Bargaining Leverage of Re-engagement with the US

By Sajjad Shaukat

Famous political philosopher, Hans J. Morgenthau opines, “Foreign policy of a country should be moulded in accordance with the exigency of time and place.”

In these terms, the joint sitting of the parliament unanimously approved the revised recommendations of the Parliamentary Committee on National Security (PCNS) on April 12 this year in connection with the re-engagement with the United States and matters relating to the national security of Pakistan.

The 14-point recommendations, presented by PCNS Chairman Senator Raza Rabbani, state that US footprint in Pakistan has been reviewed, which would mean an immediate cessation of drone attacks and infiltration into Pakistani territory. And country’s air space shall not be used for transportation of arms and ammunition to the NATO forces in Afghanistan.

The committee recommended that no overt or covert operations by private security companies or operatives would be allowed in Pakistan, nor foreign countries would be permitted to establish bases in the country.

The committee’s recommendations indicated that Pakistan should seek an unconditional apology from the US for November 26, 2011 unprovoked Salala check post incident which killed 24 soldiers. In this regard, those held responsible for Mohmand Agency attack should be brought to justice. The recommendations also emphasise that Pakistan’s nuclear program and assets including its safety and security cannot be compromised. They mention that the US-India civil nuclear agreement has significantly altered strategic balance in the region and therefore Pakistan should seek from the US and others a similar treatment. Besides other recommendations, taking cognisance of the American coercive diplomacy since 9/11, the guidelines of the PCNS have insisted upon independent foreign policy based upon mutual respect, equality and non-violation of Pakistani territory.

Speaking on the floor of the House, Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani assured the parliament that the revised consensus recommendations of the committee on terms of engagement with the US would be fully implemented. He elaborated. “For the first time in Pakistan’s history, we have brought real and substantive oversight and democratic accountability to our foreign and security policy.”

However, the government will now formulate policy based on the PCNS guidelines. Here, question arises, will the US accept the new terms of engagements?  In this regard, the parliament has drawn the broader contours of the new relationship with the US, while the rest of the job will be done by the technical experts to deal with. So, much will depend upon leverage of bargaining, and as to how diplomats from both sides employ it. In these terms, while elaborating art of negotiations, renowned political thinkers, Morgenthau and Waltz agree that successful “foreign policy goals are achieved through successful diplomacy” which “relies upon bargaining leverage.”

While implementing the terms of re-engagement with the US, Pakistan’s interlocutors should take note of the fact that America knows that without the support of Islamabad, withdrawal of foreign troops from Afghanistan in 2014 will leave that lawless country in more uncertainty. And the Taliban’s perennial attacks on the newly-trained Afghan forces will not allow the Kabul government to achieve stability. On March 27, during his meeting with Prime Minister Syed Yusuf Raza Gilani in Seoul, President Barrack Obama recognised that stability in Afghanistan required Pak-US joint efforts. In the recent past, some US top officials have also admitted that they cannot win this ‘different war’ without the help of Pakistan, while stability in Afghanistan also needs its assistance.

It is notable that last year, Pakistan’s civil and military leadership had flatly refused to act upon the US old maxim to ‘do more’ by taking military action against the Haqqani Network in North Waziristan. In this respect, during her visit to Islamabad, on October 21, 2011, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton agreed with Pakistan’s stance, saying: “US is realising that launching new military operation in North Waziristan does not suit Pakistan’s situation.” She had also requested Islamabad to help Taliban to enter negotiations in good faith” including the Haqqani militants.

Meanwhile, conflicting reports are coming about US peace dialogue with the Afghan militants. President Obama is reluctant to transfer five Taliban detainees from Guantanamo Bay military prison to Qatar to participate in peace talks. Last month, suspension of peace dialogue with the US by the Afghan insurgents has further weakened America’s position. Some recent events in Afghanistan such as desecration of the copies of Holy Quran at a US military base and massacre of 16 people by an American soldier in Kandahar further infuriated the Afghan militants against Americans. Now, the position of US has reached its lowest level.

So far as the bargaining leverage is concerned, some other developments like strengthening of Pakistan’s ties with China, new relations with the Russian Federation and rejection of American pressure to abandon the IP gas pipeline project with Iran show that Islamabad does not seek to be blackmailed by the US aid.

It is mentionable that American worldwide interests are at stake in the Middle East where anti-American resentment is running high as pro-US forces have entangled in a prolonged war on terror in Yemen, Somalia, Nigeria etc. In these volatile countries, Islamic activists have broken the myth of power-based security by fighting through ambush attacks and suicide bombs. They have created economic instability in the world, affecting the US in wake of growing cost of “this different war” and debt crisis including other related problems which have further reduced its bargaining leverage vis-à-vis Pakistan.

US fragile side could also be judged from the fact that recently, after employing war-mongering diplomacy for some months, President Obama refused Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu for invasion of Iran on Tehran’s nuclear issue. Moreover, unlike the past, Turkey, a NATO member, while supporting the cause of Palestinians has also favoured Tehran on the question of nuclear programme. Besides, on October 28, 2011, Iran and Turkey signed an agreement for the joint exploration and production of gas from Iran’s South Pars field, with a total investment of $4 billion and a future prospect of Iran becoming a supplier to the Nabucco energy project. On January 21, 2012, the Turkish environment and planning minister stated that Turkey wants to deepen trade volume with Iran to 30 billion US dollars by 2015, pledging not to comply with the western sanctions against the Islamic republic. Pakistan is also strengthening its ties with Turkey.

Nevertheless, now, America has realised that it cannot use power factor to exert psychological pressure on Islamabad. Therefore, observing its own strategic weaknesses, Washington has been displaying a realistic approach. In this context, last month, US Central Command Chief General James Mattis and Commander of International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan, General John Allen held a crucial meeting with Pakistan Army Chief General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani in the first formal Pak-US military contact after last year’s Salala incident. The main purpose of the two commanders’ visit was earlier restoration of NATO supply and review of foreign policy as NATO troops along with their equipments are likely to commence withdrawal, using the Pakistani route. For these aims, recently two American diplomats also visited Islamabad and met Prime Minister Gilani.

As regards the bargainging leverage, Pakistani negotiators should also keep in mind that it is the only nuclear country in the Islamic World, with a strategic geo-political location at the corridor of world major maritime oil supply lines, and has close proximity to oil rich central Asian countries. Pakistan’s location lends itself easily to the influences of Central Asia, South Asia and the Middle East.

At present, in the changed geo-political scenario and failure of American duress, Pakistan has a strong bargaining leverage as compared to the United States. In this context, much will now depend upon Pakistan’s diplomats as to how they use their skills in convincing American counterparts for their favourable terms and conditions such as non-violation of its territory, stoppage of drone attacks, acquisition of civil nuclear technology etc., after the PCNS revised recommendations have unanimously been passed by the parliament.

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



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