Fence-mending?

Admiral Mike Mullen, Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, ostensibly journeyed to Pakistan to do some fence-mending. The need for this was obvious. Relations have been unprecedentedly strained and hit a new low because of the Raymond Davis affair and the question of drone attacks in Pakistan’s tribal areas. Although shariah legerdemain helped resolve the Davis conundrum to the US’s satisfaction, it left a residue of bitterness and exacerbated anti-US sentiment in Pakistan, particularly amongst right wing groups and religious extremists. However, they were nonplussed by the fact that the Qisas and Diyat laws were relied upon to pull this particular chestnut out of the fire. That let the air out of the balloon of the right’s campaign on the basis of demands for upholding our sovereignty and ensuring justice. The drone attacks, in which successive governments have been complicit while publicly condemning them, are going to continue, according to the US authorities, and there seems little except a heightened level of protest and demands from the Pakistani side for their cessation.

If Admiral Mullen’s visit was intended to put balm on the smarting wounds of the Pak-US relationship, it has ended up doing the exact opposite. The main reason for this is his tough, candid talk to the media in which he unequivocally framed the ISI’s continuing links with the Haqqani network as the main obstacle in better ties between the two allies in the war on terror. Our military top brass, in meetings with the Admiral, reportedly rejected any such suggestion. But it is undeniable that the Haqqani network is located in North Waziristan, using that base area to attack US and NATO forces in eastern Afghanistan. The Pakistani military’s reluctance to attack the Haqqani network in North Waziristan, ostensibly because it is overstretched in its campaign against the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), has become an increasingly bitter cause of differences between the US and Pakistan. The Haqqani network particularly worries the US because of its links with al Qaeda.

But important as the Haqqani issue is, it is not the only cause of friction regarding jihadi groups operating in Pakistan. Lashkar-e-Tayyaba and the TTP are perceived in Washington as harbouring or acquiring ambitions to expand their scope of operations to the global stage. As though the al Qaeda threat were not enough, this development portends more trouble on the terrorist front in the region and further abroad.Admiral Mullen’s visit and the arguably worse state of affairs it leaves in its wake is a reflection of the increasingly strained relationship between Pakistan and the US. There are a number of factors impacting the relationship. But the most important is the support of our military establishment since the fall of the Taliban government in Afghanistan following 9/11 to the Afghan Taliban by providing them safe havens on our soil and the freedom to use Pakistani soil to attack the US and NATO inside Afghanistan. The US response, given the carte blanche they received from General Musharraf’s regime after 9/11, is to use CIA operatives clandestinely (and sometimes only barely so) inside Pakistan and in recent years increasingly rely on drone attacks to take out terrorists in FATA, a strategy that has caused a storm of protest of late in Pakistan. There have been reports that the British secret service MI6 may be charged with taking over many of the tasks of the CIA inside Pakistan. On the other hand, noises from Washington indicate the CIA has no intention to withdraw completely (personnel withdrawn because they have been ‘exposed’ may be replaced by ‘unknown’ operatives).

Whichever way the current hot winds end up blowing, endgame in Afghanistan underlies the increasing intensity of jockeying to ensure all stakeholders’ interests in a post-withdrawal Afghanistan. In the process, the inescapably strategically crucial Pak-US relationship may just precariously inch along. The US needs Pakistan for a successful conclusion to its Afghan endgame. Pakistan is highly dependent economically and militarily on US goodwill. Neither side can afford a complete unravelling of the relationship. That implies more of the same up and down, see-saw set of interactions between Washington and Islamabad. – Dailytimes