Had President Barack Obama expressed regret over the killing of 24
soldiers within Pakistan immediately, Islamabad’s fears might have
been assuaged. And probably Pakistan would have attended the meeting
on Afghanistan at Bonn. It is no use shedding tears over the spilt
milk. However, many in India wonder why Islamabad did not accept‘regret’. The regret is not exactly an apology but it comes to that.
It does mean a feeling of sorrow for wrong doing.
Probably, Islamabad would have accepted regret if there had not been a
history of deliberate violations by the US and the NATO forces despite
Pakistan’s protests. The fact is that America and its allies care too
hoots for Pakistan’s sovereignty or sentiments of its people. Right
from the 9/11 attack on New York, Pakistan has been treated as a
country which is at the beck and call of the US. At that time,
Secretary of State Colin Powell rang up the then Islamabad’s Foreign
Secretary Abdul Sattar to inform his government that they would begin
carpet bombing from Pakistan instead of Afghanistan if Islamabad was
not on their side.
Pakistan could not dare to say ‘no’ then. How can it resist the
pressure now even when the rank and file of the army has been
permitted to retaliate without awaiting orders from the command? It
may sound harsh but the Pakistani soldiers have got used to the
bullying of US soldiers after having participated in joint operations
which are still continuing.
True, Pakistan has played tough after the killing of soldiers and has
even got the American drone base vacated. But it is bowing to the
enraged public opinion in Pakistan. I am still not sure how long
Pakistan Army Chief Ashfaq Parvez Kyani would stay intractable. The
armed forces in Pakistan over the years have become so inured to
American’s arms as well as aid that a U-turn does not look plausible.
Some rationalization has already started taking place. A limited
cooperation is visible on the ground. A NATO commander has said the
tragic incident has not disrupted their operation or their cooperation
with Pakistan. America’s annoyance does not suit Islamabad in anyway
because China cannot fill the vacuum, nor can India help because
relations between the two are nowhere at the stage where New Delhi
Despite the regret over the killings, I do not see Washington behaving
differently. It is fighting a war against Taliban who have their
headquarters in Pakistan and the US or the NATO forces will continue
to chastise them, with Islamabad’s cooperation if possible or without
it if necessary. I do not see the Drone attacks stopping or the supply
line to American and NATO forces snapping because the two may use the
Afghanistan territory for drones and the old Soviet republics for
supply. The target is Taliban, the fundamentalists, who America’s sees
mixed up with certain sections of the army. Nonetheless, both sides
realize that they face a situation which they cannot handle singly but
cannot go back to the equation which existed before the killing of
soldiers. Still both America and Pakistan may go to the brink—they
have done so many a times before—but will not jump. Pakistan Prime
Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani has already said that Pakistan wants to
reconstruct its relations with the US which in turn has welcomed the
The problem that confronts the world is the withdrawal of 130,000
troops of America and those of NATO in 2014. The Conference at Bonn
for a long term international commitment to Afghanistan should have
been more categorical. The absence of Pakistan has been like Hamlet
without the Prince of Denmark. No commitment adds up to much if
Islamabad is not a signatory. In fact, it may well be negotiating with
Taliban more seriously than before. It does not mind if they reoccupy
Afghanistan because when they temporarily did, Islamabad was quick to
recognize their government.
This is when the absence of normalcy between India and Pakistan is
felt all the more. Both could have asked foreign troops to withdraw as
quickly as possible because they have only aggravated the situation.
But then the problem is that Pakistan does not want India in
Afghanistan and considers its presence injurious to its interests.
On the other hand, New Delhi has signed an agreement to be a‘strategic partner’ of Kabul. It cannot leave Afghanistan alone,
unaided, if and when Taliban begin to move into the country after
America’s withdrawal. Both Delhi and Islamabad can be on the same page
if Pakistan accepts the sovereignty and independence of Afghanistan
without seeking a strategic depth. Therefore, the American
interference even after 2014 cannot be ruled out. Willy-nilly, the
Pakistan army, already overstretched, has to find a common ground with
India to eliminate at least such Taliban, the terrorists, who are
making the life in the region hell.
The Pakistan army is already having a hard time in sorting out what is
called, the Memogate. President Asif Zardari, Army Chief Kyani and ISI
head Lt. General Ahmed Shuja Pasha have been named respondents in a
petition filed by Former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in the Supreme
Court of Pakistan. The petition is based on an unsigned memo by the
then Pakistan’s envoy to the US, Hussain Haqqani, to the American
military command to rescue the Zardari government from the army and
the ISI responsible for dealing with Taliban. The army saw to it that
Haqqani would resign and he did.
The problem is bigger than Haqqani’s exit. It is how to make
Washington repose its faith once again in the Zardari government which
America sees completely under the Pakistan army. Pakistan Foreign
Minister has herself admitted in public that the Army is stronger than
the elected government. I have no doubt that Haqqani’s successor,
Sherry Rehman, has the ability and fiancé to reestablish the rapport
with Washington and also convince it that the elected government
cannot be pushed away by the army. She is also Islamabad’s trump card
for good relations with India where she is trusted.
In fact, this is the time when the Zardari government should take the
initiative to spread goodwill in the region. Bangaldesh is celebrating
its 40th independence anniversary. Although it means the liberation
from West Pakistan it also means that Dhaka has not allowed itself to
be pawn in the region’s chessboard.
The Zardari government can go down in history if it helps the
subcontinent to shed hatred and work for the betterment of the poor
who are concentrated in the region. But first thing first: Islamabad
should offer apology to Bangladesh and start a chapter of friendship.
By doing so, the Zardari government will be strengthening itself
against any interference from the army. EOM