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August 28, 2017

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From cornerstone to tombstone!

Once upon a time Washington had declared Pakistan as the cornerstone of American foreign policy. Those were the days when we had a political government, a foreign policy and a competent foreign minister that could look straight without blinking into the eyes of the American leadership. Thirty five years down the road Pakistan has been rendered into tombstone of that foreign policy.

During the two long tenures of military dictators Pakistan’s vital interests were sold out to the Americans for self-dividends and stamp of external legitimacy. Their actions to remain in pelf and power over two decades, playing roughshod with the democratic rights of the people dealt Pakistan crippling blows that destroyed socio-economic and political fabric of the society.

The first dictator converted Quaid-e-Azam’s secular and democratic Pakistan into a theocratic, garrison state at gun-point while the second ushered in Talibanisation and patronised likes of Mulla Aziz, Hafiz Saeed and scores of others on account of whom Washington has kept bullying us with its mantra to do more.

After seeing glimpses of resistance and show of independence during five years of first post- Musharraf democratic government, Pakistan had a foreign policy, a foreign minister and a reasonably strong government. Former president Asif Zardari and former prime minister Yusuf Raza Gilani had a spine to take a stand.

Chairman PPP Bilawal Bhutto did right by reminding in his Fateh Jang public meeting that PPPP government did not buckle in 2012 to the American pressure after Salala. Its defiant response to the tragedy in which 28 Pakistani soldiers were killed at border check post in firing by American helicopters, boldly manifested nation’s proud resilience to defend its territorial sovereignty.

It was not an insignificant step that Parliament called for discontinuation of the Nato supplies to pass through Pakistan and closure of its air bases. Despite tremendous pressure and threats, it did not allow resumption until Washington tendered an apology--something the PML-N government has failed to demand after US President Donald Trump's recent remarks against Pakistan. As a matter of fact, former president Zardari was the first one to take strong exception to President Trump’s new Afghan policy that has singled out Pakistan as the villain of the piece. It could not be more insulting that Pakistan — despite being the worst victim of terrorism - has been accused of providing safe havens to the terrorists.

One can understand why Pakistan has come to be treated so shabbily by Washington. Seventh nuclear power with one of the seven largest armies in the world, Pakistan must have got its name recorded in the Guinness Book to be a country of immense geo-strategic importance without a foreign minister for four years when even banana republics have one.

Now we have a foreign minister and yet no foreign policy — good or bad - as Bilawal Bhutto put it. Neither Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi nor the Foreign Minister Khawaja Asif have yet given a befitting reply to President Trump’s gung-ho. Rather, FM’s only lamentation was that Trump’s speech was the handiwork of Pakistan’s former ambassador to Washington.

In a recent article (News, August 14) I had forewarned the government to stop running with the hare and hunting with the hounds following the announcement of the formation of Milli Muslim League of Hafiz Saeed as the political wing of JuD for contesting elections in 2018. JuD leader is under house arrest, he has huge American prize money on his head and in India he is known as the alleged mastermind of Mumbai terrorists attacks of 2008. Milli agenda is to convert Pakistan into ‘a real Islamic and welfare state ’— whatever it means. It will provide to its supporters protection and better cover for maneuverability without exposing itself to invite a crackdown on LeT and JuD.

It reminded me of MMA that was made to win substantive number of seats at the Centre and in KP and Balochistan provinces in 2002 elections by those who counted the votes under the orders of the dictator. Regretfully one believes similar relationship exists between Milli Millat League and PML-N much on the lines of MMA and General Pervez Musharraf. Looking in retrospect, what an irony it is for Pakistan that having suffered most in the war on terror, it continues to be pilloried by Trump as his favourite whipping boy to blame for his government’s failures.

American officials frequently visit Pakistan -- carrying a stick with a dangling carrot-- to tell us that we need to do more. In the latest diatribe Washington has conveyed bluntly “enough is enough” and that if we fail to please them, they would do it themselves and take them out where ever terrorists’ safe havens are. Bilawal has rightly responded to Trump for threatening Pakistan. It is not on when "thousands of Pakistani people, security personnel, and even political workers and leaders had laid down their lives in the fight against terrorism".

His warning to rulers is more of a wake-up call. By running with the hare and hunting with the hounds, neither the Pakistani people nor the world can be fooled. How right Bilawal is when he says: "Banned organisations forming political parties and sitting in assemblies, or Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government giving millions to the 'extremists' madaris will not end terrorism, extremism and sectarianism."

Successive American presidents have been at it by creating uncertainties solely to their advantage in areas of their geo-strategic interests. Unfortunately by default we have allowed strengthening of their perception that there exists a nexus between the government, security apparatus and the trouble mongers in Afghanistan. We need to tell Washington bluntly that Afghanistan has been infested with its troops and Nato forces in thousands since 9-11, they have access to drones, they have latest weaponry in abundance and their fire power cannot be matched and yet they cannot sort out the safe havens of anti-government forces. They should be told forcefully that they should stop blaming Pakistan for their failures.

For Pakistan wiser counsel is that the government should get out of its opiated slumber, call immediately joint session of the Parliament as suggested by Opposition leader Khursheed Shah and discuss threadbare Pakistan-US relations in the light of President Trump’s threats. Through a forceful unanimous resolution it needs to convey to Washington what Army chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa told the American ambassador that Pakistan would value relationship on trust rather than money.

Pre-requisite to register our strongest protest to Washington is to put our own house in order. Dawn Leak in October last had created a perception that stakeholders do not see eye to eye, are at loggerheads and that the oft-repeated same page mantra is neither here nor there. This impression must be buried for all times. It is a question of now or never.

The author is a former High Commissioner of Pakistan to UK and a veteran journalist.

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