Hagel’s threat defining moment for fraught ties with Islamabad

By Farooq Yousaf Source:Global Times Published: 2013-12-25 19:53:01

"Allow the NATO supplies or suffer negative consequences." This was the message of the US administration that was conveyed to Pakistan by US Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, during his recent visit to Pakistan.

The message, however intimidating, wasn't a surprise for Pakistan. Back in 2001, soon after the September 11 attacks, Richard Armitage, then US deputy secretary of state, also issued a similar warning of bombing Pakistan into the "stone age" if it didn't cooperate on the War on Terror in Afghanistan.

Both warnings, along with others over the past decade, have one thing in common: The US simply considers Pakistan as a client rather than an "ally."

But aren't Pakistan and the US supposed to be close allies on the global War on Terror? Yes, they are, but only on papers and for the gallery. Reality tells a different picture.

The US-Pakistan relationship has seen a number of highs and lows in the recent past. One of such lows was the recent exposure of a man claimed to be the CIA station chief in Islamabad, and the accusation on him by the Justice Party, led by cricketer-turned politician Imran Khan, of orchestrating the drone strikes and waging a war on Pakistan.

Even though the station chief's name could not be confirmed by Washington or the US media, the event shook the Pentagon and put it on the back foot.

With the liberal People's Party in power for five years, it became business as usual for the US to conduct drone strikes and major operations, such as the Operation Neptune Spear, which killed Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad.

But with transfer of power after elections in May, where conservative parties got the majority of the votes, things have started to change.

One such change was the Justice Party's blocking of the passage of NATO supplies through Pakhtunkhwa Province, the province where the party is in power, in reaction to a couple of recent drone strikes.

We cannot ignore the fact that thousands of families depend on NATO/ISAF trade via Pakistan, but the recent protest and blockade have at least momentarily witnessed a halt to the drone strikes.

But keeping past protests, blockades and dependence of Islamabad on Washington in perspective, it would be interesting to see as for how long Khan and his party can persist with the protest.

Hagel, in reaction to this protest, has explicitly warned that the move could see Pakistan losing out on millions, or even billions of dollars in political aid from Washington. His veiled threat was a warning against the local politics of the Justice Party interfering with international alliances and agenda in Afghanistan.

This episode has left the central government in Islamabad, led by Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, in a dilemma.

If Sharif tries to crack down on Khan's protests, he could invite nationwide public uproar. On the other hand, if he stays mum on the protests, his government could lose valuable US dollars that could help in supporting a dwindling economy.

The ball is obviously in Pakistan's court. Islamabad has to decide whether it goes with popular public sentiment, or opts for US financial assistance at the cost of social and economic loss.

Most of the NATO retreat from Afghanistan has to take place through Pakistan, considering the costs involved with other channels, placing Pakistan in a strong position. Islamabad has to realize and cash this leverage to ensure ties with the US move to an equal footing.

But would these ties, even if equal, still be fruitful?

The past decade has been the worst for Pakistan since its independence. What makes it worse is that Islamabad's role in the War on Terror has witnessed multiple breaches of its sovereignty through drones and surgical strikes.  

Great nations not only live with their history, but also learn from their mistakes in the past. Pakistan's mistake of siding with the US in the Cold War and the Afghan Jihad in 1979 and then the War on Terror in 2001 has come back to haunt the country.

The author is a program consultant and editor at the Centre for Research and Security Studies, Islamabad.farooq@crss.pk

Posted in: Viewpoint

blog comments powered by Disqus