AFTER seven months of obstinacy by both sides, and a year and a half of tensions between the US and Pakistan, the reopening of Nato supply routes holds in it the promise of a turning point in the relationship. Whether through a recognition of our increasing international isolation, a desire to be involved in the future of Afghanistan, or simply a realisation of the limited power Pakistan really had in these negotiations, the Pakistani civilian and military leaderships have finally demonstrated a willingness to compromise despite hurt sensitivities and political pressure at home. In return, the US needs to be extremely conscious of Pakistani sovereignty going forward, including when it comes to the unilateral use of drone attacks. If both sides grasp the opportunity this moment presents, it could help turn a dysfunctional relationship into one that can actually help solve the region’s security problems.
In fact, the most significant advantage Pakistan could derive from this moment is to start reversing the reputation it has developed of being an obstacle to peace in the region. The outcome of the talks has shown Pakistan did not gain much else from miscalculating the leverage it really had and then sticking stubbornly to that calculation. We have managed to obtain an apology — though some argue it wasn’t formal or direct enough — but not much else is different seven months later. There will be no transit fees, Pakistan had to say mistakes were made by both sides — a significant step back from the earlier position that the Americans attacked Pakistani soldiers deliberately — and the coalition support funds that will now come through represent overdue reimbursements for money already spent and will not solve the ongoing issues that come up every year with processing CSF payments. In the process, we have risked our reputation with the other Isaf countries as well. The lesson from all this should be that a concern for Pakistani sovereignty has to be balanced with the need to play a constructive, cooperative role in the region.
Aside from sorting out lingering issues with America, particularly counterterrorism cooperation, the task at home now is to rein in any violent right-wing reactions. The right was encouraged when public anger was needed as evidence of Pakistan’s political constraints, and by the same token it can probably be controlled now that a deal has been struck. But the risk with fostering intolerant forces is that they cannot always be managed. The Taliban, too, have said they will retaliate. It is now the security forces’ responsibility to make sure that truckers, and the communities that they pass through, remain safe.