Feb 12, 2009

Subtext of Pak-US ties

AS expected, US Special Representative Richard Holbrooke has delivered a stern message: eliminate the militants’ safe havens in Fata. In return, the US will deliver the $1.5bn promised yearly in the Kerry-Lugar bill, push the RoZ legislation in Congress and equip Pakistans armed forces with counter-insurgency paraphernalia. And, to drive home the USs interest in ensuring the safety of military convoys headed for Afghanistan, Mr Holbrooke paid a visit to Landi Kotal, one of the points of attack on convoys moving along the Peshawar-Torkham highway. The security-first American approach to Pakistan may have some wondering: how is an Obama administration any different from the Bush administration? President Obama has put talk of soft-power options in the spotlight but it is apparent that Pakistan remains first and foremost a security challenge.Yet, American dealings with Pakistan are such that tweaks in policies come in the shape of secret ‘offers’ and ‘deals’ to which the public is not privy. Consider the case of US drone strikes in Fata. Publicly, the Pakistan government and army oppose such strikes and denounce them as unhelpful. On its part, the US maintains that the drone strikes are an essential part of its strategy to counter the threat to Afghanistan from Fata. While the public knows when a strike occurs, what it does not know is what happens behind the scenes. The strikes require on-the-ground information on locations and targets; so do the Americans have their own network of informants in Fata or does the Pakistan state pass on such information? And is the decision for every strike a purely military one or is there a political element that involves give and take depending on the political temperature in Pakistan and what else is put on the table by Pakistan? The point is, Mr Holbrooke’s public demands will be hashed out, bargained over and accepted or rejected in private and it’s those decisions that will shape Pak-US relations in the months and years ahead.While this may be the nature of the relationship, it is one that should trouble the Pakistani public. Questionable as the Americans’ anti-terror strategies may be, the Pakistani state has left many questions unanswered. Swat, Bajaur, Khyber, Mohmand — the Pakistan armed forces are fighting there, but is the goal the elimination of the militants or simply to put the genie back in the bottle? In the two Waziristan agencies, Baitullah Mehsud and a cohort of militants rule over vast swathes of territory but there isn’t even talk of regaining that territory any time soon. In such murky circumstances — even giving the Americans the benefit of the doubt that they do in fact seek deeper ties with Pakistan — it is unlikely that soft power will trump the military option.

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