By Air Commodore (R) Khalid Iqbal
Bilateral relations between Pakistan and America have unique peculiarities. Before each major event competing narratives start floating: obscuring reality and reinforcing mystery. End of the event joint statements are rather sketchy leaving the impression of undeclared understandings and arrangements. It suits Americans to keep the things as informal as possible to make convenient reinterpretations, on as required basis, to suit emergent situations and avoid accountability. For Pakistani side, governments fearing public backlash tend to keep even genuinely beneficial arrangements away from the public eye. Void is filled by the media. And media in both the countries is quite speculative and polarized. American media triggers reaction through its Pakistani counterpart. Thus half facts and half fiction reaches the people generating frenzy public debate (read outrage) depicting the outcome over the entire range from ‘Holdout to Sold-out’. Recent intelligence summit was no exception.
According to American US sources, “all concerning issues were discussed…the discussions between General Zaheer and Director Petraeus were substantive, professional, and productive. Both leaders reaffirmed their commitment to work together to counter the terrorist presence in the region that threatens both US and Pakistani national security.” Apparently, the raison d'être seems logical; US drawdown is in the making and Pakistan is poised to play a critical role. Therefore, it is pragmatic for the militaries to sort out the routines. However, in reality, Pak-US relations have further slipped down a couple of rungs; that is from transactional to outright blackmail. Now, the blackmail is blatant: Americans will eliminate TTP terror sanctuaries on Afghan soil in exchange for crack-down on the Haqqani group inside Pakistan.
During his meetings with American officials, DG ISI clearly conveyed the Pakistani concern on two counts. Firstly, ISAF and Afghan forces do not act against the safe heavens of Pakistani Taliban (TTP) and that, these militants have the backing of host forces deployed along the Pak-Afghan border once they attack Pakistani military positions. Secondly, drone attacks on any part of Pakistan are unacceptable. Pakistan demanded of the US to give drone technology to Pakistan and share intelligence about the hard-core terrorists; and Pakistan will act against them. As per the Reuters, on drone attacks, “Pakistan remained firm on its stance” that, there will be “no compromise,” on the sovereignty of Pakistan.
Speculative media reports, both in Pakistan and abroad had wrongly portrayed that Pakistan and America have agreed to undertake a Joint Operation codenamed “Tight Screw” on either side of Pak-Afghan border, involving the US boots on Pakistani territory. DG ISI clearly told the American side that, “Pakistan will not allow American boots on its soil for any operation and whenever an offensive is launched, it will be done by us.” Nevertheless, reports indicate some “understanding” on the Haqqani network, with Pakistan willing to initiate a scaled down operation, provided the US assures it of sealing the border on the Afghan side. According to US Defence Secretary Leon Panetta, General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani has already discussed the operation recently with the top US commander in Afghanistan, General John Allen. Panetta has further said that Pakistan was prepared to launch combat operations against Taliban militants in North Waziristan Agency, which also serves as a haven for the al Qaeda-affiliated Haqqani network. He said he understands it will be in the “near future,” and that the main target will be the Pakistani Taliban, rather than the Haqqani network. “They’ve talked about it for a long time. Frankly, I’d lost hope that they were going to do anything about it. But it does appear that they in fact are going to take that step.” Panetta added. Meanwhile consultations have taken place between General Mattis, Commander US Centcom and General Kayani as well. Locals of Waziristan are narrating abnormal movement of military convoys in the area, radiating fears of a major showdown between the army and tribal militants.
In this murky backdrop, words from General Kayani in his ‘Independence Day Message’ are encouraging. He has indicated that Pakistan is determined to go after militants with all the force it can muster and to end insurgency in the country. He said, “We realise that the most difficult task for any army is to fight against its own people. But this happens as a last resort. Our real objective is to restore peace in these areas so that people can lead normal lives…No state can afford a parallel system or a militant force… law-enforcement is made more difficult by the weakness of the civilian administration in parts of the country and by the lack of legislation designed to address a new age of militancy. Without modifying the laws that govern admissible evidence and defining clearer rules of trial and detention, it will continue to be difficult to put militants behind bars… It is imperative that the entire nation is united in this context because the army can only be successful with the co-operation of the people… The fight against extremism and terrorism is our own war and we are right in fighting it. Let there be no doubt about it, otherwise we’ll be divided and taken towards civil war. Our minds should be clear on this….”
However, unlike the national consensus regarding ownership of war during Soviet occupation of Afghanistan by the Pakistani nation, there is no such unanimity of view. Leader of opposition has cautioned: “…The military should not plunge the country into a war at the behest of foreign powers…launching a new offensive in tribal areas will surely ignite a fresh wave of unrest, extremism and terrorism.”
Though Americans keep pointing towards Haqqanis as the single largest source of instability in Afghanistan, the network accounts only for about ten percent of the attacks on the US/NATO/ ISAF forces; more than 90 percent of all resistance to the occupation forces comes from within Afghanistan. It indeed points towards collapse of the American political enterprise in Afghanistan. Nevertheless, Pakistan’s relationship with the US will be determined by American perception of its cooperation on Afghanistan.
Pressures emanating from electoral politics of both the countries rule out a realistic narrowing down of conflicting narratives. However, there is substantial space for low profile professional level engagements to harmonize technical irritants and bandage the bruised working relationship. Pakistan and the US have been close friends for many years; it has been the two militaries and their affiliated intelligence outfits that have been underwriting this partnership. Hence, it not surprising that militaries and intelligence establishments have quickly resumed their formal contacts following the formal jump start at the political level. In this context intelligence sharing would be an important factor. Hopefully, gains of the ‘intelligence summit’ would soon be translated into an intelligence sharing plan of action to demystify Pak-US relations.