Saturday, March 19, 2011

US-Pakistan After Raymond Davis

Protestors gather in Karachi on March 19, 2011, against the release of a CIA contractor Raymond Davis. PHOTO: AFP

US-Pakistan relations after Raymond Davis
By Editorial

Published: March 20, 2011

If you connect all the dots, Pakistan and America are going to clash in the near future. The bilateral equation is virtually at an end, and a ‘revolution’ is going to unfold in Pakistan with popular acclaim, most probably with al Qaeda heading the religious militants of our madrassa network. After the release of Raymond Davis, Washington should have been grateful for another anti-US pantomime with a good ending, but the party (read CIA) that unleashed the Raymond Davis crisis decided to unleash another with a drone attack killing 45 of a peaceful jirga in North Waziristan, including the local police (khasadars).

The Pakistan Army, increasingly bothered about what the people of Pakistan think — or what the TV channels care to project — has decided to challenge the US more directly on the drones. Army Chief General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani has earned the admiration of the mostly-religious protesters in the streets of Pakistan by putting the Pakistan Air Force on alert after cancelling the leave of its entire staff and denouncing the drone attack as a counterproductive action. The tribal chiefs in the affected area have given a call for jihad against the US, and they don’t have to go far to join the war unfolding in Pakistan under the leadership of Osama bin Laden and his loyalist Taliban. The war against terrorism, which Pakistan joined under General Musharraf, may be reaching its endgame by Pakistan changing sides.

So far it was the exercise of joining the dots. But behind these recent developments there is the bulwark of US-Pakistan relations that has endured many storms in the past and seems to have survived after every dip in the graph of bilateral warmth. Who is challenging whom to break out of it? Who is leaning on brinkmanship to get the other to show his hand and retreat? Behind the current anti-American wave in Pakistan stand a variety of analysts and doomsayers. There is one class which believes Pakistan should not break out of the pro-US stance but tighten the screw on Washington to make it behave. Then there is a group of ‘realist’ experts who say that the US-Pakistan relationship is ‘transactional’ but, in this equation, America clearly needs Pakistan more than Pakistan needs the US. The third group comprises the passionate TV anchor and the fulminating clergy on the roads who want a clean cut-off with America and expect Pakistan’s fortunes to change after that in the shape of some miracle they can’t describe just yet.

If you read the statements issuing from the US State Department — especially words spoken by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton — the GHQ in Pakistan may be right in thinking that America’s policy in the region cannot bear fruit without Pakistani help. But General Petraeus, the top US military commander in Afghanistan, seems oblivious of the latest drone outrage when he asks Pakistan to attack North Waziristan. It seems that, when it comes to the crunch, Pakistan will have to forget its honour-driven passions and take a good look at its collapsing economy. Any suspension of American aid will not hurt Pakistan greatly, but if the US uses its clout with the international financial institutions and multilateral development assistance agencies to roll back their aid too, then the pain will be unbearable and will unleash a ‘revolution’ in Pakistan by the end of 2011. The GHQ may be thinking that the nuisance of its India-driven ‘rebellion’ may still be outweighed by the part Pakistan plays in the war against terrorism. In October 2010, a checkpost attack by US troops allowed Pakistan to demonstrate who was boss in US-Pakistan relations by making Washington apologise abjectly. Will this be repeated in March 2011? Keep in mind that public opinion in the US about Pakistan is at its most negative and that Pakistan is completely isolated internationally on what it is getting ready to do.

Pakistan’s internal situation is perilous. The economy is gradually coming to a halt and the tsunami of the unemployed, formed by Pakistan’s energy crisis and general bankruptcy of state institutions, is looming on the horizon. This is not a revolution that will set things right. This looks like chaos presided over by al Qaeda, whose faith-driven blueprint focuses on war (and booty), not on economic survival.

Published in The Express Tribune, March 20th, 2011.

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