Somewhere, far from the public eye and ear, there may be movement in the currently gridlocked Pakistan-US relationship. As is usual in these circumstances, where states have apparently irreconcilable differences, there is a flow of back-channel communication that might occasionally break surface, sometimes to the surprise of many. Thus there are reports that the British Foreign Secretary William Hague will be in Islamabad next week, a visit that coincides with that of US Assistant Defence Secretary Peter Levoy, and that the two are scheduled to meet. The UK has played ‘honest broker’ in the past and has considerable regional interests. Any lessening of tensions would be much to the satisfaction of the Europeans who are seeking to expand their regional trading portfolio. The two men will be discussing the reopening of Ground Lines of Communication (GLOCs) and getting the Nato convoys rolling again. Rumour and speculation abound on this issue, much of it centreing on how much in transit fee per container we will be requiring from the Americans. The deal they have recently concluded with the Central Asian Republics (CARs) for the extraction of goods and materiel from Afghanistan is said to be five times more expensive than any deal they may come to with us. Sources, both American and Pakistani, say that the GLOCs will open ‘soon’ and perhaps within the week, but nobody is being specific. The mood-music on both sides is more upbeat and there is a sense that resolution is in the air – and we may see a significant revenue bounce as a result.
Not so in other sectors of the diplomatic game. A day after US Defence Secretary Leon Panetta expressed his ‘frustration’ at our perceived failure to tackle the Haqqani network, Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff General Dempsey weighed in much the same vein. He acknowledged that there were areas of cooperation between the US and Pakistan where matters proceeded relatively smoothly, but the Haqqani network was a ‘friction point’ that had never been eased to the satisfaction of the US. He spoke of an inability to find common ground, and opined that the Haqqani network was as big a threat to us as it was to the Afghans and the Americans, linking to Al-Qaeda as it is said to do. Weaving into this position is how the US perceives its own sovereignty – and where its sovereign boundaries lie in terms of threat-assessment and response. For the US the sovereign threat presented by the Al-Qaeda franchise and its numerous offshoots widens the envelope of sovereignty to anywhere and everywhere that they operate. General Dempsey was blunt – ‘We are at war with Al-Qaeda’ and it is clear that war is to be prosecuted within the parameters of a perceived American sovereignty that overlays our own. Our perception, rightly, is that this is a violation of our sovereign borders, but despite us having the capacity to do so we have never deployed air assets to shoot down the drones – which suggests at the very least the turning of a blind eye if not cooperation and compliance with an unseen protocol. The trucks will, eventually roll, old ties will beaver away in the background and the Taliban are tapping their watches.