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Pakistan, US blamed for strained ties

July 13, 2012

ISLAMABAD, July 12: Experts are blaming both Pakistan and the US for playing a hawkish policy against each other and harbouring sanctuaries on both sides of the Pakistan-Afghan border that has not only aggravated the situation in Afghanistan, but also caused hindrances in ending a solution to their crises.

Speaking at the 6th Policy Discussion on Pak-US Relations at Jinnah Institute on Thursday, the experts said that Pakistan needed to recalibrate its policy on Afghanistan and commence a much needed dialogue with stakeholders to work out a peaceful settlement to the conflict.

It was noted that ending the sanctuaries on both sides of border, and engaging all groups of Taliban in the negotiation process, is essential to bring peace in the region.

Pakistans role remained the hot topic of discussion as the speakers remarked that a military victory for the Taliban in Afghanistan would be a nightmare for Pakistan.

Pakistanneeds to rethink its strategic policy, and engage with the US and other players involved in the Afghan conflict to overcome divergent strategic priorities.

“As of now, Pakistan seems to be proceeding without an endgame strategy,” Ahmed Rashid, author of Pakistan on the Brink (2012) and Descent into Chaos (2010), said.

The speakers, and even the audience, unanimously agreed that Pakistan is facing a serious image problem on the international screen mainly due to soft policies towards the extremists, as well as harbouring some elements which are also causing damage to the society.

Mr Rashid said that the root cause of crises faced by Pakistan is the inability of policymakers to change the strategic planning after the fall of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR).

“Most of the countries were polarised and received support from either the USSR or US camp, but many countries adapted to the new scenario,” he said, adding, “They established links with neighbours and developed the regional economic blocks – Pakistan wasted the whole decade of the 1990s, following the same old policies, and remaining engaged in Kashmir and with Taliban.”

Mr Rashid said that Pakistans internal crises created divisions in policy formulation and there was need to resolve differences within.

“Essentially, countries need to stand on their feet, dispense with big powers, increase trade and take part in globalisation,” he said.

He added that there was a need for an honest broker to end the Afghan conflict: the EU could be the main player in the region that the US was not in good terms with, like Iran, while Pakistan works on improving itself by serving as an accommodating partner for India. The role of the UN has been reduced during past few years.

“But one of the issues is that the US does not want to let go of its position as a power broker in Afghanistan,” he added.

The nature of Pak-US relations, in the context of reopened Nato supply routes and the bilateral relationship since the Salala incident and the future of the Afghan endgame, was discussed extensively. Visiting American scholar, Rebecca Goetz, commented on the negative portrayal of Pakistan in the mainstream American media.

Ms Goetz highlighted how the voting American public was terrified by images of Pakistan as the “most dangerous country in the world.”

“Not only did that lead to support for drone strikes, which were purportedly carried out for national security, but also played out in domestic immigration laws,” she said adding, “The way the War on Terror has come home is disturbing, but there is an emerging libertarian nexus that is now asking tough questions about US policy in the region,” she added.

Media stereotyping has to be understood and challenged.

Zahid Hussain, and South Asia Advisor in United States Institute of Peace, Moeed Yusuf, spoke on the occasion and said that Pakistan and the US need to stop viewing each other from a ten year old Afghanistan-lens.

Mr Zahid Hussain said “If Pakistan is living in a state of denial about itself, what about the US?”

The discussion concluded that there is a need for fresh narratives on Pak-US relations, and to find a way forward on bilateral and regional issues including that of a post-2014 Afghanistan.