Pakistan-US impasse

Pakistan-US impasse

Defence Minister Ahmed Mukhtar has warned that if the NATO supply routes are not restored, Pakistan risks being subjected to sanctions under international law.

This is because apart from the inherent rights of landlocked countries like Afghanistan to access through neighbouring countries, the struggle against the Afghan Taliban has the authorisation and mandate of the UN Security Council in the wake of 9/11. Mukhtar also shared in a press conference the proposal Pakistan had put forward for joint management of the by now controversial drone attacks. As though to underline US resolve, Defence Secretary Leon Panetta has stated in interviews in the US that the drone strikes are set to continue.

If Washington and Islamabad cannot narrow their differences over the apology demanded by Pakistan for the Salala attack, drone strikes, etc, and as a consequence the NATO supply route remains closed, we could see in fact an intensification of drone strikes since the US increasingly is wary of Pakistan’s intentions vis-à-vis the Taliban groups on its soil, particularly the Haqqani network. It is this network that is being blamed by the US/NATO forces for the series of coordinated attacks on Kabul and other cities not so long ago. Coming as these did in the midst of the impasse between Pakistan and the US, it served to harden opinion in the US administration regarding Pakistan. As it is, sentiment in the US Congress is turning increasingly hostile to Pakistan, which many American legislators now regard more as an enemy than a friend.

Washington too is warning that if the issue of the blocked NATO supply routes is not resolved, it could have “multiple repercussions”. The US embassy in Islamabad has tried to soften the message by saying the UN and the US want the supply routes opened, but this should not be construed as a threat. Regardless of this ‘diplomatic’ explanation, it is obvious that an increasingly annoyed US has the power to switch off not only its own aid to Pakistan, but also persuade its western allies and multilateral institutions not to do business with Pakistan. With the economy in dire straits already, Pakistan then will find itself in greater difficulty than ever. Media reports even hint at the US abandoning reliance on the PPP and looking for other ‘partners’ in the political firmament of Pakistan.

Special Representative Marc Grossman’s belated recent meetings in Islamabad indicated that the US is running out of patience. Domestic political considerations in the run up to presidential elections in the US have virtually ruled out any possibility of an apology for Salala in the foreseeable future.As is usual with us, now critical voices are being raised after the event that the recourse to parliament for resetting the terms of engagement with the US may not have been wise, since it gave anti-American and populist sentiment free rein to harden Pakistan’s positions and this has now become an obstacle to the foreign office finding some pragmatic face-saving formula to get things moving forward. There are also sceptics pointing to the military establishment’s ‘comfort’ with the umbrella or shield provided by parliament from any US pressure. However, the military establishment too now finds itself on the horns of a dilemma to resolve the issues dividing the two ostensible allies.

In the post-2014 endgame that is looming in Afghanistan, Pakistan runs the additional risk of being rendered more and more irrelevant to the outcome. Perhaps in recognition of this and the apprehension of international isolation, President Asif Ali Zardari will lead a delegation to NATO’s Chicago summit on May 20, given that the prime minister has his hands full with the contempt issue and its political fallout.The chickens of Pakistan’s ‘strategic depth’ policy of duality have now come home to roost with a vengeance. If Islamabad finds itself in a cul-de-sac vis-à-vis handling relations with the US in the changed scenario, no one can be blamed but ourselves, and particularly the military establishment which, for all intents and purposes, still calls the shots on the Afghanistan policy. – Dailytimes