For more than a year, the US-Pakistan relations have been in the doldrums. Despite wielding of the “stick”, off and on, Washington has of late been relenting a little. An influential US Senator, earlier this month, spoke for taking up the apology option and even the hard-nosed Panetta softened his hitherto uncompromising stand, and here is the latest from Hillary Clinton. Appearing at the popular Charlie Rose show, said Madam Clinton: “I think that our relationship with Pakistan has been challenging for a long time. Some of it is our own making…….there is a lot of concern looking back. We did a great job in getting rid of the Soviet Union out of Afghanistan. But I think…….looking back now, perhaps we should have been more involved in the aftermath of what was going to happen to the Pakistanis.”
The question of apology aside which has more of a posturing value for face-saving, for a long-term resolution of the tangled relations, three issues have to be dealt with explicitly. These are linked to various dimensions of the endgame in Afghanistan.
The first is the American perception that Pakistan has links with the Afghan militants, especially the Haqqani group. That Pakistan is a party to the provision of safe havens for these anti-American elements. One may recall Mike Mullen’s outburst a little before his retirement wherein he blatantly accused the ISI of directly helping the Haqqanis in their operations against the US troops across the border. In other words, Pakistan was playing a double game, much to the Nato’s detriment. No serious efforts have been made to clarify Pakistan’s position other than a reference to the compulsion of keeping good relations with those who possibly would be playing a decisive role in the post-withdrawal Afghanistan. There is a definite need for the two sides to frankly discuss the issue and arrive at some mature understanding. The matter need not remain the exclusive preserve of the military. It is essentially a political question and should be resolved as such relations will remain distraught and overwrought if there is no candid and determined exchange of facts and interests.
Linked to this complex matter are two other issues. One, India’s burgeoning role in Afghanistan and the other, the remote-controlled drone strikes.
Pakistan is not happy with the strategic partnership the US has developed with India. President Clinton laid the foundation for this enduring “partnership”. During the days of the Bush presidency, ties were further cemented with the civilian nuclear deal. The partnership now has a rapidly growing defence dimension. Billions of dollars worth of state-of-the-art armaments are being supplied. The latest US shift of strategy to Asia Pacific has an Indian “key” component. Relevant also to this column’s theme is the recent US-India agreement about the role the latter is desired or expected to play in Afghanistan. Little has been said or written about it in Pakistan. There is need for our Foreign Office and think tanks to analyse the possible implications of its provisions for Pakistan’s future relations with Afghanistan and India.
And now a word about the major bone of contention between Washington and Islamabad, the drone attacks.
While the people and Parliament in Pakistan have a clear-cut stand on this continuing violation of the country’s integrity and sovereignty, the position taken by the government and the military is at best ambiguous if not confusing.
It is unfortunate that no serious effort has been made in Pakistan to question the legality of these strikes. Off and on reports appear in the media about the validity, or the otherwise, of such operations. The latest is a statement emanating from the UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights, Ben Emmerson. Said Mr Emmerson, while talking to reporters in Geneva, on June 21: “The international community is deeply concerned about the use of targeted killings…….If the US does not examine the issue, the UN should do so.” Referring to 300 drone strikes in Pakistan between 2004 and 2012, he struck “a clear and stark warning” of the need to ensure that international legal tools are put in place to prevent future abuses.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the New York Times have filed lawsuits about the use of drones: “The public is entitled to know more about the legal authority the administration is claiming and the way the administration is using it.”
How to explain the continuing lack of concern on the part of our Parliament, government, the opposition, civil society and, in particular, the lawyers’ community about something which impinges on the country’s sovereignty and which results in the brutal killing of Pakistani citizens without any warning - particularly after the unanimous resolution of Parliament against such strikes.
It is time that the matter is raised at the United Nations and other international forums. We have highly qualified legal experts, who I am sure would be glad to take up the matter nationally and internationally.
As for the government of the day in Islamabad, to expect that it would raise the issue at the United Nations would be tantamount to ploughing the sand. All their interests and energies have been and are mostly focused on grabbing and retaining pelf and power. As of today, the “lucky” man said to have been nominated to be our Chief Executive is no other than the one known as the Rental Raja. What a selection!
The writer is an ex-federal secretary and ambassador, and political and international relations analyst.