By Sajjad Shaukat
A controversial debate continues between Pakistan’s political experts and media anchors in connection with the statements of the US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton who recently visited Pakistan in order to defuse the tension between both the countries. Some analysts misinterpret that Ms. Clinton has given a warning to Islamabad so as to launch military operation against the Haqqani network in North Waziristan as an essential condition to maintain cordial relationship with America, and to avoid any American prospective action against Islamabad.
However, during her visit, Hillary Clinton said on October 21 that Pakistan should take “strong steps to dismantle safe havens of Afghan insurgents and encourage Taliban to enter negotiations in good faith.” But she clarified that the US was not asking Pakistan to sacrifice its own security, saying, “Pakistan has a critical role to play in supporting Afghan reconciliation and ending the conflict.” Replying to a question that ISI was involved in attack on the US embassy in Kabul through Haqqani network, she categorically pointed out, “We have no evidence of that.”
The US Secretary of State explained, “Her country is also committed to the economic development of Pakistan”, and “supports regional economic integration between Pakistan and all its neighbours.”
While remarking that the US wants the relationship with Pakistan based on mutual respect and mutual responsibility, Ms. Clinton further said, “Stability of Pakistan and the region directly impacts the security of the US and it is in our interest to help Afghan people build a stable, sovereign and independent nation that is not a source of trouble for its neighbours.” Terming the Pak-US relationship critical for both the countries, she indicated, “Despite frequently strained ties, we cannot walk away from the relationship.”
Positive shift in US policy towards Islamabad could be judged from the statement of Afghan President Hamid Karzai who said in an interview to a private Pakistani TV channel on October 22 that Kabul would back Pakistan, if attacked by US or India.
In fact, since May 2, this year, strained relations existed between Pakistan and the United States when without informing Islamabad, US commandos killed Osama Bin Laden. In response, Pakistan’s civil and military leadership rejected American coercive diplomacy and sent home 120 US military trainers. Afterwards, tension further increased in Pak-US ties when US Admiral Mike Mullen (R) accused that the Haqqani network-based in North Waziristan, is waging a ‘proxy war’ in Afghanistan with the assistance of intelligence agency, ISI, calling Haqqani network’s “acts as a veritable arm” of ISI, blaming for a recent assault on the US embassy in Kabul. Besides on September 14, 2011, the US Defense Secretary, Leon Panetta, while expressing similar views, warned that the US would retaliate against militants based in Pakistan.
Taking cognisance of the US hard rhetoric, Pakistan’s civil and military leadership 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 regard, on September 29, ISI Chief Lt. Gen. Ahmed Shuja Pasha told the participants of the All Parties Conference (APC) that the Haqqani network, to which Pakistan is blamed for having links, operated independently in Afghanistan, and was not operating from Pakistani territory. He vowed that Pakistan would not launch any military offensive on the behest of others. Before him, On October 19, Pakistan’s Chief of Army Staff, Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, while briefing the Parliament’s Standing Committees on defence gave a clear message that there would be no compromise over the sovereignty of Pakistan, and the army would not require any military aid from any country and has no intention of sending the troops to North Waziristan without government orders.
Now when America has realised that its continued pressure tactics, followed by threatening style have failed on Pakistan, therefore, taking note of the ground realities, Washington has started displaying a realistic approach.
Nevertheless, quite opposite to the ill-conceived thoughts of some political experts, it looks clear that Islamabad does not bow down to American duress. The US has agreed with Pakistan’s stand in the matter because US interests demand stability in Pakistan and Afghanistan.
Despite blame game of some US high officials, 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. On the other hand, Islamabad has also decided to negotiate with the Pakistani insurgents. In this regard, even Gen. Kayani stated on October 18 that Pak Army had no objection over the government, having dialogue with the Pakistani Taliban.
It is notable that in 2009, Gen. Ashfaq Kayani had assertively stated in the NATO meeting at Brussels that the NATO countries, which have greater stakes in Afghanistan, should pay heed to the concerns raised by Islamabad particularly regarding Indian interference in Pakistan through Afghanistan. Kayani denied that Pakistan wanted a “Talibanised” Afghanistan, and said that his country has no interest in controlling Afghanistan. He further pointed out that peace and stability in Afghanistan were crucial to Islamabad’s long-term interests.
In this respect, on September 20, 2009, the then NATO commander, Gen. McChrystal had clearly revealed: “Indian influence is increasing in Afghanistan including significant development efforts…is likely to exacerbate regional tensions.”
Particularly, the occupation of Afghanistan and stiff resistance of the Taliban militants against the occupying forces created unending lawlessness in the country which has become a most suitable place especially for India to prepare conspiracy in order to fulfill its secret strategic designs against China and especially Pakistan. India which have signed a strategic partnership agreement with Afghanistan on October 5 this year, wants to further strengthen its grip in Afghanistan not only to get strategic depth against Pakistan, but also to use the war-torn country in destabilising the latter.
Nonetheless, first of all, the US should eliminate the secret network of Indian RAW which is in collusion with Israeli Mossad—and with the tactical support of American CIA from Afghanistan, has been sending well-trained terrorists to Pakistan, who are committing various acts of sabotage at various cities of Pakistan, and Balochisan in order to weaken this country. Besides, with the support of these agencies, since April this year, heavily-armed insurgents from Afghanistan’s side entered Pakistan’s region intermittently, targeting the security check posts and other infrastructure. This infiltration must also be stopped. America must also urge upon the Karzai-led Kabul regime to end baseless accusations against Pakistan such as cross-border terrorism and blaming Islamabad for killing of the Afghan government’s peace envoy Burhanuddin Rabbani.
Notably, in modern era of peaceful settlement of disputes and economic development, US should also abandon its faulty strategy to counterbalance a peace-loving China by making India a superpower of Asia.
Washington must also recognise that Pakistan is a nuclear country and unrest in the country will not fulfill American desired goals. So, the US should not only restore Pakistan’s military aid, but also increase its economic assistance as a stable Pakistan can best serve American regional interests.
In fact, the controversy exists between India and Pakistan because of differences in interests in Afghanistan. India has illegitimate interests in Afghanistan; hence it is involved in illegitimate actions. And instability in Afghanistan favours Indian secret goals. While on the other side, Pakistan wants stability in Afghanistan, which is not possible owing to Indian presence in that country. Therefore, Pakistan has legitimate concerns in Afghanistan.
US should realise that unlike India, Pakistan 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. Therefore, US interests demand Pak-Afghan Stability.
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