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US-Pakistan divergences

THE US defence secretary, Leon Panetta, has disclosed that Dr Shakil Afridi who ran an anti-polio campaign in Abbottabad succeeded in obtaining DNA samples that led to the discovery of Osama bin Laden and his subsequent death at the hands of US Special Forces during the May 2 raid last year.

This statement places in perspective the reasons behind the deterioration of relations between the US and Pakistan.

Underlying Bin Laden’s death is a raft of more serious questions. One is the report that the government commission constituted to uncover the facts about the May 2 incident has recommended a case of treason against Dr Afridi.

Yet the UN Security Council, vide resolution 1390 of 2002, defined Bin Laden as a proscribed person who was not to be allowed within the territory of any member state. His detection within Pakistan could therefore lead to serious repercussions that could isolate the country further.

In October 2008, Gen Petraeus said that “There is no question … that Osama bin Laden is in the tribal areas of Pakistan bordering Afghanistan”. Therefore, Pakistani officials’ repeated denials — that they had not known of his whereabouts — is considered by US officials as disingenuous at best.

To revive the credibility of the Pakistani interlocutors it has become necessary to use regular institutions such as the Foreign Office and parliament to define the country’s foreign and security policies. The current de-institutionalised approach to the formulation of policy is harmful.

One can speculate that many of the events that have since transpired between Pakistan and the US, including the tragic episode of Salala and the upheaval caused by ‘memogate’, are part of this sad interaction between the two countries’ national security goals and the dynamics of interpersonal relationships: the breach of trust between the military leaders of the two sides plays a major role in the existing tussle. It has isolated Pakistan in terms of the Afghan peace process.

It is possible to conclude, therefore, that it was the breakdown in inter-institutional communications that was responsible for the Salala attack. The Pakistan military believes that excessive and disproportionate force was used and the attack lasted till the last soldier was killed, despite GHQ’s communication with Isaf.

It may be thus fair to presume that behind the worsening US-Pakistani bilateral relations is the differing negotiating style of the representatives of the two countries.

This difference arises out of the different cultural backgrounds of the two nations, the asymmetry of the US-Pakistan relationship and Pakistan’s assumption that the US will leave it to pick up the pieces after its own strategic purpose is fulfilled.

A recent review regarding the negotiating style of the two nations, Howard and Terresta Schaffer’s How Pakistan Negotiates with the United States, throws light on this complex world where national, cultural and realpolitik concerns coincide.

Some of their important findings regarding the stance of Pakistani military officers in this matter are: Pakistanis insist that they will not be dictated to by India or the US, yet at the same time demand top-of-the line US military equipment; US civilian negotiators know nothing of military matters; Pakistanis begin negotiations, blame the army’s problems on the US and make their American counterparts feel guilty about Pakistan’s difficulties.

The authors: “When [Pakistani] military officers are leading the government, they also play hardball, insisting that unless all their demands are met disaster of one sort or another will follow.” US officials observed that the ISI routinely deceived them, and this led the CIA to develop independent links with the Afghan insurgents. Furthermore, “US negotiators should expect that inconvenient truths will be kept from them”, according to the researchers.

It is thus clear that the asymmetric relationship, differing styles of negotiation and divergent strategic goals in Afghanistan has caused the US-Pakistan alliance to become dysfunctional. It would be correct to conclude that most of the divergence comes from different outcomes expected in Afghanistan after 2014.

Pakistan would like to have in place an Afghan government that is soft towards Pakistan, is Pakhtun-dominated and keeps India marginalised. The US, on the other hand, would want an effective Afghan government that rules the country well and has a strong counterterrorism capacity. The US is not committed to bringing in a Pakhtun-dominated government or one that is pro-Pakistan.

Thus, besides the strategic divergence that exists between the US and Pakistan, there is also now a severe trust deficit in terms of statement by Pakistan, particularly after the discovery of Bin Laden and the denial of our alleged role in other occurrences inside Afghanistan. That this relationship is unravelling at this critical juncture as far as Afghanistan is concerned is unfortunate.

Although the Pakistani security narrative does not perhaps agree with this perspective — neither did I, till some time ago — the metrics in Afghanistan don’t look too bad from the US perspective.

The surge approved by President Obama in 2009 and the night operations against the Taliban ordered by Gen McChrystal and Gen Petraeus have successfully eliminated many of the Taliban mid-level commanders and have forced the top Taliban leadership to accept negotiations in Qatar.

However, as the last chapter of the Afghan war unfolds with the spring offensive in the eastern districts alongside Fata, it will cause Pakistan more headaches. It could result in cross-border incursions by Isaf. Ending hostilities is often more difficult than starting a war. This is yet another reason to resolve the crisis between the two nations.

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