– Dr Manzur Ejaz, USA
It is clear that new lines are going to be drawn between pro-US countries and other international competitors
The growing tension between the US and Pakistan should be viewed in the context of the Cold-War-like conditions rapidly developing between Russia and the West.
While American neoconservatives ostensibly pursue the project of the ‘New American Century’, their policies seek to dominate the entire globe without any regard for the sovereignty of other states. Russia, encircled by US proxies, has followed suit by intervening in Georgia. Pakistan is in the difficult situation of being faced with a teetering economy and losing state writ in its northern areas. However, the Pak-US conflict may not be as grave as is being projected in the media.
Before their coffers were filled by skyrocketing oil prices, the Russians were content with merely grumbling at the missile installations in their backyard. Russia invaded pro-Washington Georgia just when the US was getting ready to install its security system in Eastern Europe. The US, unable to make a moral argument against Russia because of the Iraq and Afghanistan invasions, expedited security agreements with its new clients in Eastern Europe and with ex-Soviet Republics like Ukraine and Georgia. US Vice President Dick Cheney’s recent trip to the Ukraine was meant to further notch up the hostility between Russia and the West.
To pay Washington back in the same coin, Russia has started expanding its security network to South America, the backyard of the US. Venezuela, Cuba and a few other countries, continuously threatened by the US, are keen to host Russian defence systems. Therefore, the unfolding Cold War will have implications for the entire world, and particularly the subcontinent.
India has already defected to the US; in the new international environment it cannot maintain its traditional relationship with Russia. The Chinese are also alarmed by the emerging Indo-US military pivot. The Chinese foreign minister’s demand that Pakistan have similar rights of access to atomic energy should be viewed in this context. Therefore, cornered from all sides, China and Russia will be forced to develop a common strategy to tackle the US security stranglehold.
Iran is another country which has been put in the same insecure position. It is clear that new lines are going to be drawn between pro-US countries and other international competitors.
In this changing world, Pakistan is in a very tight corner because its economy is totally dependent on the largesse of the US and its Middle Eastern proxies. Its internal security situation is fragile, to say the least. It has lost a big chunk of its Northern Areas to the Taliban: According to some observers, extremist-controlled areas can hardly be called Pakistan anymore.
However, most Pakistanis do not realise this and make demands that ultimately benefit the Taliban. The government is also responsible for this denial because it has never publicly acknowledged its utter failure to maintain its writ in the tribal belt.
Given its aggressive foreign policy and high stakes in Afghanistan, the US cannot afford to accept failure or concede northern Pakistan to forces which are perceived to be hostile to its interests. Furthermore, as the US presidential election enters its last phase, the Bush administration is hard pressed to take some action to blunt Barack Obama’s criticism that Pakistan is not being pushed enough to fight the Taliban within its own territory. Therefore, US incursions in Pakistan are not unexpected.
Some European allies of the US are critical of its decision to enter Pakistani territory. But they know that US actions are for domestic consumption and therefore NATO, as a military alliance, is not going to break up in the Afghan war.
Pakistan cannot make a convincing argument to the international community against foreign intervention, even if it chooses to do so, unless its writ is fully restored in the tribal belt. If the Taliban expansion continues in the settled areas, even China, Pakistan’s staunch ally, will be reluctant to back Pakistan with real force.
After all, during the last few months, most of the kidnapped foreigners has been Chinese development workers. It is either extremist Muslim groups from China or proxies of another power who are after the Chinese in Balochistan and the Northern Areas. In any case, neither Chinese workers nor China’s border is safe as the Taliban expand operations. Therefore, to reassure China, Pakistan will have to go beyond rhetoric and take stern action in the tribal belt. Probably Pakistan has already started using its air force and other security agencies to regain control of it.
It may seem farfetched, but there is a real possibility that US incursions into Pakistan were meant to provide justification for a stepped-up Pakistan Air Force presence in the tribal belt. Or it was a successful tactic to force the Pakistan army to take strong action in the area.
Now the Pakistan Air Force, under the pretext of countering foreign intervention, may be collecting data on Taliban movement along the Durand Line and may use them against the militants the way the US wanted it to do. And it may be sharing collected data with the NATO forces to assure them of Pakistani cooperation. The US’ relaxed posture on rising Pak-US tensions indicates that there is more to it than meets the eye.
Pakistan and the US are forced to keep their bad marriage going. Pakistan needs economic help and military equipment — mostly US supplied — and the US cannot function effectively in the region without Islamabad’s cooperation. The US will be further pressed to maintain its alliance with Pakistan because of the closer alliance between Russia, Iran and China. As an alternative route to Afghanistan, the Russians will try to regain influence in the Central Asian states to cut off US supply lines.
Furthermore, Pakistan’s ruling elites are too invested in the US and Europe: it is their second home; spiritually, the first in some cases. They cannot afford to break up with the West even if the Chinese, Iranians and Russia promise to fulfil Pakistan’s economic needs. Therefore, the US-Pak alliance is not going to end in the near future. However, the new Cold War is a reality and Pakistani rulers should tread very cautiously. The first step in the right direction will be to regain control over territory lost to religious extremists.
The writer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org