COMMENTARY
 
US ‘Carrot and Stick’ Policy
Weekly Pulse
March 2-8, 2007
On February 26, the reappearance of US Chinook helicopters in the skies of Islamabad did not make any sense, as the days of earthquake relief operations, in which Chinooks had played an instrumental role, had long past.

It was only when President Musharraf and the US Vice President Dick Cheney appeared before media for handshake inside the Presidency, and Mr Cheney later took off for a second secret visit to Afghanistan across the capital’s Margalla hills, that the unusual Chinook activity seemed to make sense.

The same day, reports in the US media were indicative of the purpose behind the secret sojourn to Pakistan by Mr Cheney, who is believed to be the chief architect of Bush Administration’s neo-conservative agenda. A New York Times story quoted frequently by CNN claimed Mr Cheney had “delivered a stiff private message to President Musharraf” on “inadequate efforts by Pakistan in combating Al Qaeda and Taliban.”

An ISPR statement issued after the two-hour-long meeting between Mr Cheney and President Musharraf at the Presidency also acknowledged that the US Vice President had “expressed US apprehensions of (the) regrouping of al Qaeda in the tribal areas and called for concerted efforts in countering the threat.” Simultaneously, however, the statement quoted President Musharraf as saying the international community is “collectively responsible for defeating the scourge of terrorism,” adding that “Pakistan has done the maximum.”

Pakistan’s Response

The same day, Foreign Office Spokesperson Tasnim Aslam stated, “Pakistan does not accept dictation from any side or any source,” a clear reference to Mr. Cheney’s visit. However, later in the day, the Foreign Ministry toned down its comments, saying that Mr. Cheney had “shared US concerns and assessments in the context of intelligence and security cooperation.”

Mr Cheney was accompanied by Steve Kappes, the deputy CIA director, whose presence underscored US concern over intelligence assessments that indicate a deteriorating situation in tribal areas. Clearly Mr Cheney's unannounced visit to Pakistan is the latest and most visible signal of renewed US pressure on President Musharraf to crack down on Islamic militants in tribal areas bordering Afghanistan.

After reaching Afghanistan, the US Vice President had to spend the night at Bagram Airbase, as a snowstorm prevented his flight to Kabul the same day. And when he reached Kabul, a suicide bomber struck the Afghan capital attempting, as per Taliban claims, to hit the top US leader. The terrorist act claimed scores of Afghan lives, underscoring the intensity of insurgency gripping the war-torn country.

The visit to Islamabad and Kabul by US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates earlier in February was similarly shrouded in mystery, but it did not carry the sort of “stick” approach being associated with Mr Cheney’s visit. Mr Gates seemed to appreciate Pakistan’s stand on the issue of Taliban infiltration, re-assuring its leadership about a long-term US commitment to the region.

Spring Offensive

As insurgency in Afghanistan gains momentum, amid talk of the spring offensive by Taliban militants against NATO forces in southern and south-eastern parts of Afghanistan, Pakistan has come under increasing American/NATO/Afghan pressure and criticism on the issue of Taliban infiltration across the Durand Line into Afghanistan from its tribal belt.

Insofar as US diplomacy on the question is concerned, it is reflective of a “carrot and stick” approach. The latest instance of this approach was the reported use of “stick” by the US Vice President and that of “carrot” by the US Secretary of Defense. Unlike Mr Gates, who is relatively new to handling the complexities associated with the Bush Administration’s war agenda in Iraq and Afghanistan, Mr Cheney is a known for his hawkish attitude in the US-led War on Terror in the two countries.

While addressing the media in Islamabad, Mr Gates had hailed Pakistan’s role in the War on Terror, saying: “Pakistan is clearly a very strong ally of the United States” and “is playing a very constructive role” in containing the Taliban and al Qaeda insurgency in the region. Pakistan, he added, is “incurring a significant cost in lives and, I might add, in treasure, in fighting this battle on the border.”

Principal Dilemma

Another instance of the “carrot and stick” approach was the remarks made in January by US intelligence chief John Negroponte before the US Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, in which he singled out Pakistan for becoming a safe heaven for al Qaeda. Mr Negroponte called al Qaeda as a “terrorist organisation that poses the greatest threat to the United States” He said the al Qaeda terror network “is strengthening and building worldwide connections from its safe haven in Pakistan.”

The al Qaeda terrorists, in his words, “are cultivating stronger operational connections and relationships that radiate outward from their leaders’ secure hideout in Pakistan to affiliates throughout the Middle East, North Africa and Europe.”

A day after Mr Negroponte made his statement, US Assistant Secretary of State Richard Boucher was in Islamabad, where he adopted the same conciliatory stance as by Mr Gates, admitting that, like Pakistan, the United States had also not “done enough” to combat terrorism—implying that both countries need to “do more” for the purpose. Mr Boucher did, however, say “Pakistan has not succeeded despite signing an agreement with tribal people in North Wazirastan as terrorists are still going into Afghanistan.”

The dilemma in Pak-US ties vis-à-vis the war in Afghanistan is obvious: On the one hand, the Bush Administration considers Musharraf regime crucial for winning this war; on the other, it criticises it for not doing enough. Likewise, the Musharraf regime claims Pakistan to be a frontline state in the US-led war on terror in Afghanistan, yet it fails to meet US expectations in fighting this war.

Overcoming Differences

Washington still does not agree with Islamabad’s idea of partially fencing the Durand Line or preventing alleged infiltration of the Taliban and their sympathisers across it through signing peace deals with them. Likewise, the positions of the United States and Pakistan regarding the status of al Qaeda in Pakistan are also poles apart. The government of Pakistan thinks it has broken the back of al Qaeda in the country. The US government, on the other hand, believes that Pakistan has become the principal sanctuary for al Qaeda.

The scope of such areas of divergence in Pak-US ties vis-à-vis the counter-terrorism effort in Afghanistan is widening, as Taliban-led insurgency gains momentum. The only way to reverse the tide of divergence in this relationship is a) for Pakistan to “do more” on the issue of regrouping and re-arming of Taliban in its tribal areas and their infiltration into Afghanistan, or b) for the United States to show greater understanding of the peculiar historically-rooted intricacies of the ground reality in Pakistan’s tribal belt and the insurgency-ridden southern and south-eastern Afghanistan.