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A steep and slippery path

June 06, 2012

IN assessing the current state of US-Pakistan ties and determining their future direction, what is one to make of the reports over the last week?

First we have a report that the US has rejected the Pakistani claim for reimbursement of $2.8bn from the Coalition Support Fund. The next day we have a report that the Pakistan embassy in Washington has been able to persuade the chairman of a congressional committee to drop his objections and allow the reimbursement of $1.18bn which, as in the past, represented about 75 per cent of what Pakistan had claimed.

Then we had yet another report quoting an American official that no agreement on reimbursement had been reached. Clearly, the Americans are not yet relinquishing this pressure point.

More drone attacks have been carried out and the Pakistan Foreign Office has lodged more vehement but meaningless protests. Since the Nato summit in Chicago last month eight drone attacks have been reported and some 30 people apparently killed.

Most reports on these attacks have come from foreign sources and suggest that the people killed were militants. Reuters has reported being told by Pakistani and American officials that the latest attack early on Monday morning was aimed at Abu Yahya Al Libbi a close aide of Ayman Al Zawahiri.

There is no confirmation that Abu Yahya was hit but it is significant that Pakistani officials knew of the raid and knew who the intended target was, although whether this information came to Pakistanis before or after the raid is not clear.

Talks on the reopening of the transit route appear to be dragging on interminably. A new shot in the psychological battle was fired by Nato Secretary General Rasmussen who announced that agreement had been reached with the three Central Asian Republics bordering Afghanistan to allow the use of their territory to ship in or ship out Nato vehicles and other heavy equipment. This suggests that extra expenditure notwithstanding Nato could withdraw without resort to the Pakistan transit route.

Was this mere whistling in the wind? Earlier statements from the logistics commander had suggested that without the Pakistan transit route withdrawal would not be completed by end 2014.

The full transcript of an interview President Karzai gave to Time magazine on May 13, the day of Arsala Rahmani’s assassination, was released on May 31. In this long rambling often contradictory interview, Karzai was nevertheless clear that what they were fighting in Afghanistan was not an insurgency but terrorism and that “the war on terror is not in the Afghan villages or homes. It’s in the sanctuaries, it is in the training grounds….”; and he went on to add “if it is a war on terror then the Afghan people will join you on terror”.

This would seem to suggest that the Karzai administration would happily allow the use of its territory for the US war on terror including attacks on ‘sanctuaries’ in Pakistan.

Having pointed the finger at Pakistan he refused to term Pakistan an enemy and claimed that “an effective war on terror … has not been done, and we must do it together”. He seemed to think that reconciliation was needed both in Pakistan and Afghanistan: “The other point is for both of us to seek to bring the reconcilable in this process to reconciliation, to peace and Afghanistan should help Pakistan do it in their own territory, and Pakistan I hope will help us do it in our own territory….”

One does not know what sort of reconciliation in Pakistan Karzai wished to help with but we do know that from the perspective of certain circles in Pakistan Mullah Fazlullah and his band of insurgents are being assisted in Kunar and Nuristan by Afghan intelligence. More recently, the inspector general of the Frontier Corps, Balochistan, said that several farari (fugitive) camps of Baloch dissidents are based in Afghanistan.

As regards Pakistan’s assistance in Afghan reconciliation Karzai maintains that those who want reconciliation are suffering in Pakistan when they don’t follow the Pakistan line.

We have a host of grievances with the Americans ranging from their strategic partnership with India though Pakistan was the South Asian country sacrificing the most while partnering with the US in the war on terror. The grievances include encouraging India to play a larger role in Afghanistan while ignoring the concerns this arouses in Pakistan, and urging Afghanistan to enter into a strategic partnership agreement with India, as well as refusing to give Pakistan the same civil nuclear deal the US has with India.

There are also complaints of the refusal to recognise that Pakistan, because of its position as landlocked Afghanistan’s route to the outside world and for bearing the heavy burden of Afghan refugees, had a right to a substantive role in determining Afghanistan’s future dispensation. There have also been apprehensions vis-à-vis the sinister motives of America seeking a presence in Afghanistan post-2014

The highlighting of these grievances and apprehensions and the fuelling of fears about malevolent American intentions with regard to Pakistan’s nuclear assets have helped generate a degree of anti-Americanism in the general public that will be difficult to overcome, particularly when there is no visible impact from the $22bn in assistance that the Americans say they have given Pakistan over the last decade.

This is truly a ridiculous situation. Our principal differences arise on Afghanistan. And yet any clear-headed analysis would show that if we do not entertain unattainable ambitions, Pakistan and the US have many more areas of convergence in this area than they do of divergence. Pakistan, more than the US, needs to build on these convergences. To do otherwise will ensure that the slippery path on which we mistakenly embarked many years ago will intensify regional tensions and perhaps make our survival difficult.

The writer is a former foreign secretary.