The US-Pakistan relationship, rarely very smooth, is going through a particularly bad patch at present. It carries a load of past resentments, grievances and disappointments.
Paradoxically, the more America tries to make amends, talk of a long-term relationship, the more it seems to feed suspicions of its intentions at the popular level.
One is asked, ‘Why is America offering money and making a fuss over Pakistan now? It must have a purpose of its own!’ — taking away our nukes; turning Pakistan into a ‘secular’ country; breaking it up altogether.
The fact, however, is that the US does, at this juncture, wish Pakistan well — not because it sees Pakistan as a friend but, on the contrary, because it sees it as a potentially dangerous enemy — a country with nuclear weapons and technology (that it sold abroad), politically unstable, facing every sort of economic and social problem, where a variety of armed and radical tehriks and lashkars and jamaats etc, with sympathisers in the establishment, have had a free run for years and could get their hands on the nuclear weapons.
One of the reasons, the principal reason, for America’s interest in Pakistan at present is to prevent this from happening. If it comes to that, we can be sure that the US will not hesitate to use whatever it takes, including force, to this end. However, it has not come to that yet and it sees a better bet in a Pakistan that evolves into a stable democracy, with an educated and healthy population, moving ahead economically and socially. So one might say that our nuclear weapons are proving to be an asset in an unexpected way!
Of course the aid the United States is offering comes with conditions as aid always and from anywhere does, explicit or implicit. Our successive governments have taken the money and accepted the conditions because we needed the assistance and the conditions were acceptable. It has done the same in the present case. What should worry us is why after more than 60 years of independence, we still need such aid in order to remain afloat. As for whose war it is, the Afghan war was indeed not our war; Pakistan was dragooned into it by threats and blandishments. It was not really a war of necessity but was launched by the Bush administration in the post-911 surge of nationalist emotion and hubris of power without giving enough chance to negotiations with the Taliban (negotiations that the Americans are now anxiously seeking).
It should not have been fought the way it was — from the air, with daisy-cutters and bunker-busters causing innocent deaths; nor by co-opting the Northern Alliance and thus jumping into Afghanistan’s tribal, ethnic, sectarian fray and alienating the Pakhtun majority.
Now President Obama is prepared to settle for a ‘successful outcome’ — a subjective concept — and is sending more troops to Afghanistan to turn the situation around.
This seems a doubtful prospect even to some among the American military. Perhaps the intention is only to bring about an outcome that could be seen as ‘successful’ and that allows US troops to begin withdrawing as proposed. This means that either the Karzai government measures up or an agreement is negotiated with the Taliban or a bit of both.
Whether America leaves after some kind of settlement with the Taliban or just packs up, Afghanistan would very probably fall into the hands of the Taliban or revert to the anarchy that prevailed after the Soviet pullout. The Taliban stood above the scramble and imposed order on the post-Soviet anarchy and could do so again.
Now that the Afghans know what kind of order the Taliban order is, would they welcome them again? They may have no choice. The best alternative America’s eight-year adventure has produced has not worked. There is no one around who might bring even the symbolic unity that the monarchy had provided before it was overthrown.
None of this bodes well for Pakistan. In the worst-case scenario the presence of the Taliban on both sides of the Durand Line could provide an ethno-ideological basis for a revived Pakhtunistan movement.
The return of the Taliban, no longer Pakistan’s protégés, could, at the very least, provide moral or material boost for the Pakistani Taliban. The latter’s insurgency cannot be dismissed as a reaction to Pakistan joining the American war; they have aims of their own and are not going to stop even if Pakistan stops cooperating with the Americans.
Our war is not the same war as the Americans’ but a parallel war against a group for whom the Pakistani constitution is un-Islamic, a group that demolishes schools, beheads opponents, flogs women, blows up families out shopping, people at prayer etc.
The army will eventually win its battle against these fanatics if it keeps it up. We have a better chance of winning it because we know whom we are fighting (not many now see them as ‘our own people’) and what the fight is about — ‘hearts and minds’ or concretely, jobs, education, health and so forth. That, and for no sinister purpose, is where the new aid from the US and others is meant to go.
On the broader front, viz the India-Pakistan relationship, it now looms as a negative factor in the Afghanistan situation. It is a pity that President Obama was scared away from taking up this nettle as he had proposed to do in his pre-election speeches. Still, it is not to be supposed that the US is doing nothing in the matter. Adm Mullen and Gen Petraeus have publicly mentioned Pakistan’s concerns over Indian activities in Afghanistan and Hillary Clinton has urged India to stop playing hard-to-get over resuming the composite dialogue with Pakistan.
However, the ills that afflict the country are largely internal — political instability, social injustice, corruption, inefficient administration — the remedy for which lies entirely in our hands. The national consensus on the Balochistan package and the NFC agreement shows that we are capable of dealing with them and despite the prevailing despondency, there is reason to be optimistic.
(The writer, Iqbal Akhund, is a retired diplomat and was national security adviser to Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto in 1988-90.)