Monday, July 16, 2012

Pakistan – USA relations on track: An example for Bangladesh to emulate
Daily Sun
July 15, 2012
M. Serajul Islam. 

Pakistan-USA relations seemed headed for the worst after the action of the US led NATO forces in Pakistan’s northwest that killed 24 Pakistanis in Salala on 26  November, last year, when a drone attack aimed at Al Qaeda terrorists hit a civilian outpost. The Pakistanis were simmering with discontent ever since the unilateral operation by the US Navy Seals that killed OBL that left Pakistan Government, particularly its military, utterly humiliated to its own people and the world. The Salala killings were the nails in the coffin. 

The Pakistanis demanded unqualified apology for the Salala incident. The Americans declined and claimed that the Pakistanis could not be trusted. In retaliation, the Pakistanis cut off the critical land link to Afghanistan through Pakistan for NATO and US troops that are locked in the final thrust to neutralize the Taliban/Al Qaeda combine so that they could leave the country in 2014 and security in the hands on President Hamid Karzai or his successor (Presidential elections are due in 2014) with the terrorists no longer a threat to either Afghanistan’s civilian government or to US/western security. 

The Pakistanis offered to open the critical supply route if the Americans were prepared to raise charge from US$ 250 per container truck to US$ 5000! The Pakistanis knew they had the US where they wanted after the humiliation with the killing of OBL and did not bother that what they were asking from the US and NATO was blackmail. Instead of relenting, the US went ahead and dilly dallied with Pakistan’s nemesis India and opened opportunities for it to get a better foothold in Afghanistan that it had wanted for long time and that the Pakistanis did not want. In fact, when the going was good between the Pakistan and US, one of the demands that Pakistan made on the USA that the latter accepted was to keep India out of Afghanistan. 

While the two sides played their hands out, they did not push relations to a breaking point. In the end, it was the US that made the first move. The US Secretary of State at first expressed “sincere condolences” for the deaths in Salala. She  then   personally conveyed the apology to the Foreign Minister of Pakistan Hina Rabbani  Khar when she her at the Conference on Afghanistan held last week in Tokyo. Pakistan’s Foreign Minister conveyed her country’s approval to open the transit routes “in the larger interest of peace and security in Afghanistan and the region” without additional charges that  ended a serious diplomatic standoff between the two countries. 

In fact, the two countries demonstrated what matured diplomacy is. The Pakistanis need the USA because it is their major development partner and provides large amount of aid to its military. The USA needs Pakistan to bring the war on terror started by President Bush to a successful conclusion. Therefore after making their points that needed to be made, the two sides have come together putting aside recent differences and agreed to carry forward their relations. 

In case of Pakistan, it was a way of conducting relations that was preached by late President Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto. In the tumultuous period of Pakistan after the liberation of Bangladesh, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto had said  that in politics and diplomacy , there is never a point of no return. Of course, the late President of Pakistan later became a victim of over indulgence in this belief; nevertheless he underscored what is fundamental in conducting successful negotiations which is never to take a position from where there is no scope of retracting. In fact what Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto practiced is common sense in the art of successful negotiations.  

In Bangladesh, we need to take a dispassionate look at the recent turn around in Pakistan-USA relations to learn about the mistakes we made that has placed a huge burden on the nation now as it tries to raise fund from domestic sources to build the Padma Bridge instead of having the WB/ABD/JICA/Islamic Bank fund this US$ 2.9 billion mega project in a way that is a dream of the developing nations. In raising the huge sum from domestic sources, the government will have to put on hold many development projects that are critical to the welfare of millions in the country. For the 30 million people who would benefit from the Padma Bridge, millions more would be deprived of their development needs that would now be put on hold to build the Padma Bridge.  

Then there is of course the million dollar question, whether jeopardizing the needs of millions to help those who would benefit from the PB would in the end be a successful venture or not. Raising the huge amount of money from domestic sources would be a humungous effort that would need more than rhetoric to achieve. We are already reeling from another fond wish of this government, the decision to go for quick power rentals to ease the energy crisis. To pay for the power rentals, the economy has been turned upside down but the power supposed to be delivered to the people has simply vanished. 

The government has ventured into dangerous waters with the PB where by negotiating in a matured way, it would have had this mega project started and completed by the cheapest and best source of financing that all developing countries dream of. All it needed to do was to negotiate with the WB behind the scene instead of fighting a verbal war with it in public. Even if the government’s contention that the WB has accused it wrongly of corruption is accepted, there is no way to support the way the leaders of the government accused and abused the WB. In abusing the WB, these leaders have shown poor knowledge of diplomacy and negotiation that has harmed the image of the government and the interests of the country.   

Nevertheless, there is even after the cancelation and the bad blood caused by some of the government leaders, strong support for negotiating with the WB under the new administration to reactivate the loan. The Finance Minister is holding out that hope. So is Japan that is yet to follow WB and ADB in cancelling the PB loan. Bangladesh should give diplomacy a chance by taking cue from the way Pakistan has succeeded in bringing its relations with USA back on track  after relations had hit rock bottom; in fact worse than where relations are between Bangladesh and the WB. .  Nevertheless to achieve what Pakistan has, it would need to end the rhetoric, stop using the media for negotiating and form a professional team to re-open negotiations with the WB.  

The WB is in the business of giving loans to developing countries like Bangladesh. The PB could be a dream project for the WB as it is for Bangladesh because it has the potentials of turning around the economic future of 30 million impoverished Bangladeshis. It is never too late for diplomacy as it has been lately proven in Pakistan-US relations. In fact, the Bangladesh-WB case would be much easier to resolve if diplomacy is given a chance. If rhetoric and personal issues are taken out of the equation and WB’s concerns of corruption are considered honestly, there is no reason why Bangladesh and the WB cannot be partners in building the PB.  

The writer is a retired career diplomat and  former Ambassador to Japan and Egypt

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