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Catch 22 for the US; A game of chess for Pakistan
The exchange of strong words between the two countries and then a failed visit to Islamabad by the US Secretary of State has turned the US-Pakistan relationship sour than ever. And that’s not good news for global diplomacy.
Issue Date - 24/11/2011
Relations between the United States of America and Pakistan have not been on a high lately. For quite sometime now, Washington has been fuming over Pakistan for providing safe haven and aiding extremist groups like the Haqqani militant network and the Afghan Taliban. However, the latest visit of US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton to Pakistan gives the impression that America now wants to mend its faltering relations with a vital and mercurial ally in the fight against militants, who are still wreaking havoc in Afghanistan, where the US has begun a drawdown of its forces.

The trouble is that the US also wants to pursue its strong stand against Pakistan on the issue of aiding militants. At least, it seemed so when Clinton, who stopped in Kabul on her way to Islamabad, with Afghan President Hamid Karzai by her side, warned that Pakistan could not let the current situation continue without paying a “big price”. She made it clear that the US will target all terrorists in their safe havens, including those taking refuge in Pakistan. And Pakistan must decide whether it wants to help or hinder the war on terror.

For that matter Clinton continued in the same vein in her joint press conference with Pakistan’s foreign minister Hina Rabbani. There she bluntly said that for too long terrorists have been able to operate from Pakistan’s soil and that “you (Pakistan) cannot keep snakes in your backyard which bite your neighbours”. While she could not have been more forthright publicly, Clinton was reportedly even more sharp in the closed door meetings with her Pakistani interlocutors. Her visit, say experts, was meant to douse the fire that had been ignited after harsh comments from both sides. But her words and actions indicated the US was in no mood to humour Pakistan.

Earlier, some strong words from the US Secretary of Defense Leon E. Panetta and the reaction of Pakistan Army Chief Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, especially with respect to the US issuing directives to Pakistan on handling the Haqqani network, had created an uncomfortable strain in the ties between the two countries. Washington’s accusation of how the ISI patronises and funds the Haqqani network, legitimises its anti-American and terrorist activities and how the Haqqani network is being used for patronising Al-Qaida’s presence on the Afghanistan-Pakistan border did not go down well with Pakistan. Interestingly, it is the same Haqqani network that India has been accusing of enjoying patronage from Pakistan. But the US was in a constant state of denial about the nexus till the blasts in London, Holland, Madrid and in the US embassies in Kabul, Iraq et al. US research operations after these incidents proved the clandestine activities of the ISI and its nexus with the Haqqani network. But faced with hard evidence, the US could no longer condone this unholy nexus.

However, for Pakistan, it is certainly very difficult to take on the Haqqani network. Because then, it would have to fight powerful vested interests in the Pakistan army and the ISI besides trampling on the turf of certain important politicians in the region. Moreover, if Pakistan chose to act against the Haqqani network, it would substantiate India’s allegations that the government of Pakistan is involved in patronising Al-Qaida and other militant outfits. This is a risk that Pakistan cannot possibly afford to take as the move would expose its double standards globally.

On the other hand, ever since these reports came to light, the US has understood how important is it for the American interest in the war on terror to uproot the entire Haqqani network and its nexus with the Pakistan army, intelligence and the political administration. But so far it has failed to force Pakistan to act against the network. All that the otherwise pushy US has been able to do so far is issue directives regarding how Pakistan should act against the Haqqani network. However, instead of putting the issues into perspective, the directives have created more problems. On top of it, Clinton’s visit that was meant to smooth the troubled relations ended up in a disaster of sorts. And some sharp reactions from Kayani, rather a kind of a warning to the US, made matters even worse.

“The US will have to think 10 times before attacking Pakistan,” Kayani told a gathering in Pakistan. He further added that he had warned Americans that Pakistan did not require their military assistance as it’s a nuclear armed country and ‘not Iraq or Afghanistan’. It was for the first time that Pakistan had responded to the US in such a strident tone. The statements made by Kayani show Pakistan will not take things lying down even if it’s at the cost of impairing its special relationship with the U.S. The language, says Bhaskar Roy of the South Asia Analysis Group, is more dangerous than North Korea’s periodic outbursts. “According to Western analysts, Pakistan has continued to expand its nuclear weapons inventory (with help of China) and may soon hold the third largest stockpile of nuclear weapons in the world. Notwithstanding that, Kayani’s words are of grave concern,” he says.

In a way, it is the strategic interest of China in Central Asia that is stopping the US to act strongly against Pakistan. The US knows pretty well that once it walks out from the simmering Af-Pak region, China would waste no time in rushing in to fill the vacuum, mainly for two reasons. First, China’s entry into Pakistan would help it to check the rise of India and the Indian influence in the region. And second, if there is any threat to China in the Central Asia region, it is from India and the wider threat is from the US. So, by getting the US out of Pakistan, China not only would get a toehold in Afghanistan, but it would also be able to control Pakistan and effectively Central Asia, especially with respect to oil, natural gas and other important minerals. For China it would almost be a win-win situation. However, US interests are not very different either and it lies in the vast and untapped natural reserves in Afghanistan. Secret reports of the FBI and the CIA suggest that Afghanistan is an extremely rich place for several important minerals like uranium, diamond, gold and even several radioactive minerals. And that’s apart from the huge reserves of oil and natural gas that have been discovered in this region. So, the interests of both the US and China are somewhat common.


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