The statements made by Defence Secretary Leon Panetta and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton at the National Defence University, in Washington, clearly bring out the nature of relations between America and Pakistan. That there have been complaints and grievances on both sides is known for quite some time. To mention two of the points causing strains: One, relating to the increasingly frequent drone attacks causing civilian casualties, and the other about the demand to start operations in North Waziristan. That mistrust had been growing between the two allies was well demonstrated in the conditions attached to the Kerry-Lugar-Burman Act, and how the GHQ objected to certain requirements, which directly impinged on the authority of the armed forces command.
Add to it, the expansion of the US Embassy’s activities in Pakistan, and the induction of hundreds of Americans under different guises; the dramatic Raymond Davis episode that exposed the existence of clandestine American operations on the ground in our country; and the extraordinary efforts made by the Obama government at the highest level to secure the CIA contractor’s release, added to the already anti-American sentiment among the people of Pakistan. The unilateral attack on a building in Abbottabad to capture and kill Osama bin Laden without even informing the Pakistani authorities shocked the government and the people, and voices were raised about the violation of the country’s sovereignty. Statements that more raids could and would be carried out against high-value Al-Qaeda targets, added insult to the injury. A little later came another disturbing news: The US government was withholding $800 million, which were to be imbursed to the military for the operations being carried out.
Presently, there is quite a long list of Washington’s grievances against Islamabad. Besides a number of lingering points of difference and unfulfilled expectations, a number of irritations have also surfaced. For instance, the restrictions placed on the movements of the diplomatic staff. There is also the dispute about the number of visas to be issued to the Americans other than ordinary visitors to the country. The recent abduction of an American (who, according to the Punjab Home Minister, was involved in “mysterious” activities) is another instance of happenings, which is bound to increase the strained relationship. But the latest item added to the American complaints is the accusation that Pakistan let the Chinese have access to the wreckage of the crashed Stealth helicopter for examination.
Reverting to the remarks made by Hillary and Panetta at the National Defence University, while the former appreciated the complexity of the US-Pakistan relationship and showed an understanding of the position taken by Pakistan, the latter’s articulation was direct and characteristically blunt. Mark their words: Hilary Clinton: “I think the Pakistanis have a viewpoint that has to be shown some respect: Are you going to be with us or not? Because you (USA) keep in, you go out (meaning Washington walking away after the Soviet exit from Afghanistan)…..Well, they are partners, but they don’t always cooperate with us on what we think is in their interests.” And said Panetta: “What makes this (partnership with Pakistan) complicated is that they have relationships with the Haqqanis, and the Haqqani tribe are going across the border and attacking our forces in Afghanistan…….it is clear that there is a relationship there…….There is a relationship with Lashkar-i-Taiba. And you know this is a group that goes into India and threatens attacks there; it has conducted attacks there.” “The Pakistanis,” he added, “were also refusing to provide visas to American citizens. And yet there is no choice, but to maintain relationship with Pakistan. Why? Because we are fighting a war there. Because we are fighting Al-Qaeda there, and they do give us some cooperation there….…(also) because they do represent an important force in that region. Because they do happen to be a nuclear power that has nuclear weapons, and we have to be concerned to what happens to those nuclear weapons…….we have got to maintain a relationship with Pakistan. And it is going to be complicated. It is going to be ups and downs.”
Now a few more words from Hillary: “It is not like we are coming to Pakistan, and encouraging to do things that will be bad for it, but they (Pakistanis) often don’t follow what our logic is as we make those cases to them, so it takes a lot of dialogue…….We think it is very much in America’s interest, we think it is in the long-term interests of Pakistan to work through what are very difficult problems in that relationship.”
Here it is relevant to refer to the reported question and answer session held by US Spokesperson Victoria Nuland with a view to clarifying the remarks of Clinton and Panetta. At this press briefing, the Indian (Washington-based) journalists raised the issue that after Panetta’s statement, the US should declare Pakistan a State that sponsors terrorism. Nuland said “no” to the suggestion if she believed Secretary Panetta was accusing the Government of Pakistan of having ties to the (mentioned) two terrorist groups. This is how she viewed the accusation: “I think Secretary Panetta spoke to our concern about how these two organisations operate and any relationship that they may have with Pakistan.……which is a different issue than a State being a sponsor of terrorism itself.”
The purpose on my part for citing these extensive quotes is to spell out for the readers the real thinking of Washington about Pakistan’s attitude and behaviour with respect to what it should be doing to pursue the American agenda. These statements, therefore, have a lot of value for us to ponder over the rationale of the differences that have developed overtime in our relationships.
It seems that time has come when we must arrive at a clear understanding of the current situation and the surrounding facts – the escalating US-India partnership and its implications, the complex element of the Afghanistan endgame, and the American designs in Pakistan. And this, keeping in view, the awful political, economic and administrative conditions in Pakistan, the calibre and capacity of the federal ruling elite, and especially the collapse of governance in parts of the country.
The situation urgently demands the political parties and GHQ to deliberate the nature and complexities of the current US-Pakistan relationship, and come to a clear and firm stand. This should be followed by taking steps to open a dialogue with the USA at various levels. It is surprising, if not baffling, to find that while the Americans of all kinds keep coming to talk and influence our policymakers, we confine ourselves to infrequent visits by the army officers and after long intervals someone from the Foreign Office. Why not send some of our experienced and bright parliamentarians to carry bipartisan messages to their counterparts in Washington. It is a folly to leave this job of mutual education to our diplomatic (official) mission and a paid lobbyist. Let parliamentarians, media luminaries, professionals, professors and civil society leaders go to Washington and other vital centres, and engage influential Americans to help them clearly comprehend our position and points of view.