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The US is still riding the high horse

25 July, 2012

By Asif Haroon Raja

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Pakistan's disinclination to kick off another operation in North Waziristan (NW) at the cost of losing balance became a sour point which tensed Pak-US relations. It was amid building tensions that incident of Raymond Davis took place in January 2011 which further strained relations. The entire leadership of USA including Obama lied to get Davis freed on the false pretext that he was a diplomat. Even when Davis was let off without interrogation, the US never forgave Pakistan. It got worked up when the ISI started taking precautionary measures in the wake of information that large number of CIA agents under different guises had sneaked into Pakistan.

CIA was not willing to wind up its network since by then it had smelt the hideout of Osama Bin Laden (OBL) in Abbottabad with the help of its agent Dr Shakil Afridi through his infamous polio vaccination campaign. Initial intelligence about OBL had been provided by ISI in September 2010. Pak Army's defiance and space squeezing by ISI outraged US Secretary Defence Leon Panetta and it was decided to discredit both the Army and ISI, give a shot in the arm of depressed US military and also to catapult political fortunes of Obama by killing OBL through a stealth operation.

In continuation of its policy of defamation, the US berated Pak Army and ISI through a sustained media campaign but when it failed to achieve desired results, it decided to play up memogate scandal with the help of Mansoor Ijaz to damage civil-military relations and stir up clash between Executive and Army. Admiral Mike Mullen kept the memo forwarded by Pakistan's Ambassador Hussein Haqqani through Mansoor and Jim Jones in May 2011 in his pending tray for use at an appropriate time. Haqqani had suggested that a new security team of Pak Army/ISI under him would enable the US to fulfill all its objectives against Pakistan. When all these bullying tactics failed to cow down Army/ISI, myopic US military leadership in sheer desperation and anger struck Salala thinking that this act would for sure frighten Pakistan. It proved to be the proverbial last straw on the camel's back. Instead of getting frightened, the incident further steeled the resolve of Pak military.

Pakistan firmed up to take bold decisions to give a clear message that America's unilateral intrusions would not be tolerated. Shamsi airbase from where drones were launched was closed and so were the two NATO supply routes to Afghanistan. Pakistan decided to follow its own anti-terror strategy rather than pursuing American strategy. Bonn Conference was boycotted and Pak-US military and intelligence cooperation ceased. Parliamentary Committee for National Security was asked to pen down fresh terms of engagement with USA, NATO and ISAF and to scrutinize all the agreements. Of all the steps taken closure of supply routes hurt USA the most and it applied variety of coercive tactics to force Pakistan to terminate the embargo without seeking an apology over Salala incident and asking it to terminate drone strikes.

Pressure tactics included cutting 58% US aid, suspending CSF, threatening to block rest of the aid if supply routes were not reopened, initiating a bill in support of independence of Balochistan, announcing $10 million award money for Hafiz Saeed, calling Pakistan black hole and a failing state, threatening to launch another unilateral military action, prompting India to stand up as the major power in Asia-Pacific, and to takeover security duties in Afghanistan post 2014, stirring up Karachi, rural Sindh, Balochistan, Gilgit Baltistan, and making some regions in FATA restive that were made peaceful, inviting President Zardari to Chicago Summit and then cold shouldering him, and deploying US aircraft carrier near Gwadar.

Efforts to pour scorn on the Army, FC and ISI on the issue of missing persons in Balochistan with the help of local media, human rights activists, Baloch nationalists, Asma Jahangir, Najam Sethi and their types continued unabated. The US renewed pressure to eliminate safe havens of HN in NW, particularly because of no let up in attacks by Taliban in all parts of Afghanistan. Attack by Taliban on Spozhmai Hotel outside Kabul on 22 June in which 20 people got killed was again linked with HN. Finding themselves in a tight corner, tone of US leaders got more and more menacing with every passing day. Mutual distrust was conspicuous and warmth replaced by coldness and romance by bitterness and acrimony.

Gen Kayani curtly told the visiting Gen Allen that notwithstanding his apology, issue of supply lines was between the states and not the two armies. Hillary Clinton explained the US political compulsions of not tendering official apology to Hina Rabbani and asked her to accept her apology instead. Amid frantic visits of US military and civilian officials to Pakistan and efforts of Sherry Rahman to cool down the temperature, when the DCC meeting took place on 3 July and decided to reopen supply lines, it appeared that Washington had finally climbed down from the high horse it was riding. The people thought that the US had tendered official apology, accepted new terms of engagement, agreed to restrict supplies to perishable items only, agreed to pay transit fee for containers and to release blocked close support fund for the military. An impression was given that even the drone policy was being duly modified to make it less objectionable.

People wondered how come the government that had all along obeyed the dictates of Washington slavishly had taken up such a hard stance and made the US to blink. Their applauses turned into abuses when they learnt that the government had once again capitulated without extracting any of the principled demand from the US. Washington stuck to its original stance of 'regret' and refused to offer an apology as in the case of Afghanistan, or in case of Indian actor Shahrukh Khan. There is no let up in drone strikes and its attitude continues to be haughty and discriminatory. Although the US badly needs supply lines through Pakistan and needs its intimate cooperation in its endgame, however, it will not desist from harming Pakistan through covert war and would continue with its efforts to make Pakistan a compliant state and India the unchallenged power of the region. Both sides would keep distrusting each other and the old warmth will never return essentially because of unnatural alliance between the strong and the weak.

Pakistan should play its card shrewdly by providing maximum support to the ISAF for its safe exit from Afghanistan and in the bargain ensuring its seat on the negotiating table for final political settlement of Afghan issue. This will be possible only if Pakistan gains a better clout over the Taliban and succeeds in cultivating friendly relations with Northern Alliance, and keeping USA mollified. Pakistan should continue solidifying its relations with China and Iran and improving its relations with Russia to keep aggressive USA in check and make it climb down from the high horse.

Elaborate MoU on NATO supplies should be written and a proper mechanism of checking at Karachi seaport, exit points at Torkham and Chaman and in between inspection points should be worked out to ensure that lethal arms and equipment are not transported. It should also be ensured that damaged road infrastructure is repaired by the users and suitable transit fee is charged. Continuation of supplies should be made conditional to the US respecting Pakistan's sovereignty and treating it as an ally rather than a foe.

The writer is a retired Brig and a freelance defence analyst.

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