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December 20, 2011

Pakistan’s Options as Islamabad-Washington remain tense

By Yasmeen Ali

Ever since 9/11 and the subsequent invasion of Afghanistan by USA, the world in Pakistan changed in many ways. Pakistan, USA’s ally in WOT , the biggest sufferer in this expedition was just slapped with Congress passing a bill imposing more conditions on aid to Pakistan, especially linking it to Islamabad’s cooperation in war on terror and its efforts in curbing terrorists, including Haqqani network.

 Myra McDonald in her recent article states,” “The society which is being shaped by the Afghan war in ways which neither Pakistan’s neighbors, nor western powers, would choose.  The airstrikes, coming soon after the forced resignation of Pakistan’s ambassador to Washington Husain Haqqani for allegedly seeking American help to curb the power of the military, have added fresh oxygen to a combustible mix of anti-Americanism and religious nationalism enveloping Pakistan”.

Where should Pakistan go from here?

For starters, Pakistan must strategize. Whereas interests of both Pakistan and USA converge on many points, especially in Afghanistan, on many deeper, vital points, they do not. USA, understandably, wants a greater involvement of India in Afghanistan. This of course, is diametrically opposed to Pakistani interest. The problem in Afghanistan is neither the Haqqanis, nor anyone else. The problem in Afghanistan is foreign involvement. The presence of foreign forces. Pakistan lies ravaged, her economy destroyed owing to the deep involvement in WOT. Until and unless NATO troops withdraw, there will be no peace. With no peace, Pakistan continues on the path of destabilization. However, their departure does not seem imminent in near future. According to Ben Farmer of the British Telegraph, the Obama administration is now negotiating a “pact” with the government of Afghan President Hamid Karzai that could leave American military “trainers” -- thousands of them -- as well as special operations forces, and the U.S. Air Force settled into some of the enormous Afghan bases the Pentagon has built there until… 2024. 

Pakistan should strategize to hasten the departure of NATO forces from her neighborhood. If Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki in cooperation with Iran can outmaneuver Bush & US military leadership and convince USA to sign the US-Iraq Withdrawal Agreement, Pakistan too, can convince NATO that the presence of their forces in Afghanistan is self defeating in reconstruction and stabilization of post-conflict Afghanistan. Ahmed Rashid, in his article,” The Way Out of Afghanistan”, states,” None of the attempts at rebuilding the Afghan state over the past nine years have really worked. What assurance is there that they will work by 2014?”

Secondly, Pakistan must expand on her trade base on two levels; regional and international. On the first level, she must strengthen friendly relations with nations of South West Asia Region. Entering into trading contracts and other “soft” interaction with Turkey, Sri Lanka(According to Sri Lanka Customs statistics, value of total trade between both countries was $345 million in October, 2011 recording 4.5 percent average growth from $169 million in 2005), China, Iran. More especially with Nepal.

On the second level, Pakistan must press not for aid, but for market access to western countries. US has recently suspended some $800 million in aid to Pakistan. This may be set off by China, our largest trading partner, particularly in infra structure & mining, worth almost $9 billion last year! However, Pakistan must increase trade with other western countries. Removing eggs from the USA’s basket just to place it in Chinese one, can make for uncomfortable sleeping partners! The policy of restricting her major economic interactions has given USA immense leverage to call the shots where Pakistan is concerned.  There are lessons to be learnt here. Political independence and sovereignty is the outcome of economic independence.

Is Pakistan ready to be finally politically independent?

(The writer is a lawyer and university professor based in Lahore, Pakistan. She can be reached at yasmeen.a.9 @ gmail.com).