Pakistan has finally gone ahead and allowed Nato the ground channels it hankered for, seven and a half months after they were closed, because Nato helicopter gunships had massacred 24 Pakistani soldiers at the Salala border checkpost. The decision was so made that the newspapers of US Independence Day, gave an indication that the real beneficiary from the deal was America.
One of the most interesting features of the restoration is Pakistan’s refusal to charge a fee, especially after being accused by US Defence Secretary Leon Panetta of ‘price gouging’.
Whatever the motives, the fact is that the USA has got what it wanted: something which would not increase its budget deficit. The US government is at the moment very sensitive to any money it has to pay, and thus the money was perhaps more important than when it was initially raised. However, it does illustrate that the USA has always been concerned about money. That is, most probably, why the USA did not have to pay in the first place, though the supply had been flowing for a decade. The USA once again has made a poor country pay for its war.
The USA has been fighting the war for the colonialist purpose of obtaining access to resources, making any opposition to it anti-colonialist. Thus, the opposition to the USA has taken on a religious flavour, making religious forces anti-colonialist. Since those forces were accused by those anti-colonialists with a Marxist orientation of supporting colonialism, there is an irony here, especially since the former Marxists, after the collapse of the USSR, have gone over to the USA. This is the root of the opposition to the USA.
Though the USA has given an assurance that there will be no repetition of such incidents, not even the givers of the assurance believe they can be avoided. The US record in Afghanistan should be an indication that there will be a recurrence.
Another indication of further trouble has been the failure to get the USA to even commit itself to the goal of ending drone strikes. Apparently, this is because the Obama Administration officials say that they are needed, but they would not be possible if the Pakistan government did not allow them to continue. That blatant ignoring of the importance of the lives of Pakistanis is not only likely to incense the population, but also is likely to cause American troops and commanders to behave as they did in the Salala incident: without the restraint that is supposed to constrain combat with allies. It is the lack of restraint by American troops that has led to such incidents.
This is another place at which Pakistan has clearly surrendered. Though the subject was perhaps inevitable in the context of Nato supply lines, the USA did not want it raised. Nor did Pakistan, even though the parliamentary review had called for the attacks to be stopped. Ending drone attacks would probably have symbolic value, which may well be the reason why the USA wants to maintain them: by continually violating Pakistani sovereignty, Washington would be making a point - that where it is concerned, it will not stop merely because a nation’s sovereignty is being violated. In other words, the USA would not regard itself as an imperial power if it had to pay any attention to another country’s sovereignty. Its relationship with other countries is like that, and Pakistan has experienced this imperialistic disdain before.
That disdain was visible throughout last year, right from the time of the Raymond Davis affair, up to the Salala massacre. It would help explain the Difa-e-Pakistan decision to protest the decision on July 8, as well as the PML-N decision to do so. The latter decision reflects a general truth about Pakistan as well: there is no consensus on foreign policy. If there had been, there would have made a much more comprehensive effort by the government to make the opposition support the decision than there was. Thus, the PML-N had no difficulty in weaving it into the campaign it is already waging to bring the government down and have fresh elections held.
This campaign, by the way, does not have very bright chances of success, not with a Prime Minister just in, who wants the full benefit squeezed from his term of office, with the PPP having both the incentive of Bilawal Bhutto Zardari’s eligibility for Parliament and President Zardari’s re-election, as goals of having Parliament complete its tenure.
The restoration decision would thus not be as valuable a stick to beat the government with, had there been a bipartisan consensus. However, along with relations with the USA, this decision also provides the opposition ammunition against the government in the campaign due within the current year.
One reason for the decision is the present government’s desire to serve the USA’s interests. The USA has had an alternative. For over seven months, its troops have survived in Afghanistan on what they have received from the Northern Distribution Network, the much vaunted alternative. However, it suffered from the glaring defect of being very expensive. While the USA wanted to switch back, because of the budget crisis it is undergoing, Pakistani officials, both elected and permanent, also worked against the tide of popular opinion to have the route restored, succeeding in the end.
It was perhaps symbolic, though not related, that the Supreme Court suspended another three MNAs and a Senator (the last being a Cabinet member) for dual nationality. At the same meeting as decided on the restoration, the Cabinet also approved a bill allowing dual nation vote, and the right to sit in Parliament. Irrespective of whether the bill is constitutional, or has the needed votes behind it, it shows that this government is not only not suspicious of foreign intervention, it positively welcomes it. One argument in favour of dual nationals is that they send foreign exchange to Pakistan. If that is indeed so, then there was no need to show the USA the favour it was shown, and given a waiver on the containers fee.
Perhaps, the most painful to Pakistanis is the sense of an opportunity lost. This was probably the ideal opportunity to bring to an end a chapter in which Pakistan had only suffered humiliation, and had helped the USA kill fellow Muslims. Apart from all the imperialist reasons, the USA has got Pakistan back on board in its war on Muslims, which it calls a war on terror. It should be prepared for more incidents like Salala. They are an inevitable consequence of attempting to keep on the right side of the world’s sole superpower, especially when it has decided that it has other friends in the region, and can afford to take you for granted.
n The writer is a veteran journalist and founding member as well as Executive Editor of TheNation.