The United States is sending contradictory signals to Pakistan in connection with the war on terror after the advent of the new democratic government in Pakistan as a result of the February 18 national polls that sent President Musharraf’s political castle crumbling down with PML(Q)’s humiliating defeat. It’s evident from the diverse overtures emanating from Washington seeking refocus on fighting al-Qaeda in Pakistan and Afghanistan with military thrust, but oppose dialogue with the tribal leaders and elders to resolve the issues that generated terrorism and militancy. In one development, the Speaker and majority leaders in both chambers of the US Congress have, in a letter addressed to President Bush, called for increased military, diplomatic and economic development effort in both Pakistan and Afghanistan.
The signatories, however, expressed aversion to political dialogue on the notion that Bush administration’s ‘support’ to the truce signed by Pakistan with the tribal elders of Waziristan in 2006 had ‘exacerbated’ the scourge of terrorism and afforded opportunity to senior al-Qaeda leadership time to regroup in the Pak-Afghan border area. In contrast, US Assistant Secretary of State Richard Boucher has said that Washington has nothing against Pakistan pursuing a political approach to combating terrorism if the military option is not taken off the shelf. He was mindful that a military approach alone is not enough to deal with violent extremism that needs a combination of security, economic and political approaches to succeed against terrorism and militancy. The Bush administration is, therefore, seemingly coming in line with the ground realities of the situation apparently due to Negroponte-Boucher interaction with post-February 18 polls Pakistani leadership.
The Congressmen’s letter, reportedly also signed by chairpersons of a dozen congressional committees has, in fact, outlined Democratic party’s policy towards war on terror. It’s quite clear that the next Democrat President will strive to consolidate in Afghanistan, but will leave Iraq by turning the tail. Such a situation will obviously be a source of serious concern to Pakistan since the US military focus in Afghanistan is bound to create still more difficult situation for Islamabad. Pakistan has already endured unprecedented turmoil due to terrorism and militancy spilling over from across the Durand Line.
Suicide bombing is the new menace that has overtaken Pakistan with massive loss of life. It has not only created a sense of insecurity in the people but is also having its bearing on the economic activity in the country. Any further military input in Afghanistan will, therefore, be potent with generating still greater spillover of violence, terrorism and militancy into Pakistan. US estimation of its success in Afghanistan on this count is, however, as flawed as its dream that the US forces will be garlanded by the Iraqi people on their arrival in Baghdad as their saviors and emancipators from Saddam’s tyranny. It’s unfortunate that the US military adventurers never bothered to study Afghan history of resistance. Afghans cannot be made to kneel down by use of force, but will be willing to concede anything through persuasion and goodwill. The Democrats’ military initiative is, therefore, bound to fail besides being counterproductive.
As for Pakistan, it’s time to review its role in the US led anti-terror war, irrespective of its leadership’s appeasing stand that it’s Pakistan’s war. It’s certainly not Pakistan’s war. It was thrust upon us by Washington initially and has since become unavoidable due to its ramifications. We have, however, had enough of it over the past five years. True that it’s difficult for Islamabad to withdraw from the war on terror abruptly due to its multifarious commitments, yet it’s important to scale down its involvement gradually and to see that its army is not perceived as mercenary force. We should not do what the American and NATO forces are supposed to do in Afghanistan. There is, therefore, need to review the situation and evaluate the threat Pakistan is facing in its right perspective in order to draw the right strategy for response.
Interestingly, the Chief of Army Staff, Gen Ashfaq Parvez Kayani has also underlined the importance of correct visualization of the threat to workout a wholesome response. He has also said that every nation has a right to safeguard its national interests. Pakistan that is faced with a delicate security situation because of the militancy and terrorism outpouring from Afghanistan on the one hand and coercive and intimidating tactics being used by the United States officials and politicians on the other is certainly no exception on this count. We must re-evaluate our options and make judicious strategy motivated by the supreme national interest whether or not to support to the US led war on terror in a sustainable manner.
Mr Richard Boucher’s statement that the US has no objection to Pakistan’s pursuit of a political approach to combating terrorism, if the military option is not taken off the shelf, of course, represents a positive approach to the situation in the given circumstances. Pakistan should not only make correct assessment of the threat posed to her by the militants and extremists but should also initiate political dialogue with the stakeholders to bring sanity in the tribal areas. Bush administration’s military option has failed in Afghanistan and so is Pakistan’s military approach in the tribal areas. It’s, therefore, pertinent that a fresh beginning be made to initiate political process in order to end resistance and confrontation in tribal areas. Carrot and stick policy is best suited in the given situation. That, in fact, alone has the potential of success and lead the country out of the deepening crisis.
Pakistan has a popularly elected democratic government at the helm of its affairs today in contrast to the dictatorial regime of Gen Musharraf, who was obliged to take U-turn on Afghanistan policy with convenience on receipt of a telephone call from an official in Washington. The government has the backing of a sovereign Parliament and support of the country’s masses. It’s, therefore, important that it should pursue the path that should safeguard Pakistan’s strategic interests without any fear or favour. The changed tone and tenor of the Bush administration as represented by Mr Boucher’s statement is the obvious consequence of the democratic government being at the country’s helm of affairs. The government must uphold the national interests. A grand jirga drawn from all the eight tribal agencies and federally and provincially administered areas should be convened to thrash out a new politico-military response to the situation by rallying all stakeholders in order to initiate the dialogue process.