Saturday, October 1, 2011

The Tempest

Pakistan Today
Humayun Gauhar

It took all of nine hours for the heads of all our political parties (except of the two-headed Peoples Party) to come up with the obvious. A child would have taken nine minutes to write the resolution of the All Parties Conference. But that was not the point of the gathering to meet the gathering storm. The point was to show unity in the face of adversity. But it will only have meaning if they do what they say and don’t go scampering off to US officialdom to reinforce their own utility to America. Don’t bank on it. Our history of broken promises and backstabbing is legion. In less than 24 hours the heads of two parties started making negative noises. And President Obama reiterated his resolve to pursue the same policies.

Oddly, General Musharraf’s party was not invited, although it has been reported in this newspaper that he has been requested to mediate with the US to avert the possible storm.

Pakistan-US relations, tenuous at the best of times, started unraveling with the Raymond Davis affair and touched the bottom with the May 2 Abbottabad caper. Tensions reached their zenith when the outgoing Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee Admiral Mike Mullen said to Congress that the ‘Haqqani Network’ is a “veritable arm” of the ISI. Relations plunged to their nadir. He raised not a storm in a teacup but a tempest in a teapot. Emotions rose. There was uproar. There was speculation galore – will they, won’t they attack us? No surprise in a relationship historically based on two-way hypocrisy – America regularly using, abusing and discarding us because of which we are never fully on the same page as them and, quite naturally, look out for our own interests, not America’s interests alone. Problem is that the way we have looked after our interests was not always in our interests. The lesson for both is: don’t get into partnership with someone who you don’t quite understand.

Our relations are at a crossroads. Question is: which path will we take, the path less trodden upon or the well-worn one? We have always taken the latter though it has never taken us in the right direction. In any case, for a country that calls itself Islamic there is only one path to take, the Correct Path or Sirat-al-Mustahqeem. But such things are today consigned to the bookshelf, rarely to be read and hardly ever understood.

Let’s try and understand why America seems so desperate, why it is doing what it is doing are and what are the compulsions and demons driving it.

1. America is in election mode and President Obama, with his ratings at rock bottom, is desperate to win them. Thus his decisions are driven not so much by his mind but by his ambition.

2. The US political system is in logjam, unable to come up with strategies to meet crises.

3. Its economy is in terminal decline, joblessness is rife and it is in recession, which could soon become depression.

4. It has lost the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and the ‘War on Terror’ overall but is still desperate to retain powerful military presences in both countries.

5. America cannot find any exit without Pakistan, just as the Soviets couldn’t. This makes it even more frustrated.

6. America’s influence is seriously eroding in the world, most particularly the Arab and Muslim world.

7. The recent attack on the US embassy in Kabul and one of its military installations by a handful of people has embarrassed America in the eyes of its own people, who are rightly asking how this could happen after the expenditure of billions of dollars over ten years.

8. To deflect the blame, America blames Pakistan for ‘helping’ the ‘Haqqani Network’ to carry out the attacks. When people are embarrassed they look for scapegoats. We are the scapegoats.

9. America has every right to talk to its adversaries, be it the Taliban, the Haqqanis or even Al-Qaeda, but lack of realisation of its twin defeats makes it talk from a position of strength, not realising that only victors can do that. Losers cannot. Thus it makes unrealistic demands like retaining military bases after ‘withdrawal’, which is comical.

10. By the same token, we too have equal right to talk to these groups without America going ape, which it doesn’t seem to understand.

America wants Pakistan to take action in North Waziristan against the ‘Haqqani Network’ and other militant groups. Pakistan doesn’t want to open yet another front in an impossible terrain with harsh winters nigh. The Haqqanis are Afghans and thus freedom fighters. Why should Pakistan go after them, even granting that they are mainly in North Waziristan and not in Afghanistan itself? America’s gambit is that if we launch an operation in North Waziristan, the militants there would turn their attention away from Afghanistan and train their guns on Pakistan.

The first and foremost duty of any government is to protect the lives, liberty and property of its people and the sovereignty, dignity and integrity of its country. This includes not only all the three branches of government – legislature, executive and judiciary – but also the opposition. Failure is not an option.

No government can succeed without co-opting its people. The government and the people must stand firm together as one, like in 1965. The media then played a pivotal role.

In any impending confrontation, while it is important to know one’s own and the adversary’s strengths, it is vital to know one’s weaknesses and the adversary’s weaknesses too. Our two biggest weaknesses are our economic fragility and the nature of our present role in the so-called War on Terror that our people at large do not approve of. How to create self-reliance and economic strength needs another article. But it is important to create the perception that the civilian government and the military are on the same track, a perception that has sadly been lacking, whether true or not. Thus politicians must speak with one voice on this issue and say the same thing in public. This is not the time for politicking and point scoring. We cannot say the wrong or contradictory thing and then excuse ourselves by claiming that it was our personal opinion.

Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani was right when he said that “America cannot live with us and it cannot live without us.” Nothing could be closer to the truth. However, if we look at it carefully, this also applies to us. Statesmanship demands that America and Pakistan should reset their relationship based on mutual interest, not on the one-way self-interest that America has always foisted on us, and which has brought our relations to breaking point. Neither should expect, much less demand, of the other to do that which is not in its interest. Only then can we have a healthy relationship for the first time in our history.

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