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Opinion

December 5, 2017

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Going round in circles

Let’s play out a familiar scenario. Another top dog of the US administration lands to rap over our knuckles and demand action in combating terrorists that we have allowed to run amok. We protest and refute all the allegations, lamenting at the way that we have been used once again at the hands of our self-serving ally. It’s ironic but even when Pakistan was in the good books of the US administration all we heard was the disgruntled complaints that not enough was being done despite all the billions being poured our way for fighting the war on terror.
This time around when Pakistan’s relations with Washington are at a record low, the demand sheet being brought by US Defence Secretary James Mattis would require more dexterous handling than before. The Trump administration is neither keen on diplomacy nor interested in working towards a lasting, peaceful resolution for Afghanistan or reducing tensions between Pakistan and India.
With its maximalist position and a corporate quick-gain mindset, the guidelines for Trump’s security advisers are likely to be framed within the same paradigm. A no-holds-barred arm-twisting of the weaker ally and a nauseating sycophantic pandering to another whose partnership would deliver economic benefits and contain other behemoths. The ‘tough’ message that Mattis is purported to deliver to Pakistan would centre on the key issues: clearing the alleged safe havens of terrorists – the Afghan insurgents – as part of the desired indiscriminate operations that it must expeditiously carry out. Mattis is probably also likely to warn of the consequences if Pakistan continues to procrastinate. But should Pakistan, as usual, reiterate its position and remind the US of its commitment and sacrifices in helping combat terrorism?
It shouldn’t. Home truths aren’t the only thing that need to be relayed to the US following Mattis’ visit but clear guidelines for future cooperation – especially intelligence-sharing of the

alleged terrorist havens – also need to be emphasised. If mending relations with Washington is important – which, needless to say, it is – then it is our responsibility to do so at our end. This would require an extensive review of the existing relations and an honest appraisal of the fault lines. Moreover, we must assume ownership of any flaws from our side. But more importantly, Pakistan’s civil-military leadership must arrive at a consensus on how to redefine the terms of this lop-sided relationship. The lockdown in our relations with Washington is not just an outcome of a cyclical blame game-aggrievement trap that we are caught in because of the stalemate in Kabul. Instead, relations have been strained because we haven’t relayed our objectives to the US in comprehensive terms. And on the national front, we have refused to establish transparent practices in implementing any tacit policy agreements made with the Pentagon on ground. Thus, the government has been forced to follow a dual policy.
Take drones for example. The carte blanche given to the US drone attacks over the years came at the cost of damaging our sovereign image. But no one – civil or military – had the courage to own up to it. Similarly, all the encroachments being made by the US on our policymaking rights as a sovereign nation are because we haven’t taken a unified stand on either policy or on handling the grievances that are thrown our way. It is shameful that parliament is neither debating nor questioning the origins of this issue at this juncture. While the frustration felt by Kabul and Washington in reversing the tide of the Afghan insurgency is directed at Islamabad, we need to quell it for our own sake as well. If we don’t work in tandem, we will lose the grounds that we have wrested from miscreants at a great cost. Unfortunately, the lack of trust on both sides is the biggest obstacle that mars any productive outcome – even if a concrete plan of action is formulated – and it needs to be addressed on a priority basis.

The writer was a former deputy opinion editor at Gulf News, Dubai.

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