A good strategist is one who is never caught without options. He continually monitors the implementation of his strategy, makes adjustments and course corrections if needed while always maintaining strategic direction and keeping the desired ends in sight. The national interests, however, always remain “supreme”!
Pakistan’s response to Salala was essentially the correct one. Instead of going headlong into a confrontation with the US and other Nato/Isaf countries, it chose to follow the strategy of indirect approach. Its reactions were generally asymmetric in nature. It decided to apply subtle pressures on all such US/Nato/Isaf vulnerabilities, which would yield disproportionately large and strong strategic dividends without going to war. Thus, the Pakistani reaction of closing the Nato supply routes, taking back control of the Shamsi Airbase, boycotting the Bonn Conference and stopping/limiting operational, intelligence, administrative, logistic and technical cooperation with the US/Nato/Isaf amongst a host of other measures was justified and correct.
The strategy should have worked. It almost did. Almost!
So, there were some errors…
Strategic Direction: As said earlier, Pakistan should have kept its policy/strategy under constant review and made prompt course corrections whenever required. The overall strategic environment in the Afghan theater of war and the Pak-US relations underwent a massive change in the past six months or so. We should have made compatible adjustments to our strategy to maintain strategic direction and keep our desired end state in sight. But we were static and pedantic in our thinking and approach. And as a result, the events overtook us. Now, we are moving at tangents to our so-called allies if not on parallel axis.
The Timing: The Salala occurred in November 2011 and by February 2012 the strategic and diplomatic environment had been so deftly managed by Pakistan that the US was ready to apologise at the appropriate level. We should have grabbed the opportunity with both hands. That would have met Pakistan’s major condition and would have smoothly brought the Pak-US relationship back to an even keel within the relevant timeframe. The GWOT could have carried on as usual. However, our political government erred by asking for a deferment of the apology to garner political mileage out of the evolving situation.
The Leverage: The closure of the Nato supply routes and the stopping of all operational, intelligence, logistic, administrative and technical cooperation with the US actually hurt them the most. The US/Nato/Isaf had about three to six months reserves and stocks in Afghanistan at the start of this issue. They successfully opened up the Northern Distribution Network (NDN) to relieve pressure on their supplies. However, the NDN was a far more expensive enterprise both in cost and time. The US could bear the cost, but could not overcome the time factor. Thus, Pakistan had by default moved into a great position to exercise its leverage over the US. And at just about the most critical time, Pakistan let go and missed the opportunity. Pakistan was ill-served by its strategists.
The Political Dimension: The PPP government miscalculated grossly when it decided to exploit the strategic environment for domestic political advantage. Unable to take a firm decision on the issue, they palmed it off to a Parliamentary Committee on National Security (PCNS) to gain time and space to find a way out of the imbroglio. And when the stage was set for the US to apologise and all details had been worked out, they deferred it to a later time to garner political mileage out of it. The shenanigans of the Haqqani Network in Kabul in mid-April 2012 put paid to all these domestic political manoeuvrings and desires. A costly error of judgement and poor understanding of the international strategic environment, indeed.
The Financial Dimension: Pakistan’s sordid climb down from a high position of moral strength vis-à-vis the United States to one of a beggar has been precipitated by the government’s terrible governance, unmatchable corruption, destruction of the country’s economy and the pending budget requirements. Its greed to milk the situation for political gains backfired horribly and in its wake relegated Pakistan into an extremely weak negotiating and bargaining position. Our impending elections too were a major factor in the PPP government’s gross miscalculations.
The US Posturing: The posturing of the US administration and some of its Congressmen like Representative Dana Rohrabacher vitiated the environment making crisis management and resolution of the issues extremely difficult if not impossible. Post-April terrorist attacks in Kabul, they started blaming Pakistan and further dithering on the apology and other matters. Slowly and gradually, Pakistan’s leverage lost its clout. Now, it has been reduced to the inconsequential.
The Chicago Summit: Thus by frittering away our political, diplomatic and strategic advantage our President has literally managed an invitation to Chicago where, as announced by the US Spokesman, there is no scheduled meeting between the US and Pakistan Presidents! What we may expect from the Chicago Summit is, perhaps, a part-release of the CSF and may be some restoration of economic and military aid. Period. There is no likelihood of a worthwhile and significant apology coming from any acceptable level. There is also no question of the drone attacks coming to a halt!
Then what was all this commotion about? If after the manifestation of our policy post-Salala this is the outcome, then what have we actually achieved? Were we better off vis-à-vis the United States before Salala or post-Salala? Where is our leverage now? We have no worthwhile apology forthcoming and the drones will not stop raining death and destruction. Economic and military aid will continue to come with strings. The government’s befuddled handling of the entire situation has allowed the fleeting opportunities to slip by unexploited. Our national interests have not been secured either. The loss of face, dignity, self-respect and pride is additional.
Was Pakistan better off pre-Chicago or will there be any improvement post-Chicago?
n The writer is a retired brigadier and a former defence attaché to Australia and New Zealand.