US Pakistan Relations: Thaw before Winter?

There is never a dull moment in US Pakistan relations. Just as Pakistan’s chain smoking Army Chief General Pervez Ashraf Kiyani had finished his sermons obliquely directed at Washington stating that Islamabad was no Iraq or Libya, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton landed up in Islamabad to hold a broad based dialogue with Pakistani leadership. The unusually large contingent with Ms Clinton included diplomats and military leaders to effectively engage all corners of the Islamabad-Rawalpindi (Pakistan Army Headquarters) dyad and it appears that a new thaw is in the offing as both sides seemed to have down played recent differences.

Secretary of State Clinton’s visit to Pakistan was possibly designed to square off the recent hotly contested tit for tat between the two countries over Pakistan’s links with the Haqqani faction and particularly the Inter Services Intelligence agency involvement in attack on the US embassy in Kabul. This has provided room for maneouvre in the days and months ahead and hopefully the rhetoric will die down on both the sides. 

That any bilateral or internal security discourse is today regulated by relationship with non state actors was evident. In Pakistan’s case it is what President Barack Obama referred to as, ‘unsavoury characters,’ the Haqqani network on which differences persist. Pakistan sees this as a strategic asset and is loathe neutralizing it while the United States views the Haqqani group as the centre of gravity of the counter militant operations in Af Pak. This differential perception is likely to continue to mar the relationship in the days ahead. 

Thus while much seems to have been resolved between Pakistan and the United States during the visit of Secretary of State to Islamabad the core issues and differences remain. The first point is launching operations against the Haqqani faction in North Waziristan. It is apparent that Pakistan is not agreeable to the same possibly also due to operational difficulties with winter fast approaching it may be better to wait spring or summer to launch operations in the hilly and mountainous northern area. But the differences within the Pakistan Army also seem to have some bearing on the same thereby leading to inferences that there were links with the Haqqani faction and the ISI.  

Thus while on the surface Ms Hillary Clinton managed to reconcile differences, there is a huge gap in understanding on even basic issues. While Clinton identified a path of, “kill, build and talk,” with the rebels, a hard line approach while Pakistanis as indicated by the statements of the Prime Minister Mr Yusaf Raza Gillani are looking for a compromise. Thus the Pakistani strategy appears to be, “talk and build,” Therefore prospects of resolving these issues between the two remain unlikely in the near future. This would be a cause of concern given that the entire challenge of militancy has now turned focus from that of combating the guerrillas to managing US Pakistan relations thereby reducing the impetus of the drive against the rebels over the past few months. This is having serious repercussions across the border in Afghanistan

Never the less given the importance of the relations to both the sides the civilian and the aid and assistance component as well as the NATO supply network has not been disrupted so far. Normally in the past the first casualty was the flow of logistics to Afghanistan but this time around this has not happened indicating that the public has been largely kept out of the stand off.

The US is clearly not willing to let the relations deteriorate beyond the current nadir. That Pakistan could gain a seat in the UN Security Council in the first round is indicative of American largesse to an extent as Washington could have created a problem if it wanted to by indicating that it was not in favour of the same. More over Hillary Clinton has clearly stated that the military option against Pakistan was never under consideration paying putt to Kiyani’s statement that the any power should think 10 times before violating Pakistan’s sovereignty as it possessed nuclear weapons. Thankfully Clinton did not swallow the bait and react to this rather rash statement.

On the whole US Pakistan policy is in tatters as Washington has depended on transactional relationship with who so ever is in power in Islamabad be it the civil government or the Army. There are no efforts to build an institutional relationship and the military-intelligence establishment was leading the way so far believing that it had a lot of clout in Rawalpindi. 

It is high time that the US thinks long term builds up relations with the civilian leadership in the country without prejudice to their being good and bad and sustains support to institutions rather than individual leaders be it civil or military. This may not provide short term relief but gains will be evident within a couple of years and particularly when the US forces pull out of Afghanistan by 2014 a civilian based relationship will be far more profitable in long term for both the countries as well as the region.  


More by :  Col. Rahul K. Bhonsle

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