December 17, 2011


Mail Today(December 15)
Kapil Sibal

Pakistan is adept at playing the role of a victim at the hands of others. It will not recognize its own felonies and the injuries it causes to others, but will not tolerate any chastisement for its misdeeds. It has rarely been held accountable for its rogue actions and, as a result, the sense of quasi-immunity it has developed gives it the gumption to demand answers from others for their actions when it should be answerable for its own.The US-Pakistan squabble over the recent incident on the Pakistan-Afghanistan border in which 24 Pakistani soldiers were killed by NATO fire illustrates this particular Pakistani syndrome.

Pakistan has used terrorism as an instrument of state policy for almost two decades, killing thousands of innocent people directly or indirectly. It has harboured some of the world’s most dangerous terrorists on its soil. Osama bi Laden was sheltered in a military garrrison town not far from Islamabad. The former US National Security Adviser General Jim Jones thinks it inconceivable that Generals Kayani and Pasha were not aware of his wherabouts. The departing Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff castigated the truck the Pakistani agencies have with terrorist groups.

In this background the loss of 24 Pakistani soldiers in a firefight with insurgents in the vicinity of the Pakistan-Afghanistan border should be a quickly forgotten foot-note in the chapter and verse of the Pakistani military’s double dealings on terror. Yet, Pakistan has gone to town over this incident as if this was the last straw of high-handedness by the US on the Pakistani camel’s overburdened and long suffering back of a self-less combat against terrorism.

The fury against the US unleashed in the media by the Pakistani establishment is bizarre in its proportions. It is as if Pakistan believes it has the capacity to take on the United States politically and militarily. In a dangerous game of political brinksmanship, General Kayani has ordered the Pakistani forces on the border to use force to repel NATO attacks. The Americans have been ordered to vacate the Shamshi base which they have done. NATO convoys carrying fuel and supplies for the forces in Afghanistan have been suspended in a bid to pinch the Americans where it hurts. The routes will be opened after the Pakistanis get the redress they want. The Pakistan government intends to review intelligence level cooperation. In a pique of self-defeating anger Pakistan boycott the Bonn Conference on Afghanistan (after striving to keep India out of secondary Afghanistan-related parleys it absented itself from a principal one) presumably because it calculated that its petulance will reap military-related and financial returns.

Many Pakistani commentators believe that the country has been presented a unique opportunity to extract major concessions from the US as the balance of needs is in Pakistan’s favour. They have made themselves believe that they have been victims of such gross mistreatment by the Americans that they can in all good conscience seek inflated amends that would include a US commitment to settle the Kashmir problem and limit India’s role in Afghanistan. The narrative of some thoughtful Pakistanis now is that the US is the most dangerous country in the world, that it wants to give India hegemony in South Asia and that India may emulate the lawless US in using drones across the LOC in Kashmir.

The Pakistan military has succeeded in whipping a nationalist frenzy over the border incident, excluding any reasoned debate on rights and wrongs, the ever present danger of miscalculation and mistake in permitted intelligence and armed actions against the Taliban, especially in the light of the predatory activities of the Haqqani group, and joint investigation. The US has given advanced warnings over months about the depletion of their patience in the face of Pakistani stalling over cross-border attacks in Afghanistan from Pakistani soil. The civilian government, weak as it is, has submissively yielded to lobbies bent on biting the hand that has fed the country for decades and whose aid would be vital to meet the pressing financial needs of Pakistan’s faltering economy.

Pakistan cannot play the drama of victimhood too long. It has to make peace with the US after some token amends by the latter. US options are limited because of the compulsions of logistics for Afghanistan through Pakistan, but it is hardly likely to accept being blackmailed. Already the Congress has decided to withold $700 million of aid funds. In the longer term Pakistan needs the US much more than the reverse, and so Pakistan’s bluster has to be shorter lived than might be calculated. If Pakistan believes it is a victim of US imperiousness, the US will not be wrong in believing it is a victim of Pakistani duplicity.

The writer is a former Foreign Secretary


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