Monday, May 30, 2011

Pakistan's Agony

Pakistan is in great trouble. Never in its sixty-four year history had the country been confronted with such a grievous crisis like the one it faces right now. It seems that the very existence of Pakistan as a sovereign state is at stake. Why is Pakistan in such a sorry state? There are compelling reasons to be considered. First, Pakistan's strategic relationship with Washington, which it heavily depends on for economic aid and military hardware, had been seriously ruptured when US violated Pakistan's sovereignty and killed al-Qaeda leader Osama bin-Laden. The Pakistani government and its military were embarrassed beyond any measure. Islamabad seemed to be at a loss. Eventually, the government reacted angrily. The magnitude of the anger could be discerned when Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani, in an unprecedented joint session of the Parliament on May 15 , threatened US of dire consequences if such acts were repeated again, and of blocking the supply line for the Nato forces in Afghanistan if there was any more drone attack by the US. A review of US-Pakistan relations, never done before, would also be conducted, he added. Obviously, Pakistan is indignant at the violation of its sovereignty. Any self-respecting country would feel the same way. But the point is: has not Islamabad's pro-American government already compromised on it? Otherwise, how can 3 ,000 US commandos, who are outside the jurisdiction of the government, function in Pakistan? How can some elements of CIA operate in the country without the knowledge of ISI? Has not the Pakistani government given implicit permission for US drone attacks on the militants who attack the Nato supply line in Afghanistan? As such, it is no wonder that even after the speech and threats, a grim US president, on the eve of his departure for Europe, reiterated his country's firm resolve that more solo operations would be conducted if other al-Qaeda and Taliban leaders, suspected to be hiding in Pakistan, are found. In the meantime, more drone attacks have been carried out since the Laden incident, killing both militants and civilians. Pakistan's response has been a deafening silence. Second, Pakistan is now the main target of attacks by the Afghan and Pakistani Taliban who want to avenge Laden's death. Since his death, suicide bombing by militants claimed numerous innocent lives in northwestern Pakistan. But the recent Taliban attack on the naval airport of Mehran in Karachi, which is only fifteen (15) kilometers from Pakistan's largest naval airport Masrur, where nuclear weapons are supposedly stored, has sent a chill down peoples' spines. It is evident that Pakistan is at war with itself. Clearly, Pakistan is in a mess. A mess for which Pakistan itself is primarily responsible, but US contribution to it is no less. How can Pakistan find a way out? The exit route is extremely difficult and slippery, and it would need all the wisdom, ingenuity and vision that the Pakistani leadership can muster. First, it is commendable that Islamabad is going to review its strategic partnership with the US. In the process, it should be borne in mind that no relationship can bring lasting benefits if it is based on convenience only. Like in the past, the strategic partnership that was forged between the US and Islamabad following 9 /11 in 2001 contained ingredients of mutual needs rather than the convergence of their respective national interests. As such, the vital ingredient, "mutual trust," was missing in their bilateral ties, with Washington becoming impatient with Pakistan's alleged half- hearted commitment for its War against Terror, and Pakistan increasingly turning reluctant to accommodate US more and commit further political capital. The situation was exasperating for both. Last month, top generals of both countries met in Oman in search of a compromise formula. For a compromise, a security analyst recommends that US should demonstrate "long-term improved partnership whereby Pakistan will have its core interests protected," and in return Pakistanis "will have to jettison their working relationships with extremists and militant groups inside their own society." Here is the crux of the problem. What does the US mean by the " core interest" of Pakistan? How does Pakistan view it? Pakistan considers that its "core interest" lies in the resolution of Kashmir issue with India and installing a pro-Pakistan government in Afghanistan. Perhaps, for this very reason, i.e. to protect its "core interest," elements within the military, may be without the knowledge of the civil government, maintained links with some Afghan and India-focused groups like Haqqani network, Quetta Shura Taliban and Lashkar-e- Taiba. Washington's interest, on the other hand, is to end the war, stabilise Afghanistan with pro-Indian Karzai government ensuring strong US presence, and total indifference to the Kashmir issue. One can, thus, clearly discern that national interests of Washington and Pakistan are not aligned in any way. Obviously then, Pakistan, while revisiting its relations with the US, should make clear what strategic benefits it expects from their present relationship. Second, now that Islamabad has pledged to review its ties with US, it should do the same for the entire gambit of its foreign policy, especially its India policy, and try to gauge what benefits accrued from its present policy towards India. Pakistan, at present, has that golden opportunity since, for the first time in its history, out of anguish and grief, the entire country -- the party in power, the opposition, and the army, which, for the first time is Pakistan's history submitted before the Parliament -- have coalesced. Together, they should do soul searching in order to find out what went wrong in their country. No self-respecting country should put up with the violation of its sovereignty, though it has been somewhat compromised, but the incident of May 2 should be enough to break the camel's back. Lastly and most importantly, the leadership -- civilian and army -- and the elites should work diligently to strengthen its nascent democracy, bring the army under civilian control, try to destroy the jihadi outfits for its own survival, and establish good governance so that the people of Pakistan can get back their faith in their country's destiny. Ordinary Pakistanis have waited a long time to get their country, which was hijacked by the army, back. It's about time that Pakistani elites live up to their expectations. Only American economic and military aid and carrots like proposed lowering of tariff for Pakistani imports will not alleviate Pakistan's agony. There is a need for a pragmatic foreign policy and efforts to build the country. There is actually no other alternative.