WITH all the hand-wringing and ‘what ifs’ going around in recent days, you would think nobody has a clue how the Pak-US relationship is likely to play out in the days ahead.

Rubbish. Most of the answers can be guessed quite easily.

Will the Americans carry out another unilateral OBL-style mission to take out a highest-value target in Pakistan? Of course.

If they figure out where Mullah Omar and Ayman Al Zawahiri are, the US will take them out pretty much like how they took out OBL.

Mullah Omar is the spiritual leader of the Afghan Taliban, a part of which the Pakistani security establishment thinks will help ensure the Indians don’t encircle us through their Northern Alliance proxies.

Who really thinks the Americans are going to, in a nod to our ‘sovereignty’, plan a joint operation to take out Mullah Omar if they find he’s in Pakistan?

And Zawahiri? If the Americans didn’t trust us with the spiritual leader of Al Qaeda, why would they trust us with the brains of the outfit?

What you will get, though, is a bagful of obscure ‘high-value targets’ swooped up in joint raids, giving Pakistan some cover to argue that it is in a partnership of equals with the US.

Will the Americans continue to funnel money towards the Pakistan military and will the Pakistan military continue to accept the money? You bet.

Listen carefully to the signals coming out of DC and you’ll pick up on concerns that Pakistan’s fiscal situation may not allow the army to continue operations against the Pakistani Taliban if the US pulls the plug on military financing.The logic is straightforward enough. Pakistan isn’t going after the bad guys that bother the US, but at least it is going after some bad guys.

Better something than nothing, particularly since the militants here have increasingly evinced an ‘internationalist’ outlook.

As for the security establishment still pocketing fistfuls of dollars, ask yourself this, in all the orgy of petulance and anger and even self-flagellation, have you heard even an anonymously mumbled stray word suggesting the ‘humiliated’ armed forces would reject the dollars and toys being funnelled their way?

This, after all, is the same security establishment that went into paroxysms when the Americans tried to funnel money towards the civilians via Kerry-Lugar.

So money will continue to flow and it will continue to be pocketed.

What about Afghanistan? That too will continue more or less as it has been, i.e. with a halting convergence on an end state acceptable to the Americans, the Taliban and Pakistan.

Ultimately, the situation in Afghanistan is controlled by two factors: the American willingness to continue fighting and the Taliban ability to avoid defeat. The Americans believe the Taliban ability to avoid defeat is boosted by Pakistan’s willingness to allow sanctuaries here.

But the only way Pakistan’s posture on that front will change is if the Afghan Taliban start linking up with the Pakistani Taliban and thereby pose a direct threat to Pakistan. If the Haqqanis, for example, get too cosy with the TTP, expect some kind of pushback from the security establishment. Barring that, it will be business as usual, a test of will and strategy in Afghanistan.

What about the American covert operatives running around the country, much to the chagrin, apparently, of the ISI? The bulk of them will probably stay and get harassed by our intel guys every so often, pawns in a transactional relationship between the superpower and its recalcitrant ally.

Whatever defensiveness the Americans may have felt after Raymond Davis shot and killed two Pakistanis in broad daylight in the country’s second-largest city will have evaporated after a CIA-run operation surveilled and eventually took out OBL in Abbottabad.

You can almost imagine the conversation. Pakistani general: Get your guys out of Pakistan, our guys are good enough to obtain the intelligence you need. CIA guy: Right, like your guys were good enough in Abbottabad.

Does that mean nothing has changed? Not a chance.

On the American side, perception will slowly become reality. The American denials of Pakistani complicity aside, there are enough doubts to affect how Americans will think of Pakistan. Given our truculent response, those perceptions will only harden.At some indeterminate point in the future, say, when another high-impact event occurs, Pakistan may not get the benefit of the doubt necessary to avoid harsh consequences.

What if there were another 9/11-type attack in the US and it is traced back to Fata? Surely, the American response towards Pakistan would be coloured by all that it has come to believe over the last decade.

Thus far the world remains convinced engagement is the best policy towards Pakistan. But what if, tired by the history of half-truths and outright lies of Pakistan, someone decides maybe what this country really needs is containment?

The attraction of containment over engagement is that it is infinitely less taxing. You just tighten or loosen the screws on the basis of the country’s behaviour, or your attitude towards it.

And to all those who may argue that containing Pakistan has never worked, an easy riposte: has engagement ever worked?

Another couple of high-impact events and Pakistan may find the distance from engagement to containment is a very short one.

Here in Pakistan, the OBL debacle will have roiled the security establishment. If you were already suspicious of American intentions, the latest events will have only hardened your suspicions.

In which case you’re likely to rummage around in your bag of policy instruments and look around for something that can help insulate you from American plots and ‘designs’. But your bag of policy instruments is virtually empty. There is ol’ faithful, though: the jihad network.

You can’t attack America, of course. That would be madness. So you push them away and wrap yourself tighter in the cloak of jihad to take on the old enemy, India. The heroic soldier protecting the nation’s honour and dignity from being molestation.

But the would-be molesters will be far away, living comfortably inside their walled-up fortresses. You and me, the people of Pakistan? We’ll be left clinging desperately to a crumbling edifice.

The writer is a member of staff.




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