Monday, July 9, 2012

US pressure made Pakistan blink

The civil-military leadership of Pakistan has taken nine months to settle issues with the US arising out of the Salala incident last November that could have been better resolved in nine days.

As a result, Pakistan's international isolation has grown, its economy has foundered and the domestic credibility of the civil and military leadership has been eroded. There will be adverse short and long term consequences of this gross policy miscalculation. Consider.

Nine months ago, in exchange for reopening the NATO supply lines, the US was ready to "apologise", pay compensation, give "assurances" that Salala would not be repeated, respect Pakistan's "sovereignty" and release over US$2 billion in Coalition Support/Kerry Lugar funds. But Pakistan said no, it wanted much more; it demanded an end to drone strikes, it wanted twenty times the transit fee per container-truck, it insisted that the NATO trucks would not carry any weapons and the CIA footprint should be drastically reduced, etc. Indeed, after the military cunningly passed the buck to the Zardari government three months later, Senator Raza Rabbani's bipartisan parliamentary committee deliberated for another three months to churn out a list of 35 demands and COAS General Ashfaq Kayani and President Asif Zardari prevaricated for another three months before signing on the dotted line. And what did Pakistan get from the US?

It didn't get an "apology" from President Obama like the Afghans did earlier. Instead, Hillary Clinton said "we're sorry for the losses suffered by the Pakistan military ... and we are both sorry for losses suffered by both our countries in this fight against terrorists." It didn't obtain a halt to drone strikes. It didn't get a penny more on transit fees. And NATO trucks will still carry uninspected military hardware (listed as supplies for the Afghan National Security Forces). So how did Pakistan miscalculate?

It thought it had the US over a barrel because the Northern Network was unfeasible. In the event, the US spent $1 billion dollars to resist our pressure. It thought boycotting the Bonn and Chicago moots would compel NATA to listen to us. But the US went ahead anyway, formulating its end-game strategy for Afghanistan without inputs from Pakistan.

Islamabad thought it could hang on without CSF, Kerry Lugar aid and the IMF. But it couldn't. The rupee has lost nearly 10 per cent of its value, the budget is broke and domestic debt has soared.

It also miscalculated the intensity of counter pressure by the US. First, it ratcheted up pressure in the US Congress to stop American economic and military aid to Pakistan pending restoration of NATO supply lines. Second, the US Congress raised the spectre of declaring Pakistan a state sponsor of terrorism by threatening to label the Haqqani network and the Lashkar-e-Tayyeba as global terrorist organisations, the implication being that economic and military sanctions would follow under international law. Third, Washington persuaded Riyadh to hand over Abu Jindal to India, raising the threat of formally linking the ISI to international terrorism. Fourth, it began to align itself with India, asking for a greater Indian commitment to the future of Afghanistan and pledging a major strategic partnership with it in the Grand Silk Route strategy to open up and link emerging markets in the next few decades.

The Pakistani military miscalculated on two fronts. It underestimated America's resolve to fashion the Afghan end-game according to its own national interests. It also overestimated the Zardari government's anxiety to please the Americans by taking sole ownership of the decision to restore the NATO supply lines. In the event, the Americans didn't blink and the Zardari government took refuge behind parliament to protect its flanks from the opposition. The net result, to Pakistan's great disadvantage, was a delay in diffusing the crisis.
The military and government are hoping that US funds and weapons will flow to ease their respective problems. But the opposition and media are likely to exploit the anti-American public sentiment to blast the belated agreement.

Resumption of drone strikes and American exhortations to "do more" against the Haqqani network will lead to criticism of the military and political leaders for "selling out" to the Americans.

Indeed, a majority of Pakistanis, according to a Pew Research Poll, think that US military and economic aid to Pakistan has a negative impact on the country.

There is a rupture between the Pentagon and the Pakistani military. It was triggered by bitter strategic differences about the role of US in shaping the future of Afghanistan and cannot be papered over by the latest terms of "reconciliation". Other flash points are bound to occur in the run-up to 2014. The problem is that the GLOC point of rupture has isolated Pakistan among the 47 influential countries that comprise NATO. Worse, the continuing tragedy is that Pakistan's civilmilitary leadership has been unwilling and unable to formulate a new national interest paradigm for Pakistan.

There have been far too many debacles on the watch of the current civil-military leadership. It is time for a change of guard.