“I could not love thee, dear, so much,
The 2012 Chicago Summit came out with the same recommendations on the Afghan issue, which were often repeated by the US and Nato officials. So, the expectation that if Pakistan was invited to the summit, it could achieve a major breakthrough was proved wrong! Apparently, the problem lies not in the relations between Pakistan and Nato, but on the differences that exist between Islamabad and Washington on Afghanistan, especially after the occupation forces’ exit.
Nevertheless, Pakistan was represented by a fairly weak amateur team, as both Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar and Ambassador Sherry Rehman lack the skill that is needed to be successful at such high-profile meetings. Indeed, a weak economy also limited their options. Yet, the delegation, headed by President Asif Zardari, was able to put its demands before the USA and Nato officials due to the unanimous backing of Parliament. However, it did not receive an appropriate response from the Obama administration.
Hopefully, Washington has realised that a democratically-elected government cannot allow its national interests to be bartered for peanuts. The USA, for instance, had been paying $250 per container from Karachi to Afghanistan, but now Pakistan is demanding $5,000 per container as transit fee. Though one can argue that this demand may be slightly on the higher side, yet it can never match the huge sacrifices rendered by Pakistan in fighting the war on terror; a fact that the world community must recognise and acknowledge.
The Obama administration resorted to a ‘carrot and stick’ policy by imposing severe conditions on financial assistance and security procurement contracts, which exist between the two countries. There was no logic in the demand that the Congress will vigorously scrutinise all bills carefully pertaining to the Coalition Support Fund (CSF). For this, a reliable system of audit is already in place. It must be understood that the CSF is neither a favour, nor assistance to this country; it is the money that Pakistan spent to provide logistical support and allied services to the US-Nato forces in Afghanistan.
The Americans are demanding Pakistan to “do more” without taking into account the nearly 40,000 casualties it has suffered in the Afghan war. While it is prudent that Islamabad and Washington resolve their differences in a just and transparent way, it is a fact that the US tried to browbeat Pakistan several times but failed.
In case the Americans are able to get their way by pressurising the Pakistani government, it must be remembered that such tactics will not allow the Pak-US relations to prosper. In fact, the trust deficit that exists between the two countries will deepen and continue to create bottlenecks in their relationship. Washington must remember that the coming years are going to place “Pakistan in an extremely important and vital geo-strategic position in war on terror, not only in political terms but also in geo-economic terms.”
Being aware of this fact that Pakistan will remain a gateway not only to the Middle East, but also South Asia that is strengthening economically, the US may not want to lose out completely. Thus, it needs to frame a foreign policy keeping in view the geographical condition of this country because once trade and commerce become operational in the region, it will not be possible to ignore or bypass Pakistan’s national interest.
Now for those who were predicting an early exit of the US-Nato forces. After the French President declared to withdraw his troops even before the 2014 deadline, Nato’s Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen, shortly before the inauguration of the Nato Summit, declared: “We will stay committed to our operation in Afghanistan and see it through to a successful end.”
At the same time, some reports suggested that the weakness of the Pakistanis to negotiate with the Americans was mainly due to the military establishment. This notion, however, is not true because democratically-elected governments worldwide consult their generals in situations that demand military action. Therefore, such reports keep surfacing time and again, which seems to be the work of those who want to project Pakistan as a weak and divided nation.
Against this backdrop, some religious parties have taken onto themselves the task to resolve the issues related to Pakistan’s foreign policy through street protests. They have threatened to initiate a long march against the possible restoration of Nato supplies. Such attitudes are never conducive to the betterment and growth of any state because in this age of interdependence, it is simply impossible to remain isolated.
One hopes that the Pakistani and American leadership will try to hammer out their differences, which does not create an image of a sell out on the part of Pakistan, and at the same time does not imply that the US-Nato forces have agreed on the issues that are not in their interest.
The Americans could start by withdrawing the stringent conditions attached with Pakistan’s economic programmes and lift the sanctions that are affecting the sale of US weapons to it. On their part, the Pakistanis should demand a reasonable price for the trucks that pass through its territory. And for this restoration, the least the Americans can do is to tender an unconditional apology for the Salala tragedy. They should also revise terms of engagement for the drone attacks that are counterproductive.
On this issue, a majority of the Pakistanis have condemned Secretary of Defence Leon Panetta, who brazenly said: “The US will not stop the drone attacks inside Pakistan.” Such statements have not helped the Pak-US relationship to move in the right direction. So, they must be avoided, if the Americans seriously acknowledge that Pakistan can play an important role to maintain peace and prosperity in Afghanistan and the South Asian region after the Nato forces leave in 2014.
n The writer has been associated with various newspapers as editor and columnist. At present, he hosts a political programme on Pakistan Television.