What binds them? By Moeed Yusuf - Monday 4th April 2011

DESPITE periodic hiccups, both Pakistani and US policymakers seem committed to persisting with the relationship. The Obama White House is sincere about its resolve to cement a long-term partnership with Pakistan.
Similarly, in Islamabad, if one looks beyond the deliberately hawkish and misleading public rhetoric, both the civilian government and the military understand the importance of maintaining friendly ties with the US.
But are the two sides doing enough to ensure the relationship improves in the medium to long term? What is it that will do the trick for them?
At this point, the bond is driven by Pakistan’s utility in fighting terrorism. Cooperation in Afghanistan is predicated on the American agenda to defeat the insurgency. In Pakistan itself, the concern revolves around internal stability and ‘loose nukes’.
If it is about the bare minimum, terrorism and insurgent-led violence in Afghanistan and Pakistan may be enough to keep bilateral ties going. For this to happen, however, both sides will have to fail in eradicating terrorism in the short run. Ironic as it is, the longevity of the interest on terrorism then is predicated on failure of their current efforts. This can hardly be characterised as a way of building a healthy strategic relationship.
But then what else?
Here is the problem: while minor areas of convergence exist, there is hardly anything else on offer which either side would consider to be of vital strategic interest and a game changer.
Discussions with the Pakistani policymaking elite about demands and expectations from the US consistently throw up four key priorities: (i) correction of the imbalance between the India-US and Pakistan-US relationship; (ii) greater pressure on India to resolve the underlying bilateral problems with Pakistan; (iii) ‘trade, not aid’ — the desire to gain preferential access to US markets for textiles and other products; and (iv) adequate recognition of and compensation for Pakistan’s losses in the fight against terrorism.
Arguably, these would make for a genuine strategic partnership. Yet, every time any of these expectations are tabled in Washington, the most common answer one gets is: ‘these are non-starters’.
There is virtually no support in Washington for challenging New Delhi’s position on the India-Pakistan question. The India-US relationship is seen as way too important and quite unlike Pakistan, US leverage over India is believed to be negligible. Most in decision-making positions in Washington would shy away from building a counter narrative for fear of being politically incorrect. Even where there is realisation that this may well be the only silver bullet in terms of changing Pakistan’s worldview, the risk of annoying New Delhi is perceived to be too great.
There is somewhat greater receptivity on the ‘trade not aid’ issue. Opinion-makers acknowledge that the US has dropped the ball on textile exports. Yet, politics on Capitol Hill seems intractable. This is despite the fact that efforts have been made from the very top of the US administration to try and push through a Pakistan-specific concession. Ultimately, most agree that Capitol Hill is unlikely to budge.
Finally, in terms of compensation, many legislators see Pakistan as being already overpaid with little to show for it. The compensation argument is especially unlikely to sell given that the incoming US House of Representatives is tipped to be less sympathetic towards aid without adequate results from the recipient (in Pakistan’s case this would imply greater anti-terrorism cooperation).
As for the US side, the primary interests include: (i) greater support for the US mission in Afghanistan; (ii) greater safety and security of nuclear weapons; and (iii) internal stability in Pakistan a positive regional role from it (as viewed from the US perspective).
Decode these and the disconnect between the Pakistani and US positions will be obvious.
On Afghanistan, the fact that Pakistani and US strategic interests have never been fully aligned is no secret. Pakistan’s refusal to tackle Fata-based sanctuaries is just one issue. Much more disconcerting is a growing sense among Pakistani opinion-makers that US policies in Afghanistan may leave Pakistan isolated in the end-game (to India’s advantage) while having to deal with a negative spillover from continuing instability in Afghanistan. This sense may well drive the Pakistani policy going forward.
The positions on the nuclear issue are irreconcilable. The US truly believes that ‘loose nukes’ from Pakistan is a real threat. Yet, the more this is voiced, the more suspicious and guarded the Pakistani nuclear establishment will become. This means less and less information-sharing, let alone, intrusion — precisely the opposite of what outsiders require to reassure themselves.
In terms of Pakistan’s stability, there is a convergence on the fact that eliminating militants from Pakistani soil is critical. Here, however, Pakistan is likely to continue its pick-and-choose approach despite Washington’s misgivings. Most importantly, the Punjab-based groups including the anti-India ones are likely to be tackled last, and through non-military means for the most part.
Government officials openly express an inability (some argue that they are still unwilling) to move faster; they are talking of results after a decade or more at the least. Tie this in with the desire to see Pakistan play a positive role in the region, and this essentially amounts to: Pakistan give up its confrontationist stance with India and eliminating all anti-India groups — and one can easily comprehend the problem.
Anti-India groups are likely to remain alive and kicking for some time to come, during which they may even succeed in attacking Indian soil a few times. One cannot completely rule out a Times Square type attack in the US linked to a Pakistan-based outfit. Both spell serious trouble for Pakistan-US ties.
Looking ahead then, the prognosis is a bleak one. There are not many examples of healthy strategic relationships where neither side is willing or able to honour the partner’s self-perceived vital interests — Pakistan-US is unlikely to be an exception. Both sides require a fundamental rethink: they need to be more appreciative of what really matters to the other side; their lists of ‘non-starters’ need reconsideration.
The writer is South Asia adviser at the US Institute of Peace, Washington, DC.

Source : http://www.dawn.com/2011/04/04/what-binds-them.html

No comments:

Post a Comment