By Sajjad Shaukat
Bargaining leverage plays a key role when controversy arises over some issues between two countries. Unlike the major states, small countries are more vulnerable to the demands of big powers as our world system reflects unequal order, giving good leverage of bargaining to the US-led most developed countries. In political terms, powerful states impose their decisions on the weak countries by using UN Security Council which has become a tool in their hands, sometimes to invade a hostile country or sometimes to impose sanctions, while in economic context, global financial institutes like IMF and World Bank are also in their control. So, economic aid is as another tool of major countries to pressurize the small states to bring them to their favourable demands.
Since September 11, Pakistan which joined the US war on terror as the frontline state against terrorism, especially in relation to Afghanistan—by playing a double game, without considering public backlash in this country, Washington has always tried to apply coercive diplomacy by manipulating the multiple crises of this developing country.
In this respect, US which had granted the status of non-NATO ally to Pakistan, sometimes cajoled Islamabad with economic and military aid, sometimes pressurised the latter to take actions against the Taliban militants and sometimes accused Pak Army and its intelligence agency, ISI of close contacts with the Afghan Taliban, while blaming for cross-border terrorism in Afghanistan.
Since May 2, this year, strained relations began to deepen between Pakistan and the United States when without informing Islamabad, US commandos killed Osama Bin Laden in a covert military operation. Afterwards, despite the protest of Pakistan’s civil and military leadership, and by setting aside parliament’s resolution, CIA-operated drone attacks continued on the tribal areas intermittently, killing more innocent people than the Taliban commanders. In fact, there was a co-relationship of developments in the post-Osama episode. In this context, the militants’ attack on Pakistan’s naval base in wake of perennial wave of terror-events in the country, US-led some western countries including India and Israel intensified their propaganda campaign against the security of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons. At the same time, the memogate scandal which is a conspiracy against the security of Pakistan is also part of the same scheme, as it left no stone unturned in distorting the image of Pak Army and ISI.
In the recent past, US Admiral Mike Mullen (R) alleged that the Haqqani network is waging a ‘proxy war’ in Afghanistan with the assistance of ISI, and blamed for an assault on the US embassy in Kabul on September 20 this year. However, US has always accused Pakistan of cross-border terrorism in Afghanistan. On the other hand, US-backed cross-border attacks by heavily armed militants who entered Pakistan from Afghanistan, killed 100 personnel of the security forces intermittently, coupled with ground shelling by the US-led NATO forces and air strikes from time to time, which further exposed particularly America’s designs against Pakistan.
Taking note of the American hidden intentions, Pakistan’s civil and military leadership, while rejecting US coercive diplomacy, earlier sent home 120 US military trainers. On the other side, US cut some of the $2.7 billion in military aid to Pakistan.
Meanwhile, on November 26, unprovoked firing by the US-led NATO Jet-helicopters on Pakistan Army outposts in Mohmand Agency which killed 24 troops proved a bolt from the sky. Director General Military Operations Maj-Gen. Ishfaq Nadeem said on December 8 that attack on the checkposts was part of a ‘plot’ and a pre-planned move as the NATO helicopters continued firing till complete destruction of both the posts.
Pakistan has refused to accept expressions of regret over the deliberate cross-border strikes which have inflamed Pak-US ties. While showing strong reaction Pakistan’s civil and military leadership has taken tough measures especially against America which is the leading country in connection with this air raid. Pakistan not only blocked the NATO supply to Afghanistan across its country for unlimited period, but also asked the US to vacate the Shamsi Airbase. Islamabad also boycotted the second Bonn Conference on the future of Afghanistan, and rejected the offer of US/NATO joint investigation in relation to the air strikes.
In this respect, Chief of Army Staff General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani has directed all necessary steps for an effective response to the NATO attack in future.
Pakistan decided to review its engagement with the US and its other allies. For this purpose, the two-day envoys’ conference deliberated on the country’s foreign policy on December 12 with special focus to review the relationship with the United States and NATO. ISI Chief Lt. Gen. Ahmad Shuja Pasha briefed the participants about the intentional NATO strikes. While presiding over the conference, Pakistan Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar warned that her country would retaliate against all future atrocities like the recent NATO attack which killed 24 soldiers.
Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani stated on December 14 that enough is enough, new terms of engagement with the US would reflect national interest, and the government would secure guarantee from the US to ensure Pakistan’s sovereignty in future.
As American lawmakers passed a bill to freeze $700 million aid to Pakistan, Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar warned on December 15 that US will be responsible for defeat in war on terror as Pakistan could not fight the war alone.
Nevertheless, as regards the bargaining leverage in Pak-US ties, now situation has changed as Pakistan is in better position than America. Failed in coping with the stiff resistance of Afghan Taliban, despite baseless blame game of some US high officials against Islamabad, America knows that without the support of Pakistan, withdrawal of foreign troops from Afghanistan in 2014 will not be completed. And the Taliban’s perennial attacks on the US-led NATO troops and Afghan forces will not allow the Kabul government to achieve stability in the post-2014 scenario. That is why, US wants a peace deal with the Afghan militants including Haqqani group, requesting Pakistan to play a key role in this context as stated by the US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton during his latest trip to Pakistan. Ms. Clinton also agreed with Pakistan’s stance that situation is not suitable to launch military operation in North Waziristan.
Besides, America seeks to keep its military bases in Afghanistan permanently to advance its interests in Central Asia. Although under this pretext, in connivance with India and Afghan President Hamid Karzai, US wants to fulfill its multiple strategic interests in the region, yet all this demands stability in Afghanistan which is not possible without the support of Pakistan which shares common geographical, historical, religious and cultural bonds with Afghanistan. There is a co-relationship of stability in Afghanistan and Pakistan, which is essential for American global and regional interests.
In this context, on December 13, US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has voiced confidence that the United States and Pakistan can patch up their differences, emphasizing that “ultimately, we cannot win the war in Afghanistan without being able to win in our relationship with Pakistan as well.” While US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has stated on December 15 that the “US is working to improve its strained relationship with Pakistan because it is part of the region”, and “is especially important with respect to our work in Afghanistan.” Both spoke in the backdrop of November 26 NATO strikes on Mohmand border posts.
Notably, supply to NATO in Afghanistan via Pakistan is cheaper and easier. US has also been sending this supply through Uzbekistan, but this route is very costly and more dangerous because militants are more organized there. Recently, Russia has threatened to stop NATO supply, if America deployed new missile defence shield in Europe.
In fact, US has entangled in a prolonged war on terror in wake of growing cost of this different war which is more than 7 trillion dollars—debt crisis and related financial crises have further reduced its bargaining leverage vis-à-vis Islamabad. Europe also blames America for global financial crisis. Besides, anti-American Islamic parties have won the elections in Egypt and Tunisia, while US-backed forces are still facing resistance in Yemen and Somalia, and in the Middle East resentment among the people against Washington is running high.
Now, America has once again offered a joint probe about the recent air strikes. Nonetheless, United States which has always applied duress on Pakistan since 9/11 by playing a double game with the latter, has now less favourable bargaining leverage as compared to Islamabad.
Sajjad Shaukat writes on international affairs and is author of the book: US vs Islamic Militants, Invisible Balance of Power: Dangerous Shift in International Relations