By Delawar Jan
WASHINGTON: Leading South Asia experts in Washington DC have begun to acknowledge that most of the US policies towards Pakistan are flawed, discriminatory and unrealistic and need to be corrected.
In a marathon discussion at the United States Institute of Peace on “The future of Pakistan”, these experts asked the US to offer talks to Pakistan on a US-India style nuclear deal. “I didn’t see why in principle or in practice we couldn’t offer the same thing to the Pakistanis,” Stephen Cohen, an expert on the region, said about a nuclear deal with Pakistan.
Christine Fair, an assistant professor at Georgetown University, said an offer for a nuclear deal should be put on the table for “creating a negotiating space we don’t have right now”.
Pakistan has repeatedly been asking the US, an ally, to strike a nuclear deal similar to that of US-India. With the streets already boiling with anti-Americanism, the US is fast alienating a pro-US establishment of Pakistan by meting out a discriminatory treatment, particularly in nuclear technology.
Bruce Riedel, a former CIA officer who held senior adviser’s position on Middle East and South Asia in three administrations, said the US Congress should invite President Asif Ali Zardari to address the joint session during his visit in March. “How we deal with him as the president of Pakistan, not as Mr Zardari, is absolutely important,” he said.
“The American media needs to give President Zardari every possible chance to explain what his vision of Pakistan is,” he added. On public sentiments about the drone strikes and Raymond Davis issue in Pakistan, a noted personality said the US needed to respect people’s feelings. “The feeling in Congress and the administration is that there is very little collateral damage (in drone strikes) and anyone complaining about it is just basically running the mouths,” said Jonah Blank, chief policy adviser for South Asia on Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
“We are really to understand that the people are not just running the mouths in Pakistan. There is not so much about collateral damage as about dignity, about national sovereignty and about just the general optics of having a country coming and start killing people in your nation without really acknowledging it or explaining it. We probably wouldn’t feel good about that if it were happening to us.”
He said Davis-like incident might have aroused anger here if someone had committed the same crime in Washington and the other country had claimed immunity. Some said unrealism had reigned over Washington. “We need to see Pakistan how it is, not how should it work,” Fair said.
“We misunderstand the Pakistani military. We have this vision that they are biddable,” Blank said. “No matter how much military aid we give to the Pakistani military, they will always act in accordance with their institutional interests. Every institution does like this. There is nothing nefarious about it. We shouldn’t toss up our arms in surprise; we should accept it as reality.”
Riedel, who undertook a White House review of Afghanistan and Pakistan policy in 2009, said Pakistan should be made part of a process seeking a solution to Afghanistan war, but should not be allowed to hijack it.
Moeed Yusuf, a South Asia expert at USIP, said Pakistan should be given time and space to adjust. “If Pakistan goes after all the militant groups as many in Pakistan and outside are asking (for) it, the country will be seen as if it is imploding from within,” he feared.
The experts said Pakistan might not be falling apart in near future but a host of challenges had really put its survival under threat. Joshua White of Johns Hopkins criticised Pakistan for its failure to increase its tax collections. A broad consensus was seen among all the 11 experts about an imminent collapse of Pakistan’s brittle economy if it did not introduce immediate reforms.
They said the country was seriously under threat from extremist elements and the militant groups, some of them are allegedly supported by the military. Recurring political crisis, corruption and the lack of vision of leaders to determine the course of the country were some of the factors that could contribute to the downfall of the country, they said. An armed tussle with India, they worried, would leave little hopes about Pakistan, urging the US to stabilise South Asia.