By Air Commodore (R) Khalid Iqbal
2011 was indeed an ‘Annus Horribilis’ in the chequered history of Pak-US relations. Likewise, it was a year of global retreat for America. The US kept an unrelenting pressure on Pakistan by taking pot shots on its core national interests. Even the Kashmir cause, so dear to candidate Obama’s heart, was not spared. An effort to dismantle the stature of Dr Ghulam Nabi Fai was one of such events. Dr Fai has been projecting the Kashmir cause over the last two decades in a pacific and prudent manner, yet with a missionary zeal. He has indeed earned an iconic stature for himself. As a founder of a non-profit entity ‘Kashmiri American Council’ (KAC), he pursues the resolution of Kashmir dispute on the basis of UN resolutions. He was arrested in July 2011, and his connection with the ISI was blown out of proportion to create an aura of mistrust and deception.
Dr Fai was charged for illegally lobbying the Kashmir cause without registering himself with the American administration and receiving foreign support to fund these activities. Dr Fai had also been in contact with Indian diplomats and other officials. He has also been carrying out Kashmir related activities in consultation with Indian individuals and entities, especially those based in America. With the background that in America, lobbying is a legal instrument of reaching out to the decision makers, biased handling of Dr Fai’s episode was to implicate the ISI, tarnish a legitimate movement for independence, embarrass Pakistan and appease India.
Effects of America initiated process of strategic divergence that started with creation of a misplaced frenzy by Americans, in the context of culpable homicide by a CIA operative Raymond Davis, continued snowballing throughout the year. Other significant events were Abbottabad and Salalah attacks. Furthermore, threat of physical attack on Pakistan’s nuclear assets was so real and pronounced that President Ahmadinejad made a public statement on 07 June to highlight the gravity of the issue.
Memogate might as well be an American knitted sting episode to rupture civil-military relations at the national leadership tier and generate a sense of political paralysis. After all there have been many a twists from the American actors of the memo-saga. Hand in glove are the ‘His Masters Voice’ anchor persons and ‘His ‘Master’s Pleaders’ who having lost the case professionally prefer to fight it through media and political jingoism.
In 2001, Pakistan was coerced into a war by America. For ten years there was no policy review to correct the course. Now a comprehensive policy review is underway to recast Pak-US relations; the engagement between the two states is likely to be reworked on equitable terms. This does not suit America. Hence, an environment is being engineered whereby the entire government system appears in doldrums.
On the global dimension, underlying economic meltdown of America is translating into an enormous scaling down of American military capability. Expensive weapon acquisitions like F-35 have been deferred, option of changing the composition of force from all standing to a combination of standing and reserve components is being considered. Affordability appears to be main driver behind the Presidential review; ‘Sustaining US Global Leadership: Priorities for 21st Century Defence’; issued on 03 January.
America’s self assumed role of world policeman will be trimmed. Americans won't be patrolling everywhere, all the time. Some of American troops guarding Europe since World War II may return home. The Army and Marine Corps will shrink; and number of weapon systems would reduce. Despite such a loss in capability, it would only be a tiny step in the direction of $487 billion in military cuts, agreed to in the bipartisan debt deal.
On Afghan front, opening of the Taliban office in Qatar is indicative of the haste in the ‘Run Away’ saga that is likely to unfold soon; 2012 would indeed be the ‘Year of Taliban’. Known as tough negotiators, they would accrue all they want without ceding an iota. The year started with news that a senior Taliban official, Mullah Mohammed Fazl might be released from Guantanamo or transferred to Qatar as a "confidence-building measure." Mullah Omar has been taken off the terrorist list; soon Haqqanis would also stand dry cleaned.
North Korea’s nuclear follies have long been forgotten. Iran is under focus but in all probability, things will not move beyond rhetoric. Iran is very well placed to go nuclear; if it decides so. So far Iran is an ardent follower of NPT.
Squeeze on Obama resembles the final months of President Carter. NATO summit in Chicago is round the corner. Economic crisis in Europe is diminishing the European will to continue supporting expensive American war in Afghanistan. Chicago summit may meet the fate of ‘Istanbul Conference’, held in November 2011, and ‘Bonn II Conference’, convened a month later. After rupturing NATO/ISAF supply line, Pakistan alongside Iran are now on the fence, both know it well that there is no sustainable solution to Afghan conflict without their consent.
American emphasis on rising power of China in a negative sense, and shift of American military focus to Asia-Pacific region and reliance on India as provider of security in India ocean, as articulated by Leon Panetta in his recent ‘strategic guidance for department of defence’, must have not gone down well with the Chinese leadership. Beijing has strong interest in stabilising Afghanistan. Opportunity of a helping role by China has been watered down by portraying China as a rival country.
Russia is no longer willing to allow a free ride to America in Central Asia. Ambassador M K Bhadrakumar has recently narrated in his article ‘Enter the year of the Taliban’ carried by ‘Asia Time Online’ the outcome of ‘Collective Security Treaty Organization’ (CSTO) summit held in Moscow last month; ‘Kazakhstan President Nurusultan Nazarbayev announced with a straight face: “…Now, in order to deploy a military base of a third country on the territory of a CSTO member state, it will be necessary to obtain official approval of all CSTO member states…” Hillary had recently visited Uzbekistan and offered it military assistance to undercut the CSTO unity. However, Uzbek President attended the summit and supported the alliance's decision. This Russian led alliance includes Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. The new agreement gives Russia an opportunity to prevent the deployment of the US airbases in Tajikistan or Uzbekistan, and puts an effective halt to east wards expansion of American Missile Defence Systems.
The US has a choice to eat the dust and seek Pakistan's favour for reopening of the transit routes, or use unsustainable ‘Northern Distribution Network.’ CSTO stance would continue to haunt the fate of the US base in Manas, Kyrgyzstan, which is a strategic hub for air transportation. President Atambayev has repeatedly called for the closure of the Manas airbase on expiry of current agreement in 2014.
Like every receding empire, America is frustrated; it is not yet in a mood to reconcile with the reality. Pakistan is certainly not short on leverage viz a viz America. Time is on Pakistan’s side. At this point and time, Pakistan needs a cool headed leadership with a strong nerve.