Time to review ties By Shahab Usto - Friday 29th April 2011

Source : http://www.dawn.com/2011/04/29/time-to-review-ties.html

THE trajectory of the Pakistan-US relationship reflects a strange mix of opposites. Not surprisingly, now when the war on terror demands closer coordination both countries are not only repeatedly falling out, but one partner lets no opportunity go without capitalising on the other’s predicament.
True, the ‘agencies wars’ and ‘double games’ played by both are to blame for this rickety relationship. But the changing political culture, the peculiar nature of the war and regional context also need to be factored in to reorient this alliance.
The pre-9/11 strategic alliances were strictly between the US and the military leadership. Even after 9/11 it was Gen Musharraf who decided to support the US in its war against the Taliban. There was no consultation.
But now the elected government, howsoever weak, has to defend its policies in parliament while facing a vociferous media, civil society and political opponents. It was public pressure that forced the government to resort to a faulty but judicial recourse to get Raymond Davis out; the military leadership also had to temporarily lessen cooperation with the US following the killing of innocent people in North Waziristan by a drone strike.
In this war, neither is the ‘enemy’ clearly marked, nor is there a common engagement or exit strategy between the two partners. After spending $330bn and suffering hundreds of casualties over the decade in Afghanistan, the US is now coming round to differentiating the hard-core Taliban from the moderate ones. Similarly, many continue to view the Haqqani-led militants who attack US interests from North Waziristan as the Pakistani military’s strategic assets.
Resultantly, there are operational incongruities. The American military command is sanguine about defeating the Taliban. But Pakistan favours negotiations with the militant group. Even President Hamid Karzai is looking for ways to mend fences with the Taliban.
Defeating communism was easier than fighting the ongoing Islamist insurgencies, which are calibrated as a global struggle to save ‘Islamic society and culture’ from ‘un-Islamic’ western institutions. The ideologues of this war are making it look cultural rather than a narrow ideological war.
Indeed, projecting the religious rather than the political aspect was the centrepiece of the US strategy against the Soviets in Afghanistan. The Mujahideen were portrayed as Islamist rather than nationalist forces. In the same way, Nato is portrayed by the Taliban/Al Qaeda as a western/Christian-dominated occupation force, alienating not only traditional Afghans but also creating a dilemma for Pakistani forces as to whether or not to shoot a ‘fellow Muslim’.
It is apparent that Pakistan’s political culture is in tumult. On the one hand, we have the proponents of democracy; on the other the hard-line Islamists vying to take over the state.
Ironically, the latter are better organised and upbeat over the US setbacks in Afghanistan and the democratic government’s perceived failure in Pakistan. The present coalition government has achieved commendable constitutional reforms. But institutional tensions, the elitist resistance to fiscal reforms, the deficit financing through loans and indirect taxation and the unbearable cost of living have instilled indifference if not despondency in common citizens.
On top of that, the war on terror is discouraging both foreign investment and local initiatives. The war has caused Pakistan to suffer an economic loss of $68bn and 33,000 civilian and military causalities. A recent US Congress report also corroborated this. Yet sadly, the US considers itself to have discharged its social and economic responsibilities towards Pakistan by granting $1.5bn in annual aid.
The US attributes Pakistan’s economic and social ills to its bad governance and a narrow revenue base. No doubt, inefficiency and fiscal laxity are serious issues. But the pernicious impact of the war is proving no less destructive.
Faced with dire realities, Pakistan needs the same commitment as the US showed in the defence and reconstruction of post-war Western Europe and Japan. But the US remains focused only on getting Pakistan to meet its war contingencies in Fata and Afghanistan.
The US cannot ignore the fact that success in the war on terror is also hinged on the course of India-Pakistan relations. Their bilateral disputes must be resolved.
South Asia stands at a critical juncture. It can become a centre of China-US-Pakistan-India rivalries spinning out conflicts across the world. Or it can become a bastion of global peace and development.


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