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Engage or punish?

Published May 27, 2012 12:10am


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THE thing about Pakistanis is that we’re too sure of our assumptions.

The Americans need us to withdraw from Afghanistan. We’re convinced of it. So we act out.

We fixate on an apology. Give us one, you’ve given Afghanistan two already, we say.

We haggle over transit fees. You’ve held up our money in other areas, so we’ll make up the difference through the supply route, thank you very much, we think cleverly.

We wallow in victimhood. All these people we’ve lost and damage we’ve sustained over the last decade, why doesn’t the world acknowledge our sacrifices, we rail.

We chuck a hapless doctor in prison because it makes us look tough in front of the folks at home who thought May 2 made us look weak.

We flirt with breaking our self-imposed moratorium on enforcing the death penalty because we’re too incompetent to do anything systematically. Never mind those Europeans with their trade concessions and their obsession with rights.

We turn up at Chicago without a plan and are miffed when the world spurns us.

Pakistan: the country that can do what it wants because it’s too important to be set aside.

Get tough with the US, bargain harder, dig in our heels — and the Americans, along with the other countries that matter, will eventually acquiesce.

Except that’s not how the debate is shaping up on the other side of the table.

There it’s largely: engage Pakistan or punish Pakistan?

The engage camp is on the defensive: where’s the proof that engaging Pakistan produces the results that the outside world seeks?

Chicago is the most recent example. Offer Pakistan an unconditional invitation and it may lead to some flexibility at the transit-route negotiating table, the moderates would have thought.

So they did invite us. And in return Pakistan trotted out Sherry Rehman and Bilawal to demand once more a non-negotiable apology. Cue more consternation and dismay.

Engagement suffers because the two sides have different clocks: the West needs to get out of Afghanistan and figure out how to stabilise it over the new few years; Pakistan thinks it can take its time making up its mind and putting its house in order because, well, what’s the hurry?

But if the engage camp is on the defensive, the punish-Pakistan camp hasn’t won the argument either — yet.

The reason goes back to the fact that the US and its allies still want stuff from Pakistan.

The US military still wants us to do something about the sanctuaries on this side of the Pak-Afghan border. And politically, the outside world is looking to Pakistan to at least nudge the insurgents it has some influence with in Afghanistan towards the negotiating table.

The problem for the punishment camp is that theirs too is just a theory: if the engage camp can’t prove their approach works, it’s not clear how a strategy of punishment will cause Pakistan to change its behaviour either.

Say Pakistan needs to go back to the IMF later this year. Between the US and the Europeans, if they want they could scuttle a deal with the IMF to punish Pakistan. Suddenly, Pakistan would be in a lot more trouble economically.

But who gets hurt straightaway? Not Kayani, not Zardari, not Hafeez Pasha or Zaheerul Islam but the public at large.

Or say there’s another Salala-type attack. Wounding this army’s pride further and stoking anti-Americanism aren’t exactly a recipe for success with Pakistan.

So, frustrating as the engagement route is, the punishment route doesn’t exactly offer a road map for success.

But the problem Pakistan forgets is that when one strategy doesn’t work, it only helps the argument for trying another one.

The more and more we prove that engagement doesn’t ultimately work when it comes to Pakistan, the more people dealing with this country will look for alternatives.

And the alternative, the punishment strategy, for all its untested assumptions and uncertain possibility of success, does have some powerful backers.

In fact, put your ear close to the ground and you’ll even hear the moderates admitting that they wake up some days and wonder whether the hawks are right on Pakistan.

It won’t even have to happen all at once. First could come neglect, then isolation and then containment.

The difficulty for Pakistan is that the decision to switch from engagement to something more detrimental for this country could occur while we’re still under the impression that engagement will continue. The warning signs will be there, of course, though you’d have to be looking for them.

But a false sense of security, and perhaps even superiority — as the Shakil Afridi case suggests — wouldn’t exactly be something new for Pakistan.

If there’s a ray of hope, it’s that Pakistan still isn’t the focus of the US and its allies; Afghanistan is.

Pakistan is still seen through the prism of war and stability in Afghanistan and discussions about Pakistan sans Afghanistan tend to get tacked on to the end of the agenda.

When — if — that changes, almost certainly not before the US presidential election in November, the engage-Pakistan camp can make a more convincing case: Pakistan is a country of 180 million people; its Muslim population is an important plank of the Islamic world; it exists in a strategically important part of the world, with China, India and Central Asia nearby; and it has nuclear weapons — ergo, not engaging Pakistan isn’t an option.

The trouble is, policymakers here haven’t quite caught on to the seriousness of the debate internationally when it comes to dealing with Pakistan.

If the engage-Pakistan camp is to prevail against punish-Pakistan camp, it’ll need help from Pakistan in the shape of some kind of behavioural change or signals that at least some adjustments are imminent — precisely the kind of help we aren’t providing because we think they aren’t necessary.

Pakistan: too sure of its assumptions and too scared to tread a different path.

The writer is a member of staff.

twitter: @cyalm


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The views expressed by this writer and commenters below do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.

Comments (37) Closed

ss verma May 27, 2012 08:04am
Well frankly its universal opinion that " engagement" has failed. That only leaves the "punish" option and I think is being unrolled day by day.
Muhammad May 27, 2012 04:20am
There could be a third possibility as well: Engage Pakistan on some issues, and punish on others. For example, Pakistan can be pressureized to cooperate on Alqaida, drone strikes and cia operations. On the other hand, Pakistan can be punished economically through IMF, etc.
Mohammad Ali Khan May 27, 2012 04:51am
Strategy of US and its allies is to enter a phase of war in which they will minimize casualties and expense, but retain special forces of significant strength to influence the outcome.The desired outcome is a denuclearized Pakistan. Pakistanis can.t afford to enter into a direct confrontation,but they will be provoked to do so. Pakistan should demonstrate passive resistance to all provocations. The current atmosphere favors US and its allies because in the long run the corruption, tribalism and religious fanaticism in Pakistan will self destruct Pakistan. If Pakistan wants to progress and avoid a break up,it should not be provoked into a war,and more importantly stop corruption,religious fanaticism and tribalism.
ss verma May 27, 2012 04:53am
The US Senate for one is definitely in the punish Pakistan camp. All the punish Pakistan resolutions have 100 % backing of the members.
Adil Jadoon May 27, 2012 06:37am
How can you punish a Government which has nothing to do with the population it claims to be supporting? The Americans are partlyto blame as they thought that wth PPP in power they could push their agenda but a crook will always be a crook and can never be of use to anyone.
M.FAAIZ Gilgity May 27, 2012 07:08am
Pakistan is already in a state of engagement and punishment since a decade....pakistan is suffering and waiting for the consequences and end results now....
A.Vetta May 27, 2012 09:39am
If there are two camps, engage or punish, in the USA they are now dormant and will remain so till after the November US election. The two active camps are Elect Obama and Elect Romney. The first camp is only interested in ‘success’ in Afghanistan. If Haqqanis kill a few US soldiers in the next 5 months, the former camp will go after Haqqanis and punish Pakistan. The latter will rejoice at the punishment.
observer May 27, 2012 11:24am
When the balance tilts in favour of 'Containment', Pakistani nukes are not going to count for much. The 'Conatainers' i.e. US/NATO/Europe are safely out of reach of Pakistani delivery systems. Pakistan at the best can hit out at India in the mistaken belief that somehow India is the cause of its problems. Well that is just sad, but the Containers can live with the collateral damage. In essence Goodbye Pakistan.
Dr.M.M.Khan May 27, 2012 11:40am
In International politics there is always PlanA and Plan B. In case of Pakistan we appear to have only A a usual finding. If USA was going to aplolgise it would have done a long time ago! Dr.Afridi did a favour to the whole world by cooperating in the capture and death of OBL. Why do we worship the last one and condem the dr. to 33 years in incarcertation. Why did not OBL take his movement to his own country and wreck havoc there insted of Pakistan and afghanistan.? We don't seem to have a plan B at all. Did our Govt. appologise to it's own people for it's incompetency before asking others to follow suit. Let us have seasoned diplomats to negotiate on our behalf.
NASAH (USA) May 27, 2012 12:38pm
Cyril -- you say everything I want to say -- but 100 times better -- this 'Nautanki' by the spineless rudderless PPP is not for the foreign audience -- it is for the home grown bearded ones -- and for the brass tacks. Great column.
NASAH (USA) May 27, 2012 12:51pm
Lift the blockade and free Dr. Afridi -- and Pakistan is fully engaged with the United States and the 50 NATO countries -- don't do that and you are another world PARIAH in the making.
Agha Ata May 27, 2012 12:57pm
Punish or engage. Did you say that? Reminds me that sometimes a snake tries to swallow a frog and which gets stuck in his throat and the snake doesn’t want to throw it up . . . and cannot swallow it either !! What a bad situation
Dr.M.M.Khan May 27, 2012 07:46pm
In International politics there is always PlanA and Plan B. In case of Pakistan we appear to have only A a usual finding. If USA was going to aplolgise it would have done a long time ago! Dr.Afridi did a favour to the whole world by cooperating in the capture and death of OBL. Why do we worship the last one and condem the dr. to 33 years in incarcertation. Why did not OBL take his movement to his own country and wreck havoc there insted of Pakistan and afghanistan.?
Jeffmahagaonvi May 27, 2012 01:57pm
Pakistans military & mullahas mindset is free from logic and common sense. And thus the result will horrible for the nation. Lord bless us.
Jeffmahagaonvi May 27, 2012 02:14pm
Cyril- I agree with you but the mindset of military & mullahas are free from common sense and logical thinking.
nizamuddin khan May 27, 2012 02:21pm
Wait one minute...the world is not simply made up of US and Europe. Pakistan has the option to work with just about any another country. I think the view presented here is one of looking at Pakistan from the outside and when you look at the entire world from inside Pakistan it is different. We have every right in a capitalistic world to be able to demand the price for our resources and services...and be prepared to do the same for the resources and services that we seek from others...right? I don't believe we are being is just our offers are not deemed acceptable. When you choose not to buy fruits from a vendor because you think you can get it cheaper elsewhere you are not punishing the vendor...right? You can stand there and keep haggling on the price hoping you will convince the vendor to a lower think you are engaging the vendor in a "fruitful" conversation...but guess what he too has a family to feed...right?
Salman May 27, 2012 02:22pm
I am a US citizen and see my hard earned tax dollars go to Pakistan. Engaging Pakistan has not worked. Elements inside Pakistan still continue to help terrorist groups to kill NATO soldiers. Anti American feelings are quite high in Pakistan. A good number of global terrorist get trained in Pakistan. In addition the same elements are also obsessed with establishing ruling government like Taliban in Afganisthan, to favor Pakistani designes, no matter how terrible they are for Afgans. Even when a larger country such as India, engaged Pakistan by sending its prime minister to Lahore, Pakistanis were sending terror groups into Kargil and repeated the same in Mubai. The world will punish those who make a habit of killing others for sure.
Ali nayyar May 27, 2012 02:31pm
i believe that punishing Pakistan by some deft diplomatic activity will accrue far better results. Get the Chinese, the Saudis and the IMF to put more and more pressure on Pakistan. If this one fails then issue them a stark warning of Economic Blockade..... this will make their economy lose ground against the arch rival India and will make the Pakistanis think again about their foreign policy priorities.
Devendra May 27, 2012 03:28pm
It is a victory of hope (against hope) over experience to expect Pakistan to realize it's weaknesses, duplicitous behavior and how isolated it is in the community of the world's nations......a pariah. After America leaves Afghanistan, there will be NO " Engage or Punish" need. America will simply leave and call it a good riddance. And, Pakistan would have earned every bit of that American response. Now, your America problem is solved but the terrorists will not only remain; they will thrive. MARK MY WORDS.
BRR May 27, 2012 03:56pm
Pakistan is more likely to be ignored, after being tolerated for 2 decades. It is behaving like a "attention-seeking' juvenile. Now it is graduating into a teenager who holds a gun to his own head to demand attention. Sliding into irrelevance. Cyril, you have been brilliant in your articles in the last 2 years. Keep it up.
Yasir Imran May 27, 2012 05:04pm
Pakistani government failed in foreign policy again, issue of drone attacks, issue of nato supply and now issue of let obama say sorry on Pakistani soldier's killing.
cautious May 27, 2012 05:51pm
Nice opinion piece which distills a complicated issues down to something that everyone can understand. Chances are Pakistan's anti American blather has gather so much steam that it will be impossible to change direction --- and I suspect the American politicians are tired of trying to defend a country which has gone out of it's way to prove that it's no friend of the USA. I disintegration of this relationship seems inevitable and no doubt it will accelerate -- hope Pakistan is prepared to go it alone because it's likely that international isolation is coming.
DKar May 27, 2012 06:35pm
Carrot and Stick approach?
Sudy May 27, 2012 06:56pm
Adil, it's not about punishing the government, rather punishing the state!
Ghani K May 27, 2012 10:25pm
With Zardari at the helm and a novice foreign minister, Pakistan certainly is not poised for engagement. Art of diplomacy used to be the forte of seasoned diplomats.
Sikander May 27, 2012 11:22pm
So the esteemed columnist calls the past 10 years as "engagement"? I wonder what "punishment" means to him. Engagement AND punishment has been tried based on faulty assumptions, neither has nor will work unless they come to an understanding that is closer to Pakistan's positions. Problem is Pakistan hasn't tried neither. There are real steps Pakistan can take, yet this pusillanimous government does nothing while engaging in fanning internal political flames and dealing in emotionalism. This way it loses the confidence and support of Pakistanis and its potential western partners. Either way you don't make policy while jumping from one whim to another based on someone else's narrative and delusions.
Akil Akhtar May 27, 2012 11:33pm
Aren't you pleased...
Akil Akhtar May 27, 2012 11:34pm
We can always bet on Cyril to support the western point of view...
kailash May 27, 2012 11:45pm
U sound far more logical and rational than ambassador Munir Akram
Concerned May 28, 2012 02:25am
No country deals with IMF without wanting to. Pakistan sought IMF assistance in 2008 and requested USA's support as a major shareholder of IMF. Wheather that was a good decision or not is besides the point. But it was Pakistan's decision.
hrm May 28, 2012 03:50am
Pakistan needs to consider the following: America is a very divided country--Republicans/Conservatives on one side; more liberal Democrats on the other side. This is reflected in the US Senate, where Republicans and Democrats can hardly agree on anything-except American's utter contempt for Pakistan's policy visa-vis it's militants and the perception that Pakistan is happy to take without supporting its fight against terrorism. The fact that a U.S. Senate subcommittee voted 30-0 to punish Pakistan by cutting aid is an accurate indicator of how America feels about Pakistan's policies.
Holynickers May 28, 2012 04:09am
I am. We need to wake up and look start applying self help, stop looking to others to help us. Punishment will go a long way towards that objective. We will be stronger for it
gp65 May 28, 2012 06:13am
Neither Zardari nor his novice foreign minister runs foreign policy. It is run from Rawalpindi and Aabpara.
Arun May 29, 2012 03:20am
Shouldn't we ??
india May 29, 2012 03:21am
Pakistan is well on its way of becoming N Korea...barring the ability to develop indigenous technology. West is waiting for its troops to pull out before training their guns (sanctions, aid cuts, diplomatic isolation) on Pakistan.
gp65 May 29, 2012 11:23pm
"Wait one minute...the world is not simply made up of US and Europe. Pakistan has the option to work with just about any another country" True. Except that 80% of your exports go to US, and NATO countries. A large pecentage of your expatriates sending you remittances also live in the very same countries.
gp65 May 29, 2012 11:25pm
What do you call the following? 1. Cutting down aid 2. Introducing resolution on Balochistan 3. Drones