While almost three weeks have passed since US Navy Seals killed Osama Bin Laden in his compound in Abottabad, Pakistan on 2nd May 2011, there are no signs that the United States has been able to fully cash in on this Special Forces coup. Relations with Pakistan have fallen to a new low with Islamabad tilting the scale towards China and the Pakistan Army and Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) continuing to follow the policy of two timing the international community. As the Army and ISI regain confidence after the shock of 2nd May they are playing hard ball from the softer stand they were willing till after a week after the incident. Possibly there was no thought given to likely reactions from Pakistan to Osama’s killing and how these should be taken advantage of.
|The visit of the Pakistan Prime Minister to China immediately after the incident of killing of Osama Bin Laden wherein the Chinese offered some good support to the Pakistanis is in some ways a leverage that Pakistani regime wants to build up against the Americans.
A lot of efforts were however made to assuage Islamabad. Senator Kerry and US special envoy for Pakistan and Afghanistan Marc Grossman went to Islamabad, Grossman for the second time in the last two weeks. They held talks with President Asif Ali Zardari and Chief of Army Staff General Ashfaq Kayani. There are also reports of meeting between Michael Morell, deputy director of the CIA with Inter-Services Intelligence chief Lt Gen Ahmed Shuja Pasha but these have not been confirmed possibly due to sensitivity of relations at the moment. The ISI has already declared the name of the Station Chief of the CIA in Islamabad causing much rancor.
The visit of the Pakistan Prime Minister to China immediately after the incident of killing of Osama Bin Laden wherein the Chinese offered some good support to the Pakistanis is in some ways a leverage that Pakistani regime wants to build up against the Americans. When combined with the advisory to Afghanistan in the recent past to have closer relations with China rather than the US has also been a part of the overall efforts in Islamabad to develop alternative relationship to America. However this severely undermines US Pakistan relations and does not reflect the reality on the ground. For the US has not just provided Pakistan military security assistance but also aid during the times of floods to the tune of $ 600 million plus as compared to the Chinese offer of about $ 18 million. Therefore the reality must dawn on the Pakistani leadership to follow the path that most effectively provides them maximum benefit rather than playing power games.
But the ultimate zero sum game in the Indian Sub Continent is also in play with Pakistan looking towards China as its relations with the United States is falling apart and China looking to it to build an alliance to oppose what it sees as an emerging Indo US one. This would be underlined by the request by Pakistan to take over the Gwadar facility and also build a naval base. While there would be many more quirks before this move of China taking over and building a naval base in Gwadar fructifies including the Baloch insurgency there should be some Chinese interest as China invested $200 million in the first phase of the construction of the port, which was inaugurated in 2007.
Possibly an important fall out of Bin Laden killing has been the growing support to the US deployment in Afghanistan as well as Iraq. With victory of the type achieved by the US forces greater support was inevitable and there has been some forward movement on the ground in Afghanistan as well. While the level of violence has no doubt continued to remain high, there is a need to ensure that the support of the people at home is retained so that the pull out does not become into a flood. This is necessary for the Afghan security set up is not yet up to the level where a smooth transition can take place. Thus under the circumstances, it would be essential to shore up support for staying even beyond 2014 or so. The response from other troop contributing countries would be very essential for that would mark the way ahead for stabilisation and leave rather than leave half way through.
Meanwhile continued efforts to bring US, Afghanistan and Pakistan continue with Foreign Secretary Salman Bashir leading Pakistan’s delegation to a “Trilateral Meeting” of senior officials of the three countries in Kabul the coming week. To maintain the momentum of substantial issues that are contained in a trilateral dialogue with mistrust being the most obvious trend, the move to continue contact at various levels is important and would have to be sustained in the days ahead. Given the nature of the challenge this time it appears to be foreign secretary level talks that are being planned to iron out certain issues which may be related to the ongoing process of reconciliation. The main issue however would remain that of building trust with the discovery of Osama Bin Laden in Pakistan having seriously wrecked the same as Afghans will be now more suspicious than ever but may also be forced to take a pragmatic view of the whole affair as time passes.
Had the United States factored in the type of reaction that would be evident from Pakistan more gains could have been made or at least the adverse responses avoided. But as they say it is always difficult to meet all options and contingencies in wars as well as diplomacy.