problem. But most of all, last week’s unraveling of a secret NATO document testifying to the Pakistan-Taliban association seems to have been leaked to indicate the double game that the US says Pakistan was playing with its own people and foreign forces. The report claimed that ISI was constantly in touch with Taliban, knew about their sanctuaries and consults them in making policies. Analysts believe this could be possible as the Taliban are still at large in Afghanistan and Pakistan is merely looking out for itself once foreign forces leave the region. The US has officially down played the report saying that it was not based on an analysis but only on interrogations. A US Congressional Committee is holding a hearing on Baluchistan that Pakistan considers its internal issue that is being exploited by external players.
There is a definitely a possibility for the relations to go south. US forces are expected to shift their attention from the southern provinces to the eastern provinces. Taliban militants can easily exploit their sanctuaries across the border in their fights which will cause more trouble for Pakistan. In that case, any intrusion into Pakistan from the coalition forces gives Pakistani soldiers the right to bypass the chain of command and take a full scale action. Furthermore, there are rumors that the Afghan National Directorate of Security is protecting Fazlullah, leader of a faction of the Pakistani Taliban and an aide of Hakimullah Mehsud. An effort to take down Fazlullah could spike border conflict.
Nonetheless both nations realize that they require each other for better or worse. Perhaps this is why the US has finally moved to consider apologizing for the NATO attack and plans to send General Mattis to straighten the kinks in border coordination procedures. The US needs Pakistan to be fully on board in the reconciliation process.
Pakistan, on the other hand, is in the process of reevaluating its terms of cooperation with United States. Afghanistan remains the elephant in the room and a progression in US-Pak relations will have to take Afghans along. It’s in Pakistan’s interest to see a stable independent Afghanistan, something history has shown the Americans do not care much about.
US and Pakistan have divergent interests in the region to achieve within different timelines. Pakistan would like to see a pro-Pakistan Afghan government, preferably Pakhtun dominated that keeps India at bay. US however, would like to keep a government that is strong on counterterrorism irrespective of whether it is pro-Pakistan or not. In all likelihood, US will leave a deeply fragile Afghanistan at the brink of an ethnic explosion and a possible civil war. The involvement of India in post-2014 plans is disturbing for Pakistan. Reconciling these opposing interests will be a formidable challenge.
It is important to remember, however, that United States and Pakistan’s relationship encompasses more than Afghanistan. US could have let matters rest and gradually picked up the pieces but at the moment, it’s fixated on leaving the region and therefore must proceed to transferring power. It is speeding up the process by promoting a reconciliation process with Pakistan. A more business-like strategy based on minimum interference and clear cut boundaries would be beneficial to the relationship.www.spearheadresearch.org
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