Second Opinion: The Afghan Endgame and the future of Pakistan-US relations

President Zardari’s attendance at the NATO Summit in Chicago during May 2012 drew an array of responses from the international and local media. The Guardian reported that U.S. President Barack Obama “refused” to meet his Pakistani counterpart Asif Ali Zardari, and speculated that the NATO supply routes could be the key reason behind this. However, President Obama did meet with President Zardari and President Karzai. The NDTV ran a headline saying that the U.S. President had “snubbed” President Zardari over the issue of re-opening the NATO supply routes that run through Pakistan towards Afghanistan: “In an unmistakable snub, US President Barack Obama left Pakistan off a list of nations he thanked for help getting war supplies into Afghanistan”. The Chicago Summit Declaration on Afghanistan, available on the NATO website, does not even make a reference to Pakistan. Others said that any hopes of improvement in Pakistan relations with the U.S. came crashing down in Chicago.

Despite the friction between Pakistan and other countries represented at the Summit, NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen acknowledged that the alliance “can’t solve the problems in Afghanistan without a positive engagement of Pakistan”. On May 22, President Zardari told heads of NATO member states in Chicago that Pakistan has prepared a roadmap for negotiating the re-opening of NATO supply lines, and that Pakistani officials aim to intensify and successfully conclude “negotiations for resumption of the ground lines of communication”. The U.S. remains hopeful that “Pakistan will soon agree to re-open supply routes to NATO troops in Afghanistan”. As negotiations continue, the U.S.’ position on the NATO supply routes is becoming clearer: U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta affirms that the Pakistan wants “a fair price” for transporting NATO supplies through Pakistan. ISAF Commander General John Allen downplayed the importance of the ground lines of communication (GLOC – the formal name for the NATO supply routes that go through Pakistan) by saying that these supply lines need to be open only for sending equipment home, not to support the campaign.

Was the re-opening of the NATO supply route – or signing a “˜deal’ to that effect – the only reason why Pakistan was invited to the Chicago Summit? Was Pakistan ignored and sidelined because the supply routes have not been re-opened? Focusing singularly on this purely logistical aspect was part of the reason for the opprobrium and negative reaction in Pakistan after the Summit. Former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif attacked President Zardari for attending the Chicago Summit, stating that the President had insulted the nation’s pride. In a similar vein, Chairman Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf Imran Khan said that President Zardari had disgraced Pakistan by participating in the Chicago Summit, and reaped humiliation for the country. The JUI-F stated that the President received an invitation to the Chicago Summit “after displaying the written decision of the Pakistani government for the restoration of NATO supplies”. The Jamaat-e-Islami (JI), and the Difa-e-Pakistan Council (DPC) alliance, said that they will launch a long march to protest against the restoration of NATO supply lines through Pakistan. Thus far such announcements appear to be instruments of political point scoring. In the backdrop of these narratives, Second Opinion collated the views of Pakistani experts during a recent policy debate held at the Jinnah Institute.

Pak-U.S. Relations – Strategic or Transactional?

Defence analyst Lt. General (retd) Talat Masood urged that bilateral relations with a superpower should not only be considered in terms of being transactional or strategic, but in terms of characteristics and tools that make it enduring. He said that Pakistan-U.S. relations have always been akin to a rollercoaster ride, but also have a solid foundation on which they have been built and have progressed till 2011.

Former Foreign Secretary Riaz Khokhar stated his opinion that the Pakistan-U.S. relationship has always been transactional and unequal. Mr. Khokhar observed that the present government made a crucial mistake by taking months to review its foreign policy, which incapacitated the government and “boxed it in a corner”. The level of trust that exists between the two countries – especially their militaries and intelligence services – is worrying, and Mr. Khokhar urged both countries’ governments to arrest this widening gulf of understanding. In his view, the best solution for Pakistan would be to have good relations with the U.S.

Former Foreign Secretary Tanvir A. Khan also holds that bilateral relationship between Pakistan and U.S. has always been transactional. Mr. Khan decried the way in which Pakistan’s President was invited to the Summit, saying that the “shabby” manner of announcing the invitation was an affront to the country. Mr. Khan recommended that Pakistan should strive to have more restricted relations with the U.S.

Mohammad Malick, Editor of The News International, observed that the U.S. is in a situation where it cannot win a war in Afghanistan, and cannot lose a war in Pakistan. He viewed the latest developments in the Pakistan-U.S. relationship as “disturbingly alarming”, and wondered whether Pakistan had under-negotiated or over-negotiated its position vis-à-vis the Afghan Endgame and U.S./NATO interests.

Chicago Summit – Benefits, Leverage, and Losses

According to Tanvir A. Khan’s assessment of the present situation, the Pakistan Army appears to have lost some of its proactive interest in Afghanistan and the Chicago Summit did not go far in detoxifying the “poison” that now pervades Pakistan-U.S. relations. He believes that the postures adopted by different actors and stakeholders appear as if they are exaggerating their claims as well as their influence. It would be difficult for Pakistan to agree on a consensus policy vis-à-vis relations with the U.S. and with Afghanistan.

Riaz Khokhar stated that an apology would have only made sense if tendered immediately after the Salala attack, and believed that the Pakistani President should not have gone to the Chicago Summit as a sign of protest against the Salala attack. In his view, Pakistan has lost a lot in terms of internal stability and economic growth; there must be clarity at home on what actually constitute Pakistan’s interests so that losses can be minimized if not completely eradicated.

Mohammad Malick said that the real issue revolved around the terms of peace, not the terms of war. He believed that the lack of understanding about the Afghan Endgame, and the dissonance in the stakeholders’ perceptions, makes a durable Afghan peace all the more elusive.

Lt. General (retd) Talat Masood held that the U.S. is frustrated because it could not achieve its goals in Afghanistan. In his view, the use of armed unmanned drones has become a centerpiece of U.S. security policy and America will continue to deploy drones in Pakistan’s tribal areas to target terrorists and militants. General Masood said that because of the country’s precarious position in the region and the international community, Pakistan is reactive about every development. Furthermore, he felt that Pakistan has failed in achieving its regional policy objectives, and a number of reasons are to blame for that.

The Way Forward – Policy Options for U.S. and Pakistan

Talat Masood stated that Pakistan needs to develop capacity to absorb negative international developments as well as the capability to respond to such developments in a rational and responsible manner, rather than a reactive one. Both Pakistan and the U.S. need each other now more than ever, despite the downward trajectory in bilateral relations, as the NATO-ISAF withdrawal from Afghanistan looms closer and closer.

Tanvir A. Khan recommended that Pakistan should cease to be an obstacle for reconciliation in Afghanistan. For Mr. Khan, the worst possible scenario that could emerge after the NATO withdrawal is another civil war in Afghanistan – a fear shared by many others. Though the plan approved in Chicago will be implemented in Afghanistan one way or another, Tanvir A. Khan suggested that Pakistan should develop its own contingency plans for all possible eventualities.

Riaz Khokhar believed that Pakistan will still have to work out its foreign policy, and both the U.S. and Pakistan have to sit together and devise means to make their relationship work. “We have wasted too much time and we are back in that situation where it was all about money,” he said and added that bilateral ties have sunk to such discouraging depths that the real question is whether reconciliation between Pakistan and the U.S. is possible or not. Mr. Khokhar also believed that decision-making on foreign policy with respect to Afghanistan is being done in a “chaotic situation”, and that it should be Pakistan’s policy to not interfere in Afghanistan.

Almost all the experts agreed that there was a chaotic mode of decision making in Pakistan. It was not clear whether the civilian government was in charge of the foreign policy. This makes the task of setting a rational policy towards the U.S. even more difficult given that Pakistan too is passing through an election year!

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