Sunday, December 11, 2011

Bonn Meeting on Afghanistan: Pakistan-US Relations on the brink

Daily Sun
December 11th., 2011
M. Serajul Islam

Pakistan has stayed out of the international conference on Afghanistan’s security and development in Bonn held on 5th of December. The meeting was called to discuss course of action to facilitate the withdrawal of US and NATO troops from Afghanistan by the end of 2014 to an Afghan Government that would be able to bring peace to the country after US and NATO efforts to eliminate the Taliban and the Al Qaeda that had not just brought the country to ruins but also made the country the headquarter from where to launch terrorist attacks on the US and the West.

The friendship between President George Bush and General Pervez Mosharaff and between the US and Pakistan in the days after 9/11 when Pakistan became the US’ most strategic partner in the war on terror were the best in history of Pakistan-US relations. It is not always that a Pakistani President gets invited to the White House and more especially to a US President’s vacation home as often as was President Moshraff.

President Moshraff, in those hay days of US-Pakistan relationship, was treated in the same level by the US President as world leaders from the most important of the developed world. President Moshraff became a member of the inner circle of friends in the President’s list of close buddies. Pakistan and its military establishment benefitted most from the friendship of the two Presidents and their countries.

A little over a decade from when it all began, those days of warmth in US-Pakistan relationship seems to be events of the distant past. US-Pakistan relations have been on sharp decline ever since the US in obvious distrust of the Pakistan Government, particularly its military and intelligence, took unilateral action and killed Osama Ben Laden in a quarter literally inside Pakistan’s most secure military establishment; its elite military academy at Kakul.

All Pakistan, particularly the military establishment, erupted in anger and shame that the US, its most trusted ally, had infringed in the most blatant way upon the country’s sovereignty. The US, true to its way of conducting diplomacy where interests alone determine diplomatic and military action, did not mince words in accusing Pakistan’s military and intelligence of complicity in hiding Osama Ben Laden. .

The action against Osama Ben Laden took years of skillful and super secret planning and was successful because no one in Pakistan’s military was informed about it. After the initial tough stance in defending its action, President Obama, aware of Pakistan’s importance in bringing peace to Afghanistan and assisting in the withdrawal of US and NATO troops from there by end of 2014, made conciliatory gestures towards Pakistan. He said that no one in Pakistan top military and intelligence brass was involved in hiding Osama Ben Laden. Nevertheless, the way Osama Ben Laden was nabbed left the trust factor between the two hitherto partners in the war on terror almost totally in array.

To make matters worse, US-Pakistan authorities were involved in the case of CIA contractor Raymond Davis who had killed two Pakistanis in Lahore, apparently in self-defense. The Pakistanis tried him for murder and sentenced him to death by refusing to accept him as a diplomatic staff of the US Embassy staff in Islamabad. The case of Raymond Davis caused widespread uproar both in the government and military circles as well as among the public because it underscored the fact that the US spies were operating inside Pakistan at will.

The fallout from the Osama Ben Laden’s killing operation and that of Raymond Davis heightened the tension between the civil and the military in Pakistan. The depth of the tension has been revealed in the memo allegedly written by Pakistan’s Ambassador to Washington Hussain Haqqani to the Head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen to intervene in Pakistan’s politics against the military that it said was conspiring to attempt a military coup to over throw the civilian government.

Admiral Mullen admitted receiving the memo but did not take any action on it on the ground of credibility. The Ambassador has since resigned to save President Asif Zardari embarrassment. Nevertheless, the memo (the incident having been named “memo gate”) highlighted the deep rooted tension in Pakistan between the civil and the military that US’ unilateral actions in Pakistan is only accentuating.

The fragile nature of internal conflict in Islamabad involving the US has been further enhanced when 24 Pakistani soldiers, including 2 officers, were killed by ISAF/NATO air strike attack on November 28th. The US described as an accident which the Pakistan military dismissed with contempt. The Pakistan army described the attack as “an unprovoked attack of blatant aggression.” In retaliation, Pakistan has withdrawn the permission given to NATO to move logistic supplies across the border to Afghanistan. It also gave CIA notice to withdraw from Shamsi air base in Pakistan northwest from where the US was sending the drones into Pakistan’s tribal areas in attempts at eliminating the Taliban elements.

All these developments coincided in encouraging Pakistan to stay out of the Bonn international conference on Afghanistan’s security and development. US Secretary of State expressed regret at Pakistan’s decision to stay out of the Bonn meeting, stating that the meeting had been planned much ahead of the NATO airstrikes and that Pakistan was aware of the importance of the meeting.

In the exchanges on the NATO airstrikes, the military was clearly visible taking the decisions on critical issues on Pakistan’s cooperation with the US not as partners on the war on terror but as antagonists. In the weeks and months leading to the present state of Pakistan-US relations, the US had left no doubt what it thought of Pakistan. It had openly accused Pakistan’s military and intelligence of helping the enemy with intelligence in the efforts of US and ISAF/NATO troops in taking out Taliban and Al Qaeda elements in Pakistan’s impregnable northwest. Pakistan’s patronization of the Haqqani network in Afghanistan is an open secret. Clearly, the element of trust between the two countries is today all but gone.

The decision of Pakistan to stay out of Bonn has brought to surface not just deep fissures in Pakistan’s partnership in the US led war on terror but few other negatives as well. It has started the process of the parting of ways between the Pakistan’s military and intelligence and their US and NATO counterparts at a very inconvenient time for the United States. The situation in Afghanistan is hardly the way the US and its allies would have liked with the Taliban in resurgence and President Hamid Karzai hardly in control. The US and NATO forces have just till the end of 2014 to withdraw. Because of Pakistan’s undeniable importance in any eventual peaceful resolution of the US led war on terror, the rupture of US-Pakistan security and intelligence cooperation can only put into jeopardy an acceptable exit of US and NATO troops from Afghanistan. Hence, Pakistan’s decision to stay out of Bonn has put the US in a difficult predicament.

Pakistan’s civilian government was nevertheless relieved to have stayed out of the Bonn meeting where they would have been subjected to severe criticism for their active support of Taliban forces in Afghanistan and for an explanation about Osama Ben Laden being found inside Pakistan’s security clad military academy at Kakul. It has also saved the civilian government of Pakistan the need to take a stand in an international gathering against allies led by the United States who violated Pakistan’s sovereignty with the killing of the 24 Pakistani soldiers but instead of being apologetic about it would have been critical of Pakistan for its covert support to the Taliban.

These developments do not augur well for US-Pakistan relationship and for US and western involvement in Afghanistan. It seems like the dog’s crooked tail, Afghanistan is going back to what it was before it all began after 9/11. Events are also highlighting the historical truth about the country that foreign forces never succeed in that country.

The writer is a retired diplomat and former Ambassador to Japan

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