Review of ties with US

March 18, 2012

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AS the parliamentary debate on the recommendations of the Parliamentary Committee on National Security for resetting ties with the US finally gets under way, the Pakistani leadership — military, civilian, the government and opposition — has several important choices before it. What the parliamentary debate can do is set a new tone for a relationship that has stumbled badly and seemed on the verge of falling apart for much of the last year. The default option would be for each party’s parliamentary representatives to ritualistically beat up on the US for its sins of omission and commission, for its mistakes and arrogance and for its mistreatment of Pakistan over the last decade. Using criticism of the US to burnish political credentials inside Pakistan is an old tactic.

The smarter option would be to focus on the reality that time is running out on the US to find an orderly and dignified exit strategy in Afghanistan and the possibility that the US may be more willing to listen to well-intentioned and genuinely helpful advice from Pakistan. While the signs are that the US military is still resisting an accelerated drawdown and may even think the war is still winnable, the very different civil-military balance in the US means that it is more and more likely that good sense will prevail eventually. President Obama has no nation-building goals in Afghanistan and has resisted demands for extreme action against Pakistan. At the very least that offers some space for a sensible cooperative track between the US and Pakistan to be developed, even at this late stage.

Odd as it may sound, Pakistani policymakers may want to take a page from their American counterparts’ playbook. Here is the world’s only superpower headed for military defeat in a war it has accused Pakistan of helping undermine (something Pakistan denies). Here is also the world’s only superpower that has seen a major supply line to that war effort suspended for over three months by Pakistan. And yet the US administration has waited patiently for Pakistani policymakers to decide when they want to talk about how to reset ties with the US. Strategic patience, as the Americans refer to it, has been demonstrated because it is in the interests of the US to have a relationship with Pakistan. Pakistani policymakers should similarly try and put interests ahead of emotions in the days ahead.