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Time for retrospection

April 17, 2012


AFTER weeks of contentious negotiations, parliament has finally approved a guidelines for resetting ties with the US. The broad cross-party backing to the framework allows the government to start negotiations with Washington, but there are still many sticky issues which have to be resolved before this fractured relationship can move forward.

It is a long list of stringent demands that the government has now to negotiate with the United States. There are still major gaps which have to be filled in order to devise a clear and viable policy, determining the parameters of future cooperation between the two nations. The relationship between nations is not based on demands, but on the convergence of interests. Therefore, firstly, it should be clearly defined why it is important for Pakistan to maintain even a transactional if not a strategic partnership with the United States.

The parliamentary resolution has cleared the way for reopening the Nato supply line which is critical for the US-led allied forces in Afghanistan. The only restriction is on the transportation of arms and ammunition, which according to US officials are rarely sent through Pakistan. It may also help in the release of $1.18bn in coalition support fund payments to Pakistan.

Yet, there are some other matters which do not have an easy solution. Parliament was unequivocal in demanding the immediate cessation of CIA drone strikes in the tribal region. But for the Obama administration the operations are critical for eliminating the insurgent sanctuaries used for attacking the American troops in Afghanistan. The US officials have made it very clear that they have no intention to end CIA drone strikes against militant targets in Pakistani territory.

Less than 24 hours after parliament’s resolution, senior US officials were quoted by the international press as saying that they would work to find common ground with Pakistan, but they would take a shot if a suspected insurgent target comes into the sight of the CIA drones’ Hellfire missiles.

It is not for the first time that the US has ignored Pakistan’s call for ending drone strikes. In 2008, parliament also passed a resolution, only for the CIA to intensify the operation. But this time the situation is very different as the resetting of the relationship is directly linked to the cessation of the drone campaign.

This presents a huge dilemma for both Washington and Islamabad as they negotiate the new terms of engagement. What will happen if another drone strike is carried out during this period? How would the government or, more importantly, parliament react to it? The restoration of ties with Washington depend on answers to these questions.

Similarly, there is huge ambiguity on how Pakistan would implement its resolution not to allow private US security contractors and an unauthorised intelligence network in the country. The future relationship would depend on how the two estranged partners accommodate each other’s national security concerns.

There are some other sources of tension straining the troubled relationship. Washington’s decision to place a bounty of $10m on Hafiz Saeed has triggered a new wave of anti-American protests. Political leaders have denounced the US move as an attempt to browbeat Pakistan. Many commentators see a deep conspiracy in this rather bizarre announcement made by a senior Obama administration official while on a visit to New Delhi.

Indeed, some of the criticism particularly pertaining to the legality of bounty on a man who is not a fugitive from the law may be valid. There is also a question of the timing of the controversial announcement when the two countries are engaged in a delicate process of redefining their fractured relationship. The move could not have come at a worse time.

Yet, however flawed and controversial Washington’s decision may be, it cannot justify the attempts by some political leaders and TV anchors to project as a hero the founder and a former head of a militant group whose members, according to Pakistan’s own investigations, have been involved in 2008 Mumbai terrorist attacks. Hafiz Saeed’s own role in the bloody assault that almost imposed a war on Pakistan is also being questioned.

Beyond reacting to Washington’s bounty offer and speculate motives behind it, we need to see where we have gone wrong. It is time for retrospection rather than hiding behind conspiracy theories. The fact is that the concern of the international community about Pakistan becoming the hub of terrorism is not entirely wrong.

It is an undeniable fact that most of the terrorist attacks in the West and other parts of the world over the past decade have had some connection to Pakistan. Osama bin Laden could not have been able to hide in Pakistan for over 10 years without a strong support network among the local militants. Many senior Al Qaeda leaders were captured from the houses of activists belonging to various militant and radical Islamic parties.

The inability of the state to curb the activities of the militants on its soil means loss of sovereignty. The international community will feel justified in taking any action if the state itself fails to stop its soil being used for the export of terrorism.

Many extremist groups responsible for the sectarian and militant violence in the country have now gathered under the banner of the so-called Difaa-i-Pakistan Council (Defence of Pakistan Council), threatening to impose their retrogressive agenda through force. These preachers of hatred and violence want to push Pakistan towards international isolation and turn it into a pariah state.

The blood-curdling speeches and violent rhetoric are aimed at sabotaging any attempt to achieve peace and stability in the region. Given the violent record of its leaders it is appropriate to rename the group as the ‘Destruction of Pakistan Council’.

The writer is a scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Centre, Washington DC.