Pakistan Should Re-evaluate its Relationship with the US and NATO

Photo From Dawn

In wake of the recent killing of Pakistani soldiers as a result of NATO bombing, Pakistani government has gone into a crisis mode and so has the Pakistani public: while the civilian government and the army have issues some powerful rhetorical statements, including the ultimatum to the US to vacate their base in Balochistan, the Pakistani people are out in the streets protesting against yet another violation of their airspace by their so-called allies.

Yes, I know Pakistan is weak and needs all the friends in the world that it can gather, especially against the daily terror unleashed by the Taliban and others in its cities, villages, and public spaces, but does that mean that Pakistan should be a total hostage to the interests and policies of powers that suffer no direct consequences of their actions in the region.

Here is a sad irony: while the Pakistani troops were being killed by NATO bombers in the tribal region, the US citizens were camping outside corporate big-box stores to purchase the latest gadgets at reduced prices. Is this what Pakistan is underwriting with its sacrifices? Are we there to serve the empire so that its privileged citizens can buy their video games in peace, while our children suffer of malnutrition, our cities stink of raw sewage, and while our soldiers are being killed by the very allies for whom over three thousand of them have died in the past few years.

Yes, the war against fundamentalism is in the best interest of Pakistan, but why should we call it a WAR? Why not call it a struggle and then harness all resources, mostly peaceful and pedagogical, in order to win this struggle against intolerance and terror. In my meeting with a senior ISI officer last year, who happens to be an old friend and my mentor in so many ways, the most important thing that I learned was this: Even the ISI knows that this struggle cannot be won through military action alone and that in order to win, Pakistan would need a lot of international support to literally rebuild its national infrastructure. Yes, rebuild the educational system, the healthcare system, and the system of law and justice. Of course all these sectors are considered “non-developmental” sectors by the IMF. So, if the US is so committed to the long-term interest of Pakistan, then where is the help to restructure and overhaul Pakistani economy and the public sphere?

Sadly, it is quite obvious that the world economy is not really “Flat.” Third world nations have now become living and ghettoized sweatshops for the developed nations: how else could Walmart sell its crap for so less to its American customers. Politically also nations like Pakistan are expected to submit their national will to the dictates of the likes of USA; that, the surrender of our national will, is too high a price for a nation .

The current policies and agreements with the US and NATO, let us not forget, were forged by a dictator under duress. It is time that the popularly elected government asked its people, the people who are the true owners of the nation, as to what its policy should be. Yes, our people are poor and not highly educated but you will be surprised to know that most of them are politically more aware than their average American counterparts.

So, this time let this not again be another set of empty slogans and un-implemented ultimatums: let us remind our so-called allies that killing our soldiers and civilians–even if it is hot pursuit or collateral damage–is not acceptable under any circumstances. I mean what was the army high command doing when two of their posts were under attack? Obviously, according to the protocol, the officers on the posts must have reported what was happening, must have asked for aid: Why did no aid arrive? Where was Pakistan Air Force whose job it is to defend the nations borders? Or was the current military leadership following the same cowardly policies as the ones followed by Pervez Musharraf when he abandoned his soldiers to die in Kargil!

This is also the time to ask these hard questions of our military commanders: did they let these soldiers die in vain without even mounting minimal countermeasures? And if they did, doesn’t that mean that they have let down the very soldiers they expect to die for their country on their orders? Yes, enough empty posturing: answer our questions honestly. Your troops deserve the answers and so does the nation.


Killing of Pakistani Soldiers: A Mistake or a Message?

Map of Pakistan with Balochistan higlighted
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According to recent reports, 24 Pakistani soldiers were allegedly killed by NATO airstrikes along the Pak-Afghan border. The Pakistani government, in retaliation, has blocked the two NATO supply routes and has also asked the US to vacate the CIA (drone)base in Balochistan.

This is a crucial moment for the so-called alliance between Pakistan and the US. So far, this alliance has only brought misery to Pakistani people and caused them to be immediate targets of Taliban and other militant reprisals. Pakistan so far has been the ideal soft target for the militants any time they are under pressure and want to lash out against targets close by. The Americans, on the other hand, might lose their troops in this war but their home country is safely away and thus not subject to such reprisals.

This latest bombing of Pakistani border posts should not be taken lightly: the general fog of war claims cannot hold here as the positions were known to NATO, as they have been provided the exact coordinates of Pakistani posts. If this is a sort of message to Pakistan, it is rather a sad and cynical message. What does it tell Pakistani people: simply that when cornered, the NATO troops have no qualms about killing the troops of their most important ally in the region.

I am glad to know that the Pakistani government is showing some courage here, as they have asked the US to vacate their base in Balochistan, but I think the government and the military need to do more. They need to clarify it to their so-called allies that killing of Pakistani soldiers and civilians cannot be tolerated especially if they turn out to be premeditated or caused by the carelessness of NATO forces.

The NATO commanders should learn that in their zeal to capture or kill their foes in Afghanistan, they cannot just blow up anything that stands in their way. Sometimes, it is necessary to let your enemy escape if bombing them kills quite a few of your friends in the process.

Yes, it is time Pakistan re-evaluated its committment to the war on terror and it is also time for the Pakistanis to safeguard their own people and their own national interest.

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US-Pakistan Relations: The Need for a Strategic Vision

As a former Pakistani military officer and as the editor of an academic journal on Pakistan, I often interact with Pakistanis from different walks of life. During my visit to Pakistan a few months ago, I had the privilege of engaging with ordinary Pakistanis, academics, and some very powerful old friends. Our conversations always centered on the US-Pakistan relations probably because of my connection to the US as an academic. I find it worthwhile to share some of my exchanges about the US-Pakistan relations, as these views are not normally covered by the mainstream US media.

In my conversations with my friends, relatives, and people from my village, one topic always came up: the US drone attacks within Pakistani territory. According to my sources, there were 118 drone strikes in 2010 claiming 1127 lives of which 680 are believed to be those of civilian bystanders. President Obama has continued these attacks as an “effective” tactics in the US mission in Afghanistan. But strategically, in symbolic terms, these attacks tend to damage the long-term US interests in Pakistan. The Pakistanis see these attacks under several symbolic registers:

They see it as a mockery of Pakistani sovereignty, a perception that is further accentuated by the frequent deaths of civilians caught in the targeted areas. The drone attacks also make their own government and their military look weak and ineffectual, even though, as is suggested by the US media, the Pakistani government often coordinates these attacks with the US forces.

The people also see it is a tactics that replicates the Israeli targeted killings of Hammas leaders, and thus the US tactics, somehow, is seen as part of larger Israeli conspiracy.

One of the most interesting and probably the most apt question came from one of my ex soldiers, who asked: “Do American people know that a lot of civilians are getting killed by these drones?” And, he further asked, “If they know about it, do they object to it? Needless to say, I had no convincing answer to this pointed question.

In my conversations with my military friends, the war on terror was often the main topic. In terms of Pakistan’s military operations against Taliban, as of January 2011, Pakistan has lost 2740 soldiers while 8500 of them have been wounded in action. These figures are enough to counter any claims by the US media that Pakistan is not doing enough. In fact, it seems, that Pakistanis have sacrificed quite a lot in this unending war.

While almost all these officers were sure that they can tactically control the FATA and probably win the war, but they all also suggested that in order to really solve the problem of radicalization of youth, Pakistan will need a lot of international help. Some of the sectors that could, in their view, use this help include: education, healthcare, and job creation. Pakistan, obviously, cannot transform its infrastructure in all these areas single-handedly and this is where the US aid is crucial to the long-term stability of Pakistan. During my visit to one of the defense-funded schools (Heavy Industries Taxila Education City) I was astounded to learn that the school was providing free education for two hundred students recruited from FATA. Imgaine the impact these students would have on the economic and cultural life of their respective regions after they have had a chance to get a more cosmopolitan, modern education. Just a little bit of help from the US and other powers could drastically increase the number of such students whose lives would have a long-term impact on the future of Pakistan.

It seems, however, that when it comes Pakistan, the US is guided more by an arbitrary, short-term vision and lacks any long-term plan of developing a people-to-people relationship. The US handling of Raymond Davis’s trial in Pakistan is a case in point. It is sad to note that in this case the US has chosen to respond with the typical myopia that signifies its relations to Pakistan. In an attempt to pressure Pakistan into handing over Mr. Davis, the Us state department, as per the reports here, has cancelled high level meeting with the Pakistani government on Afghanistan, has threatened to reduce defense aid, education aid and, also decided to slow down the visa process for Pakistanis aspiring to travel to the US. While it is important for the US to insist upon defending the diplomatic immunity of its embassy staff, the measures threatened publicly do not help the US cause in any way. In material terms, these measure would end up hurting Pakistan in the very areas where Pakistan needs US help, which would ultimately also hurt US interests in the region. In symbolic terms, these actions would also harden the popular views against the US and against the unequal relationship between the two countries.

Unless the US transforms its relations to Pakistan to that of equal partners and unless Pakistani national interests are foregrounded in this relationship, the chances of US success in the region would be seriously hampered. The US media, therefore, need to highlight the nature and importance of this relationship. Looking at the situation from a Pakistani perspective, instead of just a US-centered approach, would be a good start.

(Also published by The Society for Historians of American Foreign Relations)