Beggars can't be choosers
29 October, 2013
By Javid Hussain
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif's recent visit to Washington took place at a critical stage in Pakistan-US relations. The relationship between the two countries has been gradually recovering from the severe blows it received in 2011 in the form of the Raymond Davis affair, Abbottabad operation, and the Salala attack. The main objective of the visit was to carry forward this process so as to give the bilateral relationship the character of an enduring and mutually beneficial friendship. In the end, the visit achieved mixed results with some progress on economic and technical cooperation but with little to show on the critically important issues of post-2014 Afghanistan and counter-terrorism.
There are several areas of convergence of the interests of the two countries which can provide strength and durability to Pakistan-US relations. They include peace and stability in post-2014 Afghanistan and the smooth withdrawal of the US forces from the country, defeat and dismantling of Al Qaeda, peaceful relations between Pakistan and India, nuclear non-proliferation, counter-terrorism, Pakistan's economic progress and development as a factor of peace and moderation at regional and international levels, and cooperation in economic, commercial and technical fields. The areas of divergence, which tend to have a negative impact on Pakistan-US relations, include their conflicting views concerning Afghanistan and the Afghan Taliban, the alleged Afghan Taliban sanctuaries in our tribal areas and the drone attacks, action by Pakistan against Hafiz Saeed and JuD, the US strategic decision to build up India as a major world power of the 21st century to contain China, Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline, and the Palestinian issue.
The task facing our leadership is to expand the areas of convergence of interests between the two countries and to minimize the adverse impact of the divergent views through policies of mutual understanding and mutual accommodation. It is from this standpoint that the outcome of Nawaz Sharif's visit to Washington must be judged. It is also important to bear in mind that in view of the numerous negative factors mentioned earlier, dramatic results in favour of Pakistan could not be expected as a result of a single visit at the Prime Minister level. Further, our ability to bargain and reach satisfactory agreements on critically important issues is extremely limited because of our chronic dependence on the US in economic and military fields. After all, beggars can't be choosers!
The revealing aspect of the joint statement issued at the end of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif's visit to Washington last week is not what it contains but what it omits to mention. As was to be expected at the end of such visits, it is a litany of the positive developments in Pakistan-US relations underlining the resumption of the Strategic Dialogue, economic and energy sector cooperation, defence cooperation, non-proliferation, and strategic stability in South Asia. For obvious reasons, it fails to mention that Nawaz Sharif's pleas for an end to the drone strikes received less than a satisfactory response from the Obama administration. Washington brushed aside our request for the release and repatriation of Aafia Siddiqui. It also refused to give a green signal for the Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline. Similarly, there was no progress in obtaining civilian nuclear technology for Pakistan's energy sector.
As for the positive outcome of the visit, the US gave the assurance of supporting Pakistan's efforts to enhance economic growth and overcome the energy crisis. The joint statement referred to the development assistance being provided by the US under the Enhanced Partnership with Pakistan Act of 2009, and to a number of projects funded by the US which had added over 1000 megawatts of electricity to Pakistan's national grid. The two leaders emphasized the importance of all sides working together with maximum restraint for strengthening regional peace and stability in South Asia. They also called for uninterrupted dialogue for peaceful resolution of all outstanding disputes in the region. It is doubtful, however, that this exhortation would have any appreciable effect on India in the case of Kashmir.
The joint statement, while welcoming the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) pipeline project whose chances of materialization during the pendency of the armed conflict in Afghanistan are negligible, totally ignores the Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline project. This is not surprising considering the US opposition to the project because of Iran's nuclear programme and the current animosity between Tehran and Washington. The situation may undergo a radical change if the negotiations between P5+1 and the government of President Hasan Rouhani of Iran achieve a breakthrough leading to the lowering or dismantling of the US sanctions against Iran. From a long-term point of view, the Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline project is of vital importance to Pakistan's energy security and economic growth provided we can get the gas from Iran at a competitive price. The extension of this pipeline at a later stage to China and India will help transform Pakistan into a hub of the energy corridors in the region. We should, therefore, resist the US pressure to discard this project. Obviously the availability of funding from China and/or Iran for the project would greatly facilitate its implementation.
It seems that Nawaz Sharif's visit to Washington did not narrow down significantly the differences in the strategies of the two countries in dealing with Afghanistan now or in the post-2014 scenario. The US has committed a number of strategic blunders in handling the Afghanistan issue in the aftermath of 9/11. Perhaps the most fundamental US mistake was its inability to supplement its military operations in Afghanistan with a credible and effective political policy. It is only now that the US is slowly coming round to see the necessity of an Afghan-led and Afghan-owned national reconciliation process for durable peace and stability in Afghanistan and the region. But it is still unclear about the implications of a political settlement in Afghanistan for its policy towards the Afghan Taliban and their supporters in our tribal areas. It, on the one hand, supports a political settlement in Afghanistan but at the same time continues with military operations against the Afghan Taliban whose participation in the intra-Afghan dialogue is an indispensable condition for peace and stability in Afghanistan. This approach is also the main reason for the continued US pressure on us to launch military operations against the Haqqani network in North Waziristan and its refusal to stop the drone attacks against the Taliban targets in FATA. Strangely, it simultaneously expects us to bring the Taliban to the negotiating table!
Pakistan initially under the US pressure went along with its demands to provide logistics support for its military operations against the Taliban in Afghanistan and to launch military operations against their sympathizers and supporters in our tribal areas. The fierce reaction of our tribesmen, grouped together as TTP, to these operations led to terrorist attacks against targets both in FATA and settled areas causing insecurity and instability in Pakistan. Thus, in trying to help the Americans in the pursuit of their flawed policy in Afghanistan, we have destabilized our own country.
This ill-conceived war against our own tribesmen must be stopped forthwith and, as recommended by the APC, we must initiate dialogue with the TTP for a political settlement within the framework of our constitution and law. The drone strikes against our citizens in our territory, of course, constitute a serious violation of our sovereignty and international laws as pointed out by the recent UN and Amnesty International reports. They are especially unacceptable because they are part and parcel of a flawed US policy in Afghanistan. We must, therefore, launch a well-considered campaign at international forums, particularly at the UN, for the termination of the drone attacks.
The writer is a retired ambassador and the president of the Lahore Council for World Affairs.