Pakistan is at the crossroads and it can no more afford to remain a willing ally in this equation at the cost of its own existence. But will its military leadership wake up to the new realities or will it be business as usual?
By Dr. Muzaffar Iqbal
One cannot call it “business as usual”, not yet, but for how long will Pakistani reaction to NATO attack on its land sustain itself? Will it change the dynamics of the equation or will it simply fizzle out? After its initial reluctance, the United States has decided to bend a little and let time take its own course. It seems that it has learned a few lessons from different crises of the preceding few months: from January’s Raymond Davis affair, to May’s Abbottabad raid, to September’s public accusations of Pakistani perfidy from Admiral Michael Mullen, the outgoing US Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff who established the protocols which have been beneficial for the NATO operations in Afghanistan during his tenure (October 1, 2007 to September 30, 2011).
The land routes for NATO supplies into Afghanistan are still blocked, but would it be only a matter of time until tankers will be running again? Everyone one knows that the present government in Pakistan neither has the ability, nor the desire, nor will—or some would say, dignity—to use this occasion to break away from the unhealthy relationship with US which has pushed Pakistan to the brink of a disaster from which it seems to have no way to recover. Pakistan was led into the Afghan quagmire by one man, possibly with the support from some generals who were close to him. No one had given that dictator the right to make such an important decision which changed the entire structure of the society and created havoc within the country.
The decision to make Pakistan subservient to the US agenda in Afghanistan after the infamous phone call from Washington may have been the decision of a coward, but the whole nation has been suffering because of that decision and the military leadership has not taken any steps to reverse it even after the departure of the man who signed on the dotted line, figuratively speaking, for there probably is no written agreement; even the Shamsi airbase seems to have been handed over to the United States on verbal orders.
The inner reality of US-Pakistan relations has never been made public; this is not surprising for a country where no institution has any significant role to play in national policies. Pakistani Parliament and its Senate are not institutions where elected representatives make decisions; rather, they are rubber stamps used by a small clique to do what it desires. While it is true that the two countries have had an insidiously bitter and caustic relationship, it is also true that this is not so because of any consideration for Pakistan’s national interest, rather it is so because of the small personal and sometimes professional interests of that small clique in Pakistan which has always defined this relationship. The nature of this relationship precludes any respect, dignity, and honor for Pakistan just as it precludes any respect for the United States by Pakistanis who are passionately anti-American without knowing how to express this emotion in any constructive way.
By now, Pakistan seems to have lost all self-respect in its relationship with the United States; it was not always like this. During the 1990s, when the Americans were increasingly putting pressure on Pakistan for pursuing its core national security interests, primarily as a reaction to a nuclear-capable India, Pakistan was able to move away into other international arenas and acquire what it felt it needed. Now, Pakistan’s national security interests seem to have lost all relevance to those who are making decisions. After all, it is as clear as day that the United States can pump into Afghanistan all the billions it wants, and have as many surges in its troops and operations as it desires;Afghanistan is never going to be a picnic land for it. In fact, it has no way out of this quagmire, except to falsely claim that it has trained the Afghan army and police and they are going to be in charge of the land now and US troops are going to be pulled out. But it cannot even do this because of its need to have a long-term presence in the region. That long-term presence requires US military bases. US military bases require a subjugated land under full control of a puppet regime; there is no way for US to have that puppet in Afghanistan, hence it has no way out of Afghanistan. Given this reality, what event is Pakistan waiting for before it takes strategic steps to get out of the raw deal?
Most observers acknowledge that South Asian region as a whole is the grand theatre of a future US presence; Afghanistan is merely a small part of that greater equation and Pakistan is an entirely different factor in the emerging scenario. By remaining attached to US occupation of Afghanistan, Pakistan has everything to lose in this emerging equation where a Kabul-Delhi-Washington axis is more likely to be the main outcome of US strategies.
It is in the immediate as well as long-term interests of the United States that Pakistan should have no real national leadership, no representative civil government. But it cannot keep it this way; a change is taking place in Pakistan and the Zardari regime (which was installed in the days which belong to another era) can neither stop this change to occur, nor continue to control the direction of political events; its days are numbered and as soon as it dissolves, unpredictable forces may change the entire scene.
Pakistan cannot wait for the United States to glide its way toward a sustainable presence in Afghanistan; even the two years between now and 2014, when NATO is supposed to pull out its troops, is longer than anyone can afford to wait. The US hope that somehow during these next two years it can achieve a military and political settlement close to the maximal goals that force of arms have not been able to achieve so far and that Pakistan will continue to be a submissive conduit to those goals is simply vain. Pakistan is at the crossroads and it can no more afford to remain a willing ally in this equation at the cost of its own existence. But will its military leadership wake up to the new realities or will it be business as usual?