By Najam Sethi
December 02-08, 2011
Last week's NATO attack on a Pakistani border post in Mohmand has pushed US-Pak relations to the brink. Islamabad claims the attack was "blatant", "premeditated" and "purposeful". It has halted NATO container traffic, ordered the US out of Shamsi airbase, boycotted the Bonn Conference, and, unprecedentedly, lodged a complaint at the UN. Washington has "regretted" the incident and "condoled" the loss of Pakistani lives. Unofficially, it is suggesting that the NATO attack was "provoked" by hostile Taliban fire from across the border. Officially, it has refused to "apologize" pending an investigation into the matter.
One should not be surprised at this ugly turn of events. Particular and general contradictions are coming to a head. The particularities are based on American pressure on Pakistan to facilitate its Afghan strategy by helping knock out the Haqqani network in Waziristan. Pakistan's refusal to oblige has provoked accusations of Pakistani "complicity" in thwarting US goals - Admiral Mullen's charge that "the ISI is a veritable arm of the Haqqani network" was an unprecedented accusation. NATO-ISAF commanders on the Af-Pak border have anonymously complained of suffering casualties because cannot hot-pursue hostiles across the border, building a case for precisely the sort of "purposeful" NATO attack that came last week. American "unilateralist" doctrine has been unfolding since May 2 Abbottabad and Islamabad construes the NATO attack as a potentially adverse game-changer.
The generalities of Af-Pak, however, are at the root of the problem.
Pakistan's military had "invested" twenty years of policy in Afghanistan, with the Americans as co-partners in the 1980s and disinterested ones in the 1990s. Following 9/11 and the American threat of "either you're with us or against us", the Pakistanis went along because they had no stakes in protecting Al Qaeda and they thought they could squeeze some military and financial assistance out of America in the bargain. But soon thereafter the US began to shift the goal post. First, it flirted with the idea of "nation-building" in Afghanistan. Then, after the Taliban attacks started in 2005, it formulated the doctrine that "the only good Talib is a dead one". When this failed to produce results, "good" Taliban and "bad" Taliban were discovered, the good ones being those who were ready to do business on US terms and the bad ones being those who weren't. Pakistan was ordered to deliver the good ones and help eliminate the bad ones, the latest formulation being "crush the Haqqani network, help us do the job if you can't, or drag it to the table to cooperate with us".
In the fog of war, the goal post for the US has shifted dramatically. In 2001, the enemy was Al Qaeda. If Mullah Umar had agreed to kick out OBL, the US might not have gone to Afghanistan because the Taliban had never vowed to export terror. Indeed, the US was inclined to negotiate terms for oil and gas pipelines from Turkmenistan to Pakistan and India with them. It is also now acknowledged by all Al Qaeda experts that its threat to America has been almost eliminated from Waziristan by the Drone target killing of its top leaders.
Meanwhile, Pakistan's "interest" in Afghanistan remains pegged to two concerns: first, irredentist claims by the Afghans on Pakistan's Pakhtun areas as demonstrated by Afghanistan's refusal to recognize the Durand Line; and second, its unresolved conflict-ridden problems with India.
Unfortunately, the US seems to be consciously scuttling Pakistani interests by seeking long term military bases in Afghanistan in pursuit of containing Iran, restricting China and staking a claim in the exploitation of the region's oil and gas resources. The two pillars of this grand "Silk Route" are strategic partnerships with the Northern Alliance (NA) of Tajiks and Uzbeks in Afghanistan and with India in Asia, both of whom are at fierce odds with Pakistan.
US duplicity lies in changing the goal post to suit itself. Pakistan's duplicity lies in pretending to go along with the US while thwarting it at the same time. Hence the yawning "trust deficit" between them.
The two estranged allies should put their cards on the table. The covert ambitions of both are misplaced, their strategies deeply flawed. Pakistan, Iran, China and Russia are the core players in West Asia. Regional Security must be preceded by an internal Afghan settlement. This cannot be achieved without a compromise between the US and its NA allies in Kabul on the one hand and the Taliban and its Pakistan ally on the other. Likewise, Pakistan cannot expect the NA to melt away after its training and rearmament by NATO/ India and hand over Kabul to the Taliban.
The problem for America is an avowed time-line to pull troops out of Afghanistan because of domestic compulsions. The problem for Pakistan is a failing economy and polity that cannot sustain military confrontation or adventurism or international isolation. The solution is for both to compromise on their regional ambitions.
Source: The Friday Times, Lahore