Sunday, September 16, 2012

Daily Times Editorial Sept 17, 2012

‘Defined’ partnership US Special Envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan Marc Grossman met the president, prime minister, foreign minister and COAS during his visit to Islamabad. The discussions ranged over the fight against militancy, the regional situation, drug trafficking and drone attacks. Bu the central issue remained the US-Pakistan relationship, which has seen unprecedented ups and downs in the last two years. In his meeting with President Asif Zardari, Mr Grossman delineated his wish list of what that relationship should comprise of. He wanted it to be enduring, strategic, and “clearly defined”. He told the president that Pakistan and the US should work together to identify shared interests and act on them jointly for the benefit of both countries as well as the region. Addressing the anti-Islam film that has caused such outrage across the Muslim world, Grossman repeated US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s description of it as “disgusting and reprehensible”. He added that the film appears to have a deeply cynical purpose: to denigrate a great religion and provoke rage. The president in turn reiterated Pakistan’s resolve in the fight against terrorism, which has so afflicted the country that the debate on whether this is our war appears misconceived. Condemning the film, the president wished for a cessation of drone attacks, which is unlikely to be fulfilled any time soon. Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf described the US as a major development partner with shared objectives of fighting terrorism. Grossman supported a relationship centred on increased market access and trade, including the bilateral investment treaty that is so far a work-in-progress. Both the president and the prime minister invested a lot of hopes in the upcoming visit of Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar to Washington, where it was hoped the wish lists on both sides, or at least as much of them as prove mutually acceptable, may be reduced to written agreements. The US envoy’s desire for a ‘defined’ relationship goes to the heart of the matter. Historically, at least two major periods in the relationship can be discerned, with the third struggling to see the light of day cuirrently. The first period was of the Cold War, that lasted until the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. During this extended period, Pakistan continued to play its role of a frontline state against communism, receiving in return US and western aid and in the process being reduced to a client state of the US. That began to change in the late 1960s, especially when Pakistan was roiled by an uprising against the Ayub dictatorship in 1968-69. Arguably, Pakistan’s political scene has failed to settle down on a stable keel ever since. This inevitably had its effects on the US-Pakistan relationship, not always benign. By the time the Soviets retreated from Afghanistan in 1989, and the US and the west turned their gaze away from the region and towards the historic events in Eastern Europe and inside the Soviet Union itself, Pakistan and the region were left to their own devices. Pakistan then pursued the policy of strategic depth in earnest in Afghanistan through various proxy assets, ending up with the Taliban in power in Kabul from 1996. That is where a new divergence of interests began to emerge between Islamabad and Washington, especially after 9/11. Pakistan had no choice after that seminal event except to go along, albeit with some sleight of hand, with the US’s ‘with us or against us’ mantra. Eleven years later, the US/NATO occupation of Afghanistan teeters on the brink of a withdrawal and possible collapse of the intricately constructed system left behind. Pakistan has yet to completely abandon Musharraf’s duality of policy, whereby we are ostensibly a US ally, but supporting Taliban proxies fighting the US in Afghanistan from bases in Pakistan. The blowback from the policy of jihad through fanatical proxies has spawned indigenous Taliban, leading to the spurious distinction between ‘good’ (those who fight the west in Afghanistan) and ‘bad’ (those who fight the Pakistani state) Taliban. That distinction is increasingly coming under strain because of the by now demonstrated nexus between the ‘good’ and the ‘bad’ Taliban. Pakistan may be reluctant to abandon the former because of the uncertainties surrounding post-withdrawal Afghanistan, where GHQ in particular feels it must safeguard its strategic interests, at the very least. In these circumstances, when the US and Pakistan are essentially working at cross-purposes in Afghanistan, lovey-dovey blandishments notwithstanding, the ‘defined’ relationship appears a chimera.

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