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Charting a new path

March 22, 2011

THE release of Raymond Davis followed by a deadly drone strike in North Waziristan, which killed over 40 tribal people, shows not only the arrogance the US usually displays it also exposes dissimilitude in US-Pakistan relations in this so-called ‘war on terror’.

The public was already furious about the way in which Raymond Davis was released and whisked away within hours of completing the court proceedings and all the other formalities that citizens of this country face for years. The drone attack that then followed shook the people of Pakistan.

There was a perception that Raymond Davis was probably released as a result of a secret deal between the two governments or their agencies. This was not an unreasonable assumption considering that people’s emotions were running high and the media was very active over the issue. It was therefore a wise decision to conduct these complicated dealings behind the scenes.

Yet some elements suggested that the deal, with all the attendant risks for the government of Pakistan, may have placed the country in a better manoeuvring position vis-à-vis the US and the CIA, and that it would have got assurances that the latter may cut down operations in Pakistan — that probably, Pakistani air space would no longer be violated by drone attacks.

However, such hopes appear to have been dashed by the New York Times March 17 report asserting that the CIA has not promised to scale down operations in Pakistan, and that it will not share its duty roster with the ISI. The missile strike in Waziristan was carried out the same day, within 24 hours of the release of Raymond Davis from the Langley headquarters. This can only be described as intimidation and bullying.

The statement issued by the Pakistan army chief that the security of the people is paramount, is not only timely, it is also meaningful. We can only hope that it doesn’t remain a mere statement. This is a very opportune time to revisit uneasy Pakistan-US relations. Pakistan needs to re-evaluate its role as a frontline US ally. All treaties, pacts, understandings and facilitations need to be re-examined.

At best, the US describes Pakistan as ‘frienemy’ and we should not hesitate to consider the US similarly. There is no room for emotion in state relationships. The US is fighting this war for its own national interests and Pakistan’s stance should be seen through the same prism. It is now an open secret that the US strategy in Afghanistan is not holistic; notwithstanding the rhetoric, its continued presence in Afghanistan is due to a range of strategic interests.

Pakistan must evaluate its options carefully to consider how it can achieve its own interests in the most judicious fashion and at the same time avoid attracting resentment towards Pakistan in specific or Muslims in general. It must weigh all the pros and cons of the options available as well as of the risks involved in exercising these.

All stakeholders at the level of the state, such as the president, prime minister, parliament, army and the intelligence agencies, must be on the same page in terms of formulating such a policy. The army chief has said that the security of our people is foremost, which is appropriate. Given that it is unusual for a person in such a position to make such a statement, and given the power structure in the country, it seems that a change in policy is inevitable.

Pakistan has the option of walking out of this alliance on terror and may consider announcing that it is no longer part of the US-led war in Afghanistan — that it will fight terrorism within its boundaries alone. It would also be appropriate to state that the tribes have the right to defend themselves. This would be significant because it would trigger a lot of other dynamics. That may reduce, to a large extent, acts of terrorism within the country. CIA and ISI cooperation should cease forthwith and both organisations should operate independently, within their own spheres.

The current ‘cooperation’ is constituted of one-way traffic only. Pakistan could also consider recalling all military or civil officers undergoing training in the US and similarly ask all US personnel being trained in Pakistan to leave. All these options have attendant risks which must be carefully evaluated before any concrete decisions are reached. If Pakistan intends to not act as a client state to the US, it must do away with its dependence on that country and follow a multilateral policy towards all states that are powerful at the global and regional levels.

Much is being said of Pakistan’s economic woes and its dependence on the US for financial assistance. However, no country can sustain itself forever on foreign aid and handouts. The country must learn to stand on its feet. Rampant corruption is amongst the dominant reasons for our economic difficulties. Until we can overcome this hurdle, the US or any other country cannot help us in governing our state.

Securing our borders against infiltration, creating a sense of security amongst our citizens — both economically and physically by improving the functioning of our law-enforcement agencies and the lower judiciary, and instituting a fair, across-the-board taxation system — should be our strategic objectives. We need to strengthen our institutions, foremost amongst them being parliament. Presently, people’s eyes are fixed on the judiciary, the army and the media.

The US, the world’s sole superpower, is writing the story of its own downfall by following inconsistent strategies and enforcing them through ruthless and arrogant force. It is not for Pakistan to correct the course the US is taking or to wage a war along with it. We should endeavour to maintain good state-to-state relations. Yet it remains our prerogative to chart our own course as a nation and as a state. Pakistan is caught in the eye of storm; yet there is room for hope. Nations go through turbulent times. It is the leadership that steers it to safe shores.

The writer is a retired brigadier and formerly secretary Fata and home secretary Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.