Pakistan: Instability and Regional Politics
The Impact of the US and Regional Players
By Khalid Rahman
Director General – Institute of Policy Studies
Pakistan's Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi talks to Clinton at Afghanistan's foreign affairs ministry after Hamid Karzai was sworn in for another term. (ReutersPhoto)It appears that Washington is going to further increase pressure on Pakistan to have its all-out involvement in the US new strategy in Afghanistan. As part of this strategy, it is asking Pakistan to expand its operation to North Waziristan and other adjoining areas, in addition to its current operation in South Waziristan.
News reports and analysis pieces in the US media that say that Taliban’s leadership council is now in Pakistan's border area of Quetta, and those that state that Mullah Omar has shifted to Karachi are seemingly an integral part of this new US strategy.
Also reports that the Southern parts of Punjab need an operation, and that terrorists may get control of Pakistan’s nuclear assets come in compliance with the US strategy too.Some analysts further believe that there is a link between the current wave of violence in Pakistan, including the attacks on some of the most sensitive locations related to the security establishment, and the US new strategy. They attribute this to the US desire to increase pressure on Pakistan.
An important factor in drawing such conclusions is the growing US-India strategic relations, and the Indian presence in Afghanistan, which most Pakistanis, including many security officials, consider as a direct threat to Pakistan.
The US has already compromised the objectives; it had defined while coming to Afghanistan. Impact of Afghan StrategyWashington, while is in hurry to have an honorable exit from Afghanistan, appears unclear as to how it can really achieve all of its objectives, the immediate and long–term ones.
Knowing that the allies in Afghanistan are also not willing to stay for long, it has been putting every kind of pressure on Pakistan for a direct engagement in the conflict, but its success, so far, can only be regarded as partial. While, on the other hand, the situation in Afghanistan is continuing to deteriorate on almost all counts: security, polity, and governance.
In the backdrop of increasing domestic and international public opinion; pressures on Obama administration to pullout from Afghanistan, or to show some tangible success in making it a stable, peaceful, democratic, and a corruption-free state have stressed out the administration.
Furthermore, the lack of showing some tangible achievements, even symbolic, in eliminating Al-Qaeda, is contributing to nervousness in coming up with a quick and clear road-map.
The stress on the administration has further mounted due to the lack of success on the other two important fronts of foreign policy, namely Iran and the Middle East. Negative developments are unabated and no real change has been achieved so far.In a scenario, where the mid-term Congress elections are coming closer, it is not difficult to understand how important it is for the Obama administration to create a sense of achievement among the American public.
The US is trying to motivate India and Pakistan to have cooperation in Afghanistan. Regional Rivalry
This perception is certainly not baseless. In this regard, it is significant to note what two senior State Department officials told journalists a few weeks ago in Washington that India and the US "were now set to unveil a new template for deepening strategic partnership, on key global challenges, ranging from counter terrorism to non proliferation and climate change".
They were commenting on the recent visit of the Indian Prime Minister to the USA. Furthermore, they said: "The [Indo-US] partnership may change the course of history in the 21st century".
Amid growing US-Indian Relations, one should keep in mind the fact that the US still needs the Pakistani army deployed in its western border, where it can even be involved in Afghanistan.
Realizing the prevailing perception in Pakistan, the US has been assuring Pakistan that it should not take India as a threat, while asking India to start its negotiations with Pakistan. Going even further, there are reports stating that the US is trying to motivate the two countries to have some kind of cooperation in Afghanistan.
However, chances of the US being successful in convincing either India or Pakistan for such an engagement are very remote.
Continuous US engagement in the region, with a deficit of trust on Pakistan, is what India would like to be carried on. Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's statement, on his arrival to the US on Nov. 22, that "Pakistan’s objectives in Afghanistan are not necessarily in harmony with American objectives" is an indication of such thinking.
In one way, Singh is right. Pakistan's long term interests and its threat perceptions are quite different to what America or India may have in the region.
Now that America has already made it public that communication with the Taliban is taking place, and some new arrangement is in the offing, how can Pakistan put all its eggs in one basket. Particularly, when it has obtained the evidence of Indian involvement in the increasing unrest and violence in Pakistan.Thus, despite all difficulties Pakistan is facing, it does not seem viable that it would accept more American pressure beyond the limits.
Pakistan's leadership needs to focus on the institutional decision making, and narrowing down the gap with the people.A Possible SolutionPakistan's real problem is to develop a national consensus on dealing with the situation. It should not be a problem as such. The public opinion has remained, by and large, consistent with regard to Pakistan's participation in the US "War on Terror", and this has been shown in several opinion surveys.
Though the opinion of how to deal with Taliban has been varying at different points of time, cooperation with the US has not been endorsed by the people in Pakistan. Pakistan's state institutions and the governments of the time have not been consistent with the public opinion. This has, certainly, weakened the state and its security institutions, polarized the society, and destabilized the country.
In the post-Musharraf era, the bargaining power of the government has further defected, as the US has been keeping direct contacts with both the army and the civilian leadership, and even with the opposition leaders. It will continue doing this.
The leadership in Pakistan needs to focus on the institutional decision making, and on narrowing down the gap between the people and the government. This would give the decision makers, in Pakistan, the real and required strength to deal with the external pressures.In the final analysis of the situation, it is the Pakistani people's resolve that will determine the future course of Pakistan's policy.
So, while the apparent question before the US policy–makers has been decided, that is sending more troops to Afghanistan, the challenges for Washington in dealing with the situation are much deeper and complicated.
Coming up with a comprehensive and sustainable policy that is capable of achieving all objectives in the region and satisfying the domestic and international public opinion does not seem to be achievable.
The US has already compromised the objectives it had defined while coming to Afghanistan. Only time will tell how many more compromises the US will have to make in the near future.
Khalid Rahman is the Director General of the Islamabad based think tank Institute of Policy Studies. You can reach him through Politics.firstname.lastname@example.org.