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Islam and the West ( 19 May 2011, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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Pakistan and the US: Beyond the Tailspin

By Dr Mohammad Taqi

 The military events surrounding Senator Kerry’s Pak-Afghan visits suggest that the US is not about to blink first. The question remains whether the Pakistani establishment will pull back from the brink

So, he surrendered to parliament. Or did he? The Pakistani government’s minister for information would have one believe that he did. But General Ahmed Shuja Pasha may actually be recalling Julius Caesar’s words: veni, vidi, vici! The only difference is that when Caesar claimed ‘I came, I saw, I conquered’, he was reporting to the Roman Senate about his swift military victory over Pharnaces II of Pontus. However, for all practical purposes, General Pasha and the security establishment’s triumph is on the domestic front. For now, they seem to have vanquished parliament quite successfully. Like Molly Bloom in James Joyce’s Ulysses, the PPP, PML-Q and the MQM threw themselves into the military’s arms with a fervent “...and yes I said yes I will Yes”. The PML-N’s chiding notwithstanding, Generals Pasha and Ashfaq Kayani had their cake and got to eat it too.

The well-choreographed Pasha tamasha in parliament and the events preceding and after it has left the Pakistani parliament weaker than ever before. Many of us never had any illusions about the security establishment’s tall tale that the civilians should take charge of foreign and security affairs. But anyone who still had a doubt about the ones calling the shots need not look any further than the US Senator John Kerry’s very first stop on his visit to Pakistan this week. Despite his recent tame requests for the prime minister to convene parliament to discuss the Osama bin Laden fiasco, General Kayani did not find anything wrong with Senator Kerry seeing him before meeting the civilian leadership. A simple change in the visiting senator’s itinerary could have been requested — and very likely accepted by the guest — but it was not. Well, so much for the military’s newfound love for parliament’s supremacy. But one must give credit where it is due. A bakery-running enterprise may not be a fighting force but it could be pretty deft at politics.

Recovering from the double whammy of an international outcry about harbouring terrorists and the domestic uproar about complacence, if not outright incompetence, was always going to be an uphill task. The security establishment, however, seems to have extricated itself from a very difficult situation, at least at home. Cognizant that it cannot face the domestic and global pressures simultaneously, the establishment opted to tackle the former first. The weak-kneed PPP government, along with the PML-Q’s perennial parasites, was more than willing to throw a lifeline to a top brass barely managing to keep its head above water. The ruling coalition got the crumbs of remaining in office till the end of its term, in return for pawning away any present and future chance to reclaim what is rightfully the domain of a political government. The chorus about a breach of sovereignty seems to have drowned any concern — if there ever was one — about the three decades of consorting with jihadists culminating in their queen bee found in the security establishment’s courtyard.

The domestic political implications of the establishment digging in and resorting to the last refuge of the scoundrel for its defence are straightforward. Firstly, no course correction regarding the use of jihadist proxies to pursue a domestic and foreign policy agenda is in the offing. In fact, mobilisation of the street via the India-oriented jihadist groups and the right-wingers a la Imran Khan and the Jamaat-e-Islami, are meant to strengthen the establishment’s hand in the face of a global demand for not just answers but action against the jihadists. This also puts Mian Nawaz Sharif — the only major politician to have demanded answers from and accountability of the army — at risk of losing part of his Punjab votebank to these assorted ultranationalists. The net result of this apparent desire to continue down the jihadist path and potentially keeping Mian sahib — who has the right credentials and the wherewithal to change some of these policies — out of power in the next round is that while still licking its wounds, the establishment has its eyes and grasp on 2013. Needless to say that Pakistan, thanks largely to a pliant civilian leadership, has once again been able to find the tunnel at the end of the light.

Where they could have come clean — not for the sake of the world but for Pakistan — the powers that be have opted to take a dubious detour. The regional and international ramifications of this route are obvious from the frantic efforts to rally the Saudi monarchy and the Chinese oligarchy as a replacement for the US treasure and arms, respectively. But while such alliances may buy some time, they will merely delay the inevitable: a frontal collision with the world that has no appetite for another 9/11-like attack. The Pakistani media is swift to report the deep anti-American sentiment among Pakistanis but is overlooking the world’s utter disgust with the perpetual jihadist pain-in-the-neck, which Pakistan has unfortunately become synonymous with.

No matter how Pakistan spins it, the tailspin in its relationship with the US and the world at large cannot be reversed by returning the stealth H-60 Blackhawk’s tail. The Pakistani brass is way too familiar with the words “peanuts” when describing a disproportionately minuscule response to tectonic shifts in geopolitics. Osama bin Laden’s lair, less than a mile away from the Pakistan Military Academy, Kakul, is not a pinprick that the world, let alone the US, would forget so easily. The Pakistani parliament may have been duped with it, but there is every indication that the US Congress and the White House consider the ‘intelligence failure’ excuse an insult to their intelligence.

Senator Kerry’s soft but measured tone indicates that the Pakistani brass still has some time, perhaps through July, to make serious amends but all options, including moving the UN, remain on the table. The senator also seems to have spelt out some of the bare-minimum metrics for any rapprochement. Pakistan’s position vis-à-vis Mullah Omar and his Quetta Shura on the one hand and the Lashkar-e-Tayyaba (LeT) and its various incarnations on the other, will certainly determine the future relationship between Pakistan and the world at large. But if the senator’s visit to Khost — across from North Waziristan — is any indication, the dismantling of the Haqqani network is at the top of the confidence-building agenda. The military events surrounding Senator Kerry’s Pak-Afghan visits suggest that the US is not about to blink first. The question remains whether the Pakistani establishment will pull back from the brink. Unlike the Pakistani parliament, the UN Security Council may actually be difficult to conquer.

Source: The Daily Times, Pakistan