The last ten years of dual priorities between the US and Pakistan have come to a head with the friendly fire deaths of 24 Pakistani soldiers. Islamabad is now talking up a storm, with the usual anti-American protests as added décor.
The unspoken fact is that times have changed, and so have priorities.
According to ABC Australia’s version of a Reuters report:
The relationship, he (Pakistan Prime Minister Gilani) said, would continue only if based on "mutual respect and mutual interest."
Asked if Pakistan was receiving that respect, Mr Gilani replied: "At the moment, not."
Pakistan's army has threatened to drastically curtail cooperation with Washington on Afghanistan in the wake of the attack.
"This could have serious consequences in the level and extent of our cooperation," military spokesman Major General Athar Abbas said.
Pakistan has a long history of ties to militant groups in Afghanistan and is uniquely positioned to help bring about a peace settlement, a top foreign policy and security goal for the Obama administration.
The actual case of the deaths of the Pakistani soldiers is just the face of much bigger issues. Washington is looking at exit policies, and the game has changed. The big ticket issue is now Iran.
Pakistan’s situation has a natural combination of defining factors:
1. The alliance with the US has never been popular in some parts of Pakistani society. That’s an absolutely fundamental political consideration for any government of Pakistan.
2. Being a “US ally” right next to Iran could be a dubious distinction if a regional conflict blows up over Iran’s nuclear facilities.
3. The relationship with the US has never been easy or straightforward.
4. Pakistan’s own major issues are social, economic and regional. All of these issues involve major polarities, and fighting a war or several as well hardly helps the government focus on them. Pakistan, in fact, has need of a few exit strategies of its own.
The US has several issues to consider:
1. Pakistan is right in the middle of possible major war zones if there’s a clash with India, an upgraded local Islamist insurgency within Pakistan or an Israeli- Iran conflict.
2. Pakistan is a staging area to some of the world’s major terrorist groups. This is a high maintenance relationship, and there are built-in problems.
3. Cost benefits to the US regarding the relationship with Pakistan are much debated. The US has been muttering officially for some time regarding various conflicting points of view with Pakistani governments past and present.
4. Any hostile Pakistani government could change the entire operational paradigm for the US overnight.
That’s not a great basis for planning, and it could also involve some major dislocations if the US remains dependent on Pakistan for supply chain movements.
The simple fact is that as usual Pakistan is on the wrong end of multiple historical forces. Since independence, this country has been in a series of conflicts in the region. Now even bigger external forces are involved, Pakistan has been trying to remain stable and deal with its own complex internal structural issues. It’s like balancing on one toenail while walking through a minefield- A delicate balance of survival while the internal forces move in opposite directions and conflict with each other.
If the US pulls the plug on aid and just walks out, Pakistan could find itself doing business with much less benign and far more demanding interests to find capital. It could find itself alone dealing with a resurgent Taliban and internal radical forces and making commitments to other nations it may not want to make, given a choice.
If the US isn’t popular internally, externally it’s a major asset for Pakistan. The US as an ally is also a credible (and functional) support for Pakistan internationally for a range of non-military and other types of assistance with economic development. That support could come from elsewhere, but at a price. The US is the original “anonymous benefactor” in these areas, with more diverse capacity than others for providing useful assistance.
The long term view for Pakistan tends to favor keeping the relationship operational. Incidents come and go, but the future has to be navigated patiently and carefully.
For the US, pragmatism is the key. The relocation of focus to the Southern Asian region does make Pakistan a logical player in the realignment of US resources. It also means that this relationship has to be functional. If not, all bets are off. Afghanistan, if nothing else, has shown the pros and cons of commitments on the ground in this region. It’s a value judgment, and it needs to be right.
This situation could be either a blessing or a disaster, but one thing is very clear- An ambivalent relationship simply doesn’t work. This incident cost lives. Those lives may not have been shed in vain if a healthier relationship can be achieved by clearing the air.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of DigitalJournal.com