OPINION: By M. Osman Siddique
WASHINGTON: The relationship between the United States and Pakistan is slipping from bad to worse. To say that there exists a “trust deficit” between the two countries is simply an understatement.
Pakistan is the only Islamic country that has its own nuclear armaments. Although at odds today, Pakistan and the United States remain deeply co-dependent in its fight against extremists and for the stability of the South Asia region.
Recent blunt talks by the outgoing Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen, are extremely disconcerting. He had a total of 27 visits to Pakistan during his term as the CJCOS.
In his last testimony in front of the Senate Armed Services Committee on September 22, Admiral Mullen was unequivocal in linking the notorious Haqqani Network as a strategic arm of Pakistan’s Inter-Service Intelligence Agency (ISI) thereby implicating the ISI in the September 13th bombing of the U.S. Embassy in Kabul, the June 28th attack on the InterContinental Hotel in Kabul and the September 10th truck bomb attack that killed 5 Afghans and injured 77 American soldiers. Pakistan has vigorously protested these
At a press conference at the White House on October 7, President Obama accused Pakistan’s leaders of “hedging their bets” on Afghanistan’s future, but stopped short of threatening to cut off U.S. aid. “There is no doubt that there are some connections that the Pakistani military and intelligence services have with certain individuals that we find troubling,” he added.
Pakistan’s government and, especially, its military were openly embarrassed when the United States decided to unilaterally take on the secret mission to eliminate Osama bin Laden. The U.S. drone strikes, which are more frequent and inflict far greater collateral damages, are infuriating the Pakistanis.
Polls after polls show the visceral hatred of the Pakistanis towards American policies and its policymakers. Americans are also getting increasingly leery of the situation. Congress is taking a firmer stand on authorizing more military and economic assistance to Pakistan.
Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari has launched a media blitz criticizing the United States for its insensitivities towards the sacrifices Pakistan has made in the war on terror and has expressed reservations at the recent U.S. public posturing. Ties have become extremely tenuous, with the potential to deteriorate even further.
Afghanistan and India recently signed a new “strategic pact,” the first of its kind for Kabul with any country. This has raised considerable ire and consternation in Islamabad, adding complexities to already existing roadblocks. In response, Pakistan has warned Afghanistan to behave responsibly in the wake of this new pact and not revert to any “point scoring, playing politics and grandstanding.”
India is a major force in the region and could play an overall positive role in this difficult situation. However, it should also be clear to all concerned that there cannot be an “Indian solution” to this problem which will further complicate this already muddy situation. Any lasting solution must be worked out between the Pakistanis and Afghans themselves. Short of that, we will revert back to square one in no time.
Can we disengage with Pakistan? The answer is a categorical no, if we are to see a stable Afghanistan and Pakistan with further degradation of the Al-Qaeda threat. We cannot afford any train wrecks here. The answer lies in “reframing” this relationship as Admiral Mullen puts it. This reframing can only happen amongst other policy initiatives with a changed leadership in Pakistan and one that the U.S. can also trust.
Thirty years ago, when Afghanistan was occupied by the Soviets, the United States called on a Pakistani military dictator, General Zia-ul Huq, to support the Mujahedeen’s “Jihad” against the Soviet occupiers. Despite, ideological and policy differences, a working relationship was established and the Soviets were evicted.
Similarly, we need to re-evaluate current and potential leadership in Pakistan. In the aftermath of 9/11 when George W. Bush needed a partner in Pakistan to forge a united fight against Al-Qaeda, he found an effective and willing partner in the then-President of Pakistan, General Pervez Musharraf.
Today, former President Musharraf has launched a new political party and has vowed to recapture the political base in Pakistan. Pakistanis remember with nostalgia the almost decade of stability and economic progress in Pakistan during his term. America should look at this kind of tested and true leaders if it wants to jump-start its partnership with Pakistan.
(M. Osman Siddique served as an U.S. Ambassador under both President Bill Clinton and George W. Bush. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org).