A trip to forget

22 Nov 2015


The writer is a member of staff.
The writer is a member of staff.

DID the extension just become a little less likely?

All week, you could sense something wasn’t quite right. Last year, DC was in love with Raheel. They grabbed his hand, they had their photo taken with him, they pinned a medal to his chest.

Part of that was normal: he was still relatively new and there hadn’t been a new chap at the helm in six years.

It’s like the Americans are trying to say, look, we have business to do and we’ll do that business with you, but we prefer Pakistan as a democracy.

Part of it was circumstance: Raheel had gone into North Waziristan; next door, Ashraf Ghani was new too and there was opportunity anew in Afghanistan.

Part of it was unusual: the dharna business had kept Pak in the news and folk were wondering if Raheel was in control or up to some funny business.

This year, he was a known commodity. Plus, Paris and IS knocked everything else out of the news cycle. And over in Afghanistan, the decision to keep troops on into 2017 has effectively guaranteed that the Afghan state won’t collapse.

That means — despite the search for a viable peace process — there’s no great urgency or immediate opportunity in Afghanistan, not like last year, anyway.

But still — you could sense it was something more. The Americans don’t seem to be very impressed by the Cult of Raheel.

Before he went, there was that business about him inviting himself. After he wrapped up his last meeting, the White House readout pointedly mentioned the other Sharif. And there was no medal or toys for him to bring back home.

It’s like the Americans are trying to say, look, we have business to do and we’ll do that business with you, but we prefer Pakistan as a democracy. So, let’s not fiddle around with that.

It was the slightest of raps on the knuckles. And while the boys will never admit it, it will not have gone unnoticed.

Beyond that, there’s the relationship itself. The two Sharifs in DC three weeks apart has teased out at least one thing: the post-9/11 relationship is truly over.

For a decade and a half, the US has been the centre of our universe and we’ve thought that we are the centre of the American universe. But no more. That is both a good thing and a bad thing.

Good because when the Americans are stomping around, demanding stuff and tossing around fistfuls of dollars, it tends to affect what the little guy — that would be us — thinks and does.

And there are few good decisions made when the American leviathan is wandering around your neighbourhood.

Bad because Americans stomping around, demanding stuff and tossing around fistfuls of dollars, tends to get the little guy to think about and do stuff. And some of that stuff can be in our interest.

The problem is, you can’t really see Pakistan thinking about the next phase. Anywhere generally. Specifically with the US.

Sure, there’s this business about stabilising Afghanistan and all the CPEC goodness that will wash over us, but none of that was initiated or conceived of by Pakistan.

With the US, what’s our input to the relationship? We talk about Afghanistan because the Americans are in Afghanistan. The boys ask for toys. And they complain about India.

But where are our ideas?

Two Sharifs in DC in three weeks — and there’s not a single thing you can point to that is new or original from the Pakistani side in the bilateral relationship.

A scaled-down, security-centric, transactional relationship with the US still means it’s one of the fundamental pillars of our foreign policy.

But we only seem to leverage the relationship to complain about India. Like this business with the dossiers.

You can imagine American officials smirking in private — Pakistan wants to prove that India is a state sponsor of terrorism? Uhuh.

And we’re really only doing it because Modi made terrorism the one-point agenda with Pakistan. That makes it easier still to swot away.

The weird thing is, the leverage we do have is staring at us in the face. Hafiz Saeed and co may still be heroes, but the logic of the anti-TTP campaign will eventually reduce the space for all non-states inside Pakistan.

That’s the big issue on which the US and India are united on against Pakistan — non-state actors. And here we are, drifting towards a semblance of the desired outcome because of the fight against the TTP — completely unaware that we could use it to our advantage.

If there were anyone thinking five, 10 years down the road and wondering what we can get out of the US, and from India via the US, the dots would be fairly easy to connect.

First, dismantling the TTP will have knock-on effects for non-states generally. You can’t eliminate the first without curbing the second.

Second, full-spectrum deterrence has made the need for unconventional back-up against the Indian military threat less critical — when nukes are Plan A, you don’t need the jihadi Plan B.

Put those two together and you have — down the road — a situation where Pakistan may end up doing the one thing the US and India are united in demanding.

And if we are crawling, moving towards that outcome anyway, then why not start a conversation with the Americans about how our good behaviour can be used to shape future outcomes, especially with India?

But that would require creativity. And thinking. It’s so much easier to complain, though. And ponder an extension.

The writer is a member of staff.


Twitter: @cyalm

Published in Dawn, November 22nd, 2015