Reviewing terms of engagement

This Article was published in
Business Recorder (July 30, 2011)
The Frontier Post (July 30, 2011)

By Sahibzada Hussain Mohi-ud-Din Qadri

The train of events set into motion by the Abbottabad incident on May 2 has brought the relations between Pakistan-US to an all-time low. While Pakistan's establishment felt betrayed and humiliated after the American raid, it also came in for strong criticism from all quarters at the domestic front. Instead of opting for covert negotiations with the Pakistani authorities, the Obama administration chose to enhance pressure on Pakistan in a bid to make her comply with ever-increasing US demands.

All elements of the administration's opinion starting from President Obama to Chairman Joint Chief of Staff Mike Mullen to the Congressmen made no bones about their intentions to 'punish' Pakistan with a 'stick and carrot approach.' The Pakistani establishment, which was already finding it increasingly difficult to comply with the American diktat, got cornered as internal voices to detach the country from the America-led war on terror picked up momentum.

The accelerated pace of drone strikes in the tribal areas, bordering Pakistan and Afghanistan, and the increased emphasis on counter-insurgency operations away from the deployment of large armies overseas augur ill for the sustainable future of relations between Washington and Islamabad. Despite fire-fighting efforts by a plethora of US officials to push the reset button in relations, the strains have only become clearer by the day.

Though the two resolutions aimed at cutting down US aid to Pakistan have been defeated in the American Senate, the Obama administration's suspension of $800 million, a third of the $2.7 billion in military aid to Pakistan, only reveals the widening chasm between the two countries. The US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, has tried to play down the rhetoric accompanying the suspension of military aid, saying that it should not be construed as 'any change in the US policy' and that the US would continue to give Islamabad civilian aid passed under Kerry-Lugar Act.

The Inter-Services of Public Relations (ISPR), in a reaction to the suspension of military aid, has reiterated the country's commitment to eliminate terrorism from the country with the use of indigenous resources. It said that this suspension would not affect the ongoing military operations. What has further complicated the already fragile relations is an orchestrated media campaign against Pakistan and its institutions.

The bilateral relations of both Islamabad and Washington now seem to follow a usual ebb and flow pattern. While Pakistan should not break with the US as it would be highly inadvisable, it is the right occasion to review the terms of engagement with the US to make it more equitable. An opportunity is always inherent in every risk and we must make the best use of it instead of being cowed down by the incidents. The following points are instructive in this regard:

Firstly, there is a dire need that the civilian and military leaderships undertake a dispassionate and exhaustive analysis of the geo-strategic situation currently obtaining in the domain of Pakistan-US relations. We must not allow the crises to spiral out of control. In accepting every US demand after 9/11, the Musharraf regime turned the country into a subservient state. While fighting terrorism and extremism was in Pakistan's interest, it must not have allowed the US to dictate terms. Pakistan must not plunge headlong into the North Waziristan operations under pressure from Washington. If at all any such decision is taken, it must purely be taken under our national domestic considerations.

Such an appraisal of our priorities and policies must also spell out 'red lines' for every country to respect and desist from crossing. This must involve the protection of the country's core interests ie sovereignty, nuclear interests, and territorial integrity. In his concluding speech at the National Seminar on De-radicalization in Swat the other day, the Prime Minister talked of the 'red lines' and asked the 'allies' not to advance their narrow interests at the cost of Pakistan.

These high-level statements need to be accompanied by comprehensive and consistent policies and not be a one-time media interaction. Coupled with this is the need of an articulation of consensus-based and uniform policies by all streaks of national opinion. It would send a strong message to the international community and inject substance into Pakistan's position on key policy issues. Any dichotomy of views between the civilian and military leaderships would betray signs of weakness.

The policy of putting all eggs in one basket is flawed to the core. Pakistan has pursued a Washington-centric, uni-focal foreign policy so far. Our relations with the countries of the Gulf region have weakened over a period of time. Islamabad should not only repair its relations with these friendly countries but also find new partners.

However, what Pakistan needs the most is the setting of its own house in order. Foreign policy, by all intents and purposes, is a reflection and sum total of domestic policies. If a country is politically and economically strong, it has a better bargaining position and can sell its viewpoint more effectively. This calls for crafting of national consensus on key issues of national security and foreign policy. These measures would enable the country to renegotiate the terms of engagement with the US. Pakistan's leadership must articulate the national policy with confidence and optimism. Pakistan has what it takes to be a respectable country in the comity of nations. What it needs the most is leadership and good governance to reflect the dynamism of the nation. History shows that crises bring out the best from states and societies. Let this crisis serve such a purpose in this case.

(Copyright Business Recorder, 2011)