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June 1, 2011

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If we lied, so did the US

When it comes to this “bloody war” the war on terror, one thing is certain: it can’t be business as usual anymore between Pakistan and the United States. Both need to reinvent themselves, both need to stop taking the other for a sucker. If the US has the might of a superpower, then Pakistan too has the resilience of a desperate survivor. Needless acrimony is unlikely to throw up any single winner but may surely create two very sorry losers.
At a glance, the situation looks impossibly bad. Hundreds of billions of dollars have been ploughed in (overwhelmingly on the Afghan side and not necessarily wisely either) but the Taliban and other terrorist are still galloping around in their Toyota 4x4s. Innocent civilians continue dying in droves in Pakistan and Afghanistan.
The US and its Nato allies appear as bewildered and clueless as they were ten years and billions of dollars earlier. The good thing about man-made problems however is that they can always be solved. The solution lies in an honest resolve backed by effective measures.
Our conundrum is no different. For starters, we need to stop lying and the US must start telling the truth. We have to admit our past unholy alliances no matter how holy the cause, abandon some of our old habits and views and chart a new course. For its part, the US too should eschew its past dirty tricks and start coming clean on its present and future plans for the region.
Let’s face it, both have been lying to one another. For every “freedom fighter” Hafiz Saeed of ours, the US too has a “diplomat” Raymond Davis. If we had undeclared illegal combatants to help out with otherwise legitimate conflicts, then the US too has its brigade of illegal combatants fighting outright illegitimate wars.
Have our strategic thinkers been frugal with truth in the past? Yes. But the Americans weren’t misers with fibbing either. To cite the Raymond Davis episode alone, everyone lied, including President Obama. As for

Hillary Clinton, well her pre-secretary of state views on “defence contractors” a la Blackwater are well known.
She happened to be one of the two senators to have thrown their weight behind the ill-fated Stop Outsourcing Security (SOS) Act, 2007, which sought to
throw out contractors from combat-oriented and security operations. As for her views, here’s what she had to say: “These private security contractors have been reckless and have compromised our mission in Iraq.” She continued: “The time to show these contractors the door is long past due.”
But after taking over as secretary of state, one of Hillary’s earliest actions was to award a $120 million to Blackwater, the very same people she thought should have been shown the door a long time back. She also personally flew into Pakistan, all huffing and puffing, to rescue her contractor-diplomat. And then Pakistan alone is accused of duplicity.
In the latest Osama incident, the Americans were in bed with the Afghan intelligence and effectively treating Pakistan, its declared ally, as an undeclared enemy. Simply put, they lied to us for years. And who knows what explosive revelations may come out of the Mehran Base attack investigations where reportedly some “extremely interesting and shocking” linkages are starting to emerge. There is talk of some big lies going to be exposed in the coming weeks.
The two sides can continue lying to one another, of course, but only to their mutual peril. Typical turf battles between intelligence outfits must be avoided. The crisis is way bigger than the ISIs and CIAs of the world put together. And with a loose cannon like Gen Petraeus taking over the CIA, much greater caution and supervision needs to be exercised by the top US leadership.
A nuclear-armed Pakistan with a functioning polity and military apparatus is nothing like Iraq and Petraeus must be made to realise that.
It is diplomatic rehab time for both countries. Detox is needed to flush out old biases and grievances, both genuine and imaginary. The US has to stop swaggering like a drunken empire and be more appreciative of all that Pakistan is doing and suffering. The tendency of unilateral actions will ultimately create a bigger mess than anyone in Washington can ever imagine.
Washington must allow Islamabad to take a lead in deciding how to deal with the Pakistan Taliban issue in particular. On second though, forget about what the Pakistanis have to say. US policymakers would be wiser to pay heed to the observations made by their own venerable diplomatic doyen, Henry Kissinger, who recently warned against ignoring Pakistan’s legitimate apprehensions of being “encircled” by Indian and other unduly exaggerated interests in the region. Shrugging shoulders and accusing Pakistan of suffering from India-phobia without doing anything to help mitigate Pakistan’s legitimate concerns may be a convenient strategy but not the right one. A tense eastern border curtails Pakistan’s ability to bring calm on the western one. It’s as simple as that.
Pakistan may have made mistakes or policy errors over the years but it has been dealing with the Afghan question for over three decades now. Nobody else has had its ears to the ground and for so long. None other has a similar degree of understanding and vested interest.
The US must place greater faith in our understanding of the issue and realise that contrary to what the cowboys back home may say, Pakistan is part of the solution. and not the problem. Sen Kerry already said that, Hillary said it too, as did President Obama. But unless they mean it, things won’t move in the right direction.
Right now Pakistan is caught in a tight judo arm-lock. Its economy is in a mess. Its top leadership stands compromised because of corruption and incompetence. Its army stands embarrassed. Islamabad will probably do everything that Washington wants because our visionless leaders see no other option. So what does the US want now? Short-term transitory gains or a long-term mutually beneficial relationship as a popular and reliable ally? The choice will be made-in-America but the consequences will be purely made-in-Pakistan.

The writer is editor The News,
Islamabad.

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