“It never rains, but it pours”. This proverbial expression has come true in the case of current standoff between two allies ie. United States and Pakistan jointly fighting a war against common enemy aiming to exterminate terrorism from the region. Ever since its inception in 1947, Pakistan and United States established cordial diplomatic relations with each other.
Just after 9/11 terrorist attacks on WTC in which 3,200 American lost their lives, Pakistan decided to align with the United States in the US-led war on terror waged in Afghanistan. Based on good military-to-military relations, Pakistan was granted status of non-Nato ally.
However, the bilateral ties between United States and Pakistan started weakening over Raymond Davis issue, in which a CIA contractor killed two Pakistani on a motorcycle allegedly attempting to rob him at Jail road near Mozang Chowk, Lahore on January 27, 2010.
When bad things happen to the US-Pakistan relations, other bad things seem to happen at the same time — one after another.
The unilateral raid by the US Navy Seals on Osama Bin Laden’s compound in Abbottabad on May 2, followed by November 26 Nato air strike on two Pakistan Army border check posts in Mohmand tribal area bordering Afghanistan killing 24 Pakistani troops, added fuel to the fire.
In response, Pakistan not only closed Nato logistics supply lines for the troops in Afghanistan, it also got vacated Shamsi air base in Balochistan used for covert CIA drone strikes on Pakistan’s border areas with Afghanistan.
These unpleasant developments widened the mistrust between the two allies and made Pakistan more cautious, vulnerable and insecure.
The latest bad thing happened when the US Secretary of Defence Leon Panetta aired his venom by saying that “stabilisation efforts in Afghanistan would remain difficult as long as militants had safe havens in Pakistan, and we are reaching the limits of our patience.”
Although Pakistan has repeatedly said that it will neither allow any safe havens on its territory nor will it allow its territory to be used against Afghanistan, yet Pakistan believes that such statements by high US officials are misplaced and unhelpful in bringing about peace and stability in the region.
It is quite interesting to note that the collective aim of United States and Pakistan is to stamp out extremism from the region but both the countries adopt different approach to accomplish it.
Where there is a standoff, it is the American timelines for specific actions not necessarily the same as Pakistani timelines or vice versa. This results in shifting of blames on each other just to cover up respective shortcomings. Here are some more commonalities that look like a standoff between the two nations:
a) Both the countries earnestly want to continue the campaign of eliminating al Qaeda element, but with different implementation strategy.
b) The two countries agree on the resumption of supply lines for Nato troops in Afghanistan via Pakistan, but the US wants to continue with a nominal passage fee against Pakistan’s compulsion to charge $5000 a truck.
c) Both the countries feel ‘sorry’ on the November 26, 2011 air strike on Salala in North Waziristan, but the US is still feeling hesitant to apologize officially despite going close to it. And Pakistan has set ‘apology’ as a pre-condition to the opening of transit route for Nato troops in Afghanistan.
d) Although the US President Obama invited Pakistan President Zardari for Nato Summit on Afghanistan in Chicago last month to improve US-Pakistan relations, but President Obama gave cold shoulder during the proceeding of the summit creating ill feelings amongst strategic partners.
e) The United States and Pakistan need each other’s cooperation in fighting out war against terror. The US requires Pakistan’s cooperation in the endgame in Afghanistan. Pakistan also wants a role in the post-withdrawal scenario - both hitting the same bull but fail to pick enough signals to implement it.
f) Taking down Bin Laden was one of the most important features in US-Pakistan shared interest. The role of Dr. Shakeel Afridi, who helped CIA to locate Bin Laden at Abbottabad became controversial – hero for the Americans as well as Pakistani but since the Dr did not inform Pakistan government about the fake medical regime fell in the realm of treason. The US also admits the nature of offence yet apparently opposes it.
g) The United States is exerting pressure on Pakistan to start army operation against Haqqanis in North Waziristan. Pakistan is also on the same page but shows inability to send its troops to North Waziristan before consolidating its gains in South Waziristan, Bajour, Khyber, Swat, etc.
h) The US and Pakistan are convinced to enter into peace agreement with Taliban but both the nations have different working strategies to brokered a peace accord.
j) The Americans and Pakistan consider that the drones are good weapon in targeting the terrorists’ sanctuaries in the tribal belt. But hitting this lethal weapon without the consent of the host country has sparked widespread resentment in Pakistan.
The United States and Pakistan have a shared struggle against terrorism and nobody has suffered more from terrorist attacks than the Pakistani people – 35,000 to 40,000 as per reliable estimate.
Defence strategists in the South Asia believe that Pakistan is a linchpin in rooting out terrorism from the region and US cannot succeed without Pakistan.
Even after the reduction in Nato’s footprint in Afghanistan, the United States will still need the government of Pakistan’s cooperation on certain issues, particularly ensuring supplies reach the special operations/intelligence personnel remaining in Afghanistan after the bulk of the forces withdraw in 2014. Maintaining good relations with the military and civilian leadership is critical, because they are important regional players.
As Pakistan’s domestic problems are due to the war in Afghanistan and its participation in it, therefore, Pakistan’s sliding economy cannot do without American largesse.
The reduction in the military presence of the United States and Nato in the region after the draw down will lessen the possibility of blaming each other for their flawed policies.
In case of occasional differences between the best of allies, the most troubling aspect in the relationship is that they cannot seem to find a way to bring these to an even keel.
Currently, the issue of seeking an apology, reimbursement of the Coalition Support Fund, drone attacks and reopening of Nato supply routes to Afghanistan, could have been resolved amicably if America had considered Pakistan’s sensitivities and vulnerabilities of regional compulsions.
Pakistan cannot believe that it is a ‘routine activity’ when the Americans have taken several unilateral and hostile actions against their fellow compatriots. Therefore, failing to recognise the requirements of the Pakistani people, the continuation of the policy of unilateralism may have little success.
The continuation of this stalemate for extended period of time will hurt not only Pakistan, but also have a long-term impact on the Pak-US relationships. In case efforts are not put in place to take advantage from the commonalities of policies between the two partners, the Americans will soon realize the damage they have done to this strategically important region.