June 19, 2011

The state of US-Pak ties : Emerging scenario after Osama’s killing

The state of US-Pak ties
Emerging scenario after Osama’s killing
by P.R. Chari


UNDERSTANDABLY, there was much exultation in the United States and gloating in India when Osama bin Laden, sequestered in Abbottabad by the Pakistan Army and its faithful ISI, was eliminated in a clinically executed operation by U.S. Navy SEALS. Pakistan protested loudly that its sovereignty had been infringed when its territory was invaded and Osama killed in Abbottabad. This is all very true. Recent reports from Islamabad inform that General Kayani is under pressure from his corps commanders to loosen ties with the US to express their dissatisfaction with Washington’s cavalier behaviour.

These overt protestations, however, are only histrionics meant for domestic consumption. Why? Pakistan is living far beyond its means — its defence budget reportedly exceeds its revenue income; it has to depend, therefore, on external assistance to remain solvent. Significantly, US financial aid to Pakistan since 9/11 — estimated around $20 billion — is much greater than the assistance provided to Pakistan by Saudi Arabia and China. This should be a sobering thought for Pakistan’s ruling elite, who might glibly calculate that if the US withdraws its subvention to its bankrupt economy, Islamabad could turn to the eager Saudis and/ or the Chinese to bale them out. In short, Pakistan’s current fulminations with Osama’s elimination in Abbottabad and its sovereignty being infringed are hugely contrived, and will settle down quickly. And Pakistan will hope to revert to its earlier status as the most favoured client ally of the US.

But will the US continue as before in its dealings with Pakistan? It had anointed Osama with a larger-than-life image as Al-Qaida’s supreme leader, who perpetrated the 9/11 outrage and diminished America’s global image. Osama’s capture or elimination had become the Holy Grail of US foreign policy, and it had expended considerable blood and treasure on this enterprise, which only makes Pakistan’s perfidy more perfidious. No doubt, the US remains dependent on Islamabad to permit logistics supplies for American and NATO forces in Afghanistan to use the land route from Karachi. In the past, Pakistan had connived at these supply lines being attacked and looted to convey its disapproval with some aspect or the other of American policy. This could be seen in the drone attacks that have Pakistan’s tacit approval, but have occasionally caused disproportionate civilian deaths or strayed into unapproved areas. Will Pakistan continue these blackmail tactics post-Osama?

Perhaps, the first indication that the US expects more credible cooperation from the ISI was the recent drone attack that eliminated Ilyas Kashmiri. Suspiciously, few details of this incident are available in the public domain. But timely and accurate information of Kashmiri’s presence had permitted this successful attack since the top Al-Qaida leaders have been observing great discipline in their use of electronic communications. The human intelligence regarding Ilyas Kashmiri’s location could have been provided by the ISI as part of a new post-Osama deal with the US. Ayman al-Zawahari is next on the list. Watch this space. Still, American concerns persist. Washington is disturbed by Pakistan arresting several persons who gave information to the CIA regarding Osama’s hideout. And the US greatly fears that Pakistan might proliferate nuclear-weapons technology to aberrant states and/or terrorist organisations like Al-Qaeda. Pakistan has a long history of proliferation to Iran, Libya and North Korea by the former head of its nuclear weapons programme, A.Q. Khan. There are further concerns that insiders could collect weapons-usable nuclear material from Pakistan’s nuclear facilities to build a crude nuclear device.

There are some indications, however, that the US is getting increasingly reconciled to a Taliban comeback in Afghanistan, and is preparing to abandon President Hamid Karzai. Hence the logic proceeds; it will compromise with Pakistan to establish a stable government in Kabul before it pulls its forces out in 2014. But there are other indications that the US is unlikely to commit the same error that it did in 1990 by abandoning Afghanistan, which enabled the Taliban to overrun the country, provide shelter to Osama bin Laden and Al-Qaida, leading to 9/11, and the present imbroglio. No doubt, there is tremendous domestic pressure on the US Administration to “bring the boys back home” and leave Afghanistan to its fate, but the inevitability of another Greek tragedy unfolding will influence Washington DC to continue its physical presence in Afghanistan, either in the form of training teams or airbases from which drone attacks and surgical strikes could be launched. It is most unlikely, indeed, that the US will leave Afghanistan in 2014.

So, what does all this portend for the totality of Pakistan-American relations? Quite obviously, the US will not loosen its grip on Pakistan. Nor will Pakistan, despite its protests and protestations, loosen its semi-alliance with the US. The glue will be American global interests in the oil-rich Gulf region, while checkmating China and Russia in Central Asia. Pakistan’s interests will largely be monetary. A new relevance will attend the hyphenation of Afghanistan to Pakistan constituting the Af-Pak nexus, which epitomises the current threats to international security — religious terrorism, Islamic fundamentalism, nuclear proliferation and the consequences of states’ facing disintegration. Clearly, the US, which occupies the apex of the international security system, cannot deal singly with these diffuse security threats emanating from the Af-Pak region, but will need to harness the neighbouring countries to grapple collectively with them. And, this harsh reality provides the most convincing reason for the US staying engaged with Pakistan and the Af-Pak region.

So, what are India’s options in this milieu? There is little reason for it to be apologetic about its strategic interests in Afghanistan by rebuilding its shattered economy, or by strengthening its governance structures. But a greater coordination of its efforts in these and other feasible directions with the US is required. An opportunity for discussing these issues post-Osama will come next month when Mrs Hilary Clinton visits New Delhi for the Indo-US Strategic Dialogue.

1 comment:

kuldeep singh chauhan said...

The forward US policy should be this