Friday, August 24, 2012

Daily Times Editorial Aug 25, 2012

Post-alliance future In the absence of an ambassador after Cameron Munter resigned and went home, a senior US diplomat had to visit the foreign office to receive a demarche regarding the drone strikes over Eid. The diplomatic protest reiterated Pakistan’s position that the drone strikes were a violation of international law and Pakistan’s sovereignty. Of course, Washington as usual turned a deaf ear. Estimates of militants and innocents killed in the strikes vary so widely that it is not possible to come to definitive conclusions about the strikes and their efficacy in degrading extremist organisations such as al Qaeda and others. One estimate by the New America Foundation, for example, holds that there have been 30 drone attacks this year so far in which 207 people have been killed. Long War Journal says none of these were innocent civilians. It goes on to assert that there have been 30-40 civilian casualties a year in previous years, but says improved targeting techniques have reduced collateral damage. On the other hand, 2,370 Taliban and al Qaeda leaders and operatives have been killed since the start of the drone war in 2004, while a total of 138 civilians were reportedly victims of these attacks. If the issue of drone attacks reflects the cracks in the US-Pakistan alliance, the two countries have received some ‘insider’ advice from former ambassador to the US Husain Haqqani. Speaking in Washington, he has likened the relationship to a bad marriage and advised both sides to seek instead of the present dysfunctional so-called alliance, a more realistic interaction without illusions or unreal expectations. His logic seems to rest on the divergence of interests of Washington and Islamabad, and hence the logical solution of lowering mutual expectations to a level that accords better with reality. It may be recalled that on one of her visits to Pakistan, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton heard from a questioner that the US, as far as Pakistanis were concerned, acted like a bad mother-in-law. To Ms Clinton’s credit, she enjoyed the lighthearted comment immensely. But it must be admitted, the descriptions by Husain Haqqani and Ms Clinton’s interlocutor were not so wide of the mark. The underlying reason is the divergence of interests between the two ostensible allies, an inherent condition that was glossed over after 9/11. According to Husain Haqqani, Pakistanis should not harbour unattainable desires to have the US back them against India, and the US should not think it can wean Pakistan away from supporting jihadi groups seen as unconventional force multipliers in Islamabad’s strategic calculations. Then Mr Haqqani reminds his audience that strategic policy in Pakistan is still in the hands of the generals, not the civilian rulers. He ends by calling for a clear explanation of Osama bin Laden’s presence in Abbottabad, who knew of it, and what this means. Meanwhile another think tank seminar in Washington on the same day heard on the issue of drones that the US had to contend with three specific groups: enemies in common with Pakistan, allies of Pakistan who are enemies of the US, and militant enemies of Pakistan that are of little strategic interest to the US. As a result, Pakistan will cooperate with the US on some (convenient) targets, while undermining joint efforts on others. With this kind of broth underlying the ‘alliance’, even ‘bad marriage’ is inadequate as a description. Both sides seem wary and weary of trying to persuade the other, especially since the 2014 withdrawal date looms. The strategic dialogue between the two seems nowhere in sight so far. The US/ISAF will go from Afghanistan, but it would be a mistake for Pakistan to indulge in premature triumphalism at having reduced one more superpower to its knees in that battlefield. Pakistan’s abiding national interests in an increasingly connected and post-cold war non-aligned world (with the possible exception of NATO) lie in keeping all options open, befriending all countries of the world, especially the region, and taking full advantage of its strategic location to realise its potential as the region and the world’s trade and energy corridor linking the Asian interior landmass to the rest of the globe. To achieve this, Islamabad needs as many friends as possible, everywhere. Let that be Pakistan’s 21st century vision and goal for stability, development, prosperity.

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