Monday, December 26, 2011

Pak-US Standoff

Published in Frontier Post on 26 December, 2011 
Attack of NATO forces on the Silala check-post of Armed Forces has once again periled the already very much deteriorated relations, both political and military, between the two states. The dirt of Abbottabad stint and Raymond Davis fiasco hadn’t settled yet and a new incident in the shape of Silala check-post crept up.
Much has been written and debated about the role of US and Pakistan in the region. It seems that lately there has been a love-lost between the two flag bearers of this war. This 10-year long alliance in the war on “terror” is a tale full of mistrust and deception, as dubbed by each side from time to time. The current relations between the two states should be dissected from the perspective of national interests of each. Obviously anyone who is related to this war in Afghanistan is there because it has some stakes in it. Afghanistan, being the backyard of Pakistan, makes it the top drawer concern for Pakistan.
Having the biggest stakes in Afghanistan, Pakistan can never take its eyes off from it. It never can. Many people still blame General Zia for dragging Pakistan into Afghan war with the Russians but the fact was Pakistan had no other choice. Pakistan could never have allowed USSR, at that time, on its one border and India on its other, both countries being hostile to Pakistan. Same is the case now, whatever the situation is, Pakistan keeps Afghanistan central to its very security. Pakistani authorities did take some relatively harsh and much needed measures after the strikes from NATO forces, including cutting off of NATO supplies and also issuing the guidelines to troops on borders to retaliate without following the proper chain-of-command. Certainly these steps don’t widen the cheeks in White House and Pentagon because ever since that incident took place, no drone strike has been undertaken in Pakistani territory.
It is evident that drone strikes and NATO supply routes are essential to the war in Afghanistan as US-led NATO forces pretty much depend on these. The main issue at hand is to probe the way out for the two countries and analyze how things would fall into places after some time.The annoyance of United States over cutting the supply route is very apparent. Though United States do have the reserves to keep on waging the war on Afghanistan and also the very expensive supply route through Russian-influenced Central Asian Republics but the recent indication from Russian authorities that they might cut off those lines as well, in order to pressurize United States on the issue of installing ballistic missile defences in Europe.That has raised the eyebrows of US officials and they really want the supply route from Pakistan operational as they cannot afford a re-telecast of Cuban Missile Crisis. And it is for that same reason that officials of Obama administration are pressing Pakistan to reconsider its decision. Perhaps that was the reason the American Ambassador to Pakistan Cameron Munter met Pakistan Premier on Thursday to press him to re-establish the supply lines.
Supply lines would eventually be opened someday but the apparent rationale for haste of United States is certainly because it does not want to be held ransom by Russia over Northern Distribution Network (NDN). It could have been a bit easier for United States to negotiate with Pakistan if the ‘memogate scandal’ wouldn’t have happened.Memogate scandal and the apparent altercation between military and government observed in the Supreme Court of Pakistan’s hearing testifies the fact that nothing is smooth right now in Islamabad. United States wants the supply lines to be restored while Islamabad is in shambles because of its divisions with Rawalpindi. US doesn’t know whom to talk and negotiate with but the recent suggestion that Pakistan’s Foreign Minister responded to a query from a US official after deliberations with army, discloses the fact that who is in charge.
United States has to convince Pakistan Army out of its decision of blockade of NATO supplies. On the contrary, Rawalpindi has got the chance out of Silala check-post incident to distance itself from US, which is very necessary because when US withdraws from Afghanistan, it is obvious that Taliban will have a say in the new setup. For that Pakistan needs to be soft with Taliban and that’s better than an anti-US posture.
Things are very complicated and tangled for Pakistan and United States as well. United States may eventually have to use a bargaining chip to seduce Pakistan to restore the supply lines early as they did in the Cuban Crisis when they promised to abandon their base in Turkey in return of USSR bumping off the missiles deployed in Cuba. It remains to be seen what ultimately happens but one thing is for sure that Pakistan has a bumpy road ahead and if it didn’t make its course of action right then it might lead to destruction. It’s about time.