While the US-Pakistan relations are stuck as the London Economist put it, “in a toxic atmosphere” and to use the weekly’s words, the two behave like bickering children unable to swallow their pride and make up, the world moves on.
The US Defence Secretary, Leon Panetta, spoke recently, at a conference in Singapore, about a “strategic pivot” announcing the decision to shift 60 percent of the US naval assets to the Pacific Ocean by 2020. Said Panetta: “The United States military is bringing enhanced capabilities to this vital region.”
The phenomenal rise of Chinese economic and rapidly developing military power has upset the existing balance. This has led to the evolution of a new strategy in Washington, which aims at strengthening ties and alliances with regional powers, especially Australia, South Korea, Japan and Indonesia. In this new plan, India too figures as a “key partner”.
China, of course, is deeply concerned about the American new strategy and initiatives, but has taken a characteristically mature and restrained view of these developments.
In this scheme of “engaging and containing” China, how is India figuring out its place and role? India’s veteran journalist, C. Raja Mohan, in a column in the Indian Express has spelt out how New Delhi might chart its future course in the new security context. Raja refers to the US-India defence cooperation launched in the middle of last decade and mentions about the foundational agreements with Washington, which include the Logistics Supply Agreement (LSA), the Communications Interoperability and Security Memorandum (CIS-MOA) and the Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement (BECA).
He points out the need for a more purposeful and cost conscious approach to military modernisation and long-term defence industrial cooperation with the US. Recognising American “exhaustion” after two prolonged land wars and faced with the challenge of the emerging Chinese power, Raja undertakes its perceptive review of India’s role in the changing scenario. His analysis in his own words merit careful reading: “Ten years ago, Delhi had every reason to believe its external security environment was a benign one. Today, India must cope with the prospects of greater turbulence on its north-western frontiers amidst the downsising of international military presence in Afghanistan and of the Taliban’s return to power in Kabul with the support of the Pakistan army. Towards its north and east, India will have to deal with the consequences of rising Chinese military power, and to its south, the growing presence of Beijing. China’s GDP is nearly four times that of India’s and China’s official figure for military expenditure, at more than $100 billion, is more than three times that of India’s.” Now Raja’s recommendations:
One, the US and India must lay the basis for greater defence industrial collaboration, co-production of weapons systems and joint research in advanced areas.
Two, India and Afghanistan must coordinate their policies and institutionalise consultations on the security situation there: “Washington has begun to acknowledge Rawalpindi as a major obstacle to its goals in Afghanistan.”
Third, India and the US have to work together in maritime security. They have to devise a framework for operational cooperation in the waters of India and Pacific Ocean.
Lastly, India and the US have a common interest in constructing a stable balance of power in Asia. New Delhi and Washington must now translate their political declarations into credible security cooperation in the region.
Is our government (and what a government we have in Islamabad!) and in particular our Defence and Foreign Ministries taking notice of the new global security moves and how Pakistan is to play its role in the changing circumstances? The less said about it, the better!
Panetta’s statements about Pakistan in Singapore, New Delhi and Kabul are, to say the least, alarming. He ridiculed Pakistanis for remaining ignorant about Osama bin Laden’s presence in Abbottabad and the American raid on his residence (he literally laughed while speaking about the country). This, indeed, was in bad taste. To use threatening language like “we are losing the limits of our patience”, and that Pakistan is helping al-Qaeda in Fata to attack the American forces in Afghanistan, while visiting India shows how crude and unmindful a high American official can be about the sensitivities of a country, who, over the years, has done so much and suffered so heavily in helping the US fight the war against terrorism.
One may recall that it was Mr Panetta, who in his capacity as the CIA Director started stepping up the drone attacks in Pakistan and who publicly keeps rejecting Pakistan’s objections and protests against these unlawful strikes.
It is, indeed, tragic that our government has all along been complicit or at least accommodative of these attacks. Having allowed these for so long, not raising the issue internationally and having lost face in so many episodes during the last year and a half (starting with Raymond Davis, issuing of thousands of visit to non-diplomatic contracted operators), are we to be taken seriously now that we have equipped ourselves with a parliamentary resolution? A somewhat similar resolution was passed earlier also, which remained woefully unimplemented. Why not make use of the observations of Navi Pillay, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, during her recent visit to Pakistan: “Drone attacks do raise serious questions about International Law…….I see indiscriminate killing and injuring of innocent people as a clear violation of human rights.”
Panetta did not confine himself to take Pakistan to task for not acting against al-Qaeda elements in Pakistan while justifying drone strikes, he (knowing well that it would hurt and antagonise Pakistan) exhorted India to deeply involve itself in the Afghanistan affairs. Remarked Panetta in New Delhi: “I have urged India’s leaders to continue with additional support to Afghanistan through trade and investment, reconstruction and help for Afghanistan’s security forces.”
Pakistan stands condemned in Washington and is, more or less, isolated in the Western world. India today is America’s bosom friend and partner. Both think alike and consider Pakistan an obstacle in the way of achievements of their goals.
Internally, considering the dreadful conditions prevailing in most of the country, Pakistan is on the brink of an implosion. Is there a way out?
Elections as a solution are a long way off.
A week is a long time in politics.
Imran Khan should rise to the occasion, discipline his ego, mobilise the opposition and organise a massive movement for putting in place an interim national government, which is commissioned to hold general elections within three months. The army must remain away from politics, but fully cooperate with the interim administration.
The writer is an ex-federal secretary and ambassador, and political and international relations analyst.