COMMENTARY
 
Pakistan-US Strategic Partnership
Weekly Pulse
November 6-12, 2009
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton recently spent three very busy days in Pakistan—holding press conferences, addressing state banquets, speaking to TV anchors, and having interactive sessions with civil society activists and university students. She tried to turn the anti-American tide in Pakistan by clarifying that Obama Administration's real intent behind the Kerry-Lugar Act was to empower the people and not to jeopardize their national sovereignty—a perception that was created in the country soon after the US Senate passed it as a Congressional Bill on September 24.

Secretary of State Clinton in her several public appearances also frankly admitted that there existed serious trust deficit in US-Pakistan relations. She was gracious enough to publicly confess the American mistake in quitting strategic partnership with Pakistan after the Soviet defeat in Afghanistan, a factor that, in her opinion, partly contributed to terrorism-ridden quagmire the country is confronting today.

The US Secretary of State said that her visit to Pakistan was meant to give a different message to its citizens: that the United States is not pursuing yet another traditional state-to-state or government-to-government relationship guided by short-term, real-politick ambitions; rather, for the first time in the history of its relations with Islamabad, Washington is truly interested in long-term, strategic ties whose primary focus will be on strengthening people-to-people relations between the two countries.

Beyond Words

It was not merely a statement of intent on Hillary Clinton’s part, as she announced close to $300 million US assistance to help improve Pakistan's energy generation and efficiency, raise the level of its higher education and meet some other urgent socio-economic needs. This aid pledge is in addition to $1.5 billion the country will be receiving annually from the United States during the next five years under the Kerry-Lugar Act.

The Act itself represents a major shift in US policy towards Pakistan under the administration of President Barack Obama, as it triples the amount to US civilian aid to the country. The five-year aid package totaling $7.5 billion is meant to improve the country’s education and health sectors, reform its police service, expand infrastructure, strengthen judiciary and democracy, etc. A similar package of $7.5 will offered for the years, 2014-2018, after the end of the current five-year aid delivery, whose first tranche will be received by Islamabad this fall.

Be it the Kerry-Lugar Act, or additional amount of US assistance to Pakistan offered by Ms Clinton, the broader framework for the emerging strategic ties between the two countries is the Af-Pak policy the Obama Administration had announced in March 2009. In many ways, this policy is a departure from the Bush Administration’s approach to Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Under the Af-Pak policy, Afghanistan and Pakistan are treated together since the threat they face and the enemies they confront are common, and also because as long as these enemies survive and the threat exists, the safety and security of the rest of the world, including the United States, from international terrorism cannot be guaranteed. The Bush administration had not established this linkage, and, therefore, it could neither persuade Pakistan to “do more” in the War on Terror, nor could it facilitate a cooperative relationship between Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Concrete Benefits

Pakistan’s security establishment did express reservations on hyphenating the country with Afghanistan initially, while protesting the American reluctance in re-hyphenating Pakistan’s ties with India. However, overtime, the benefits of linking Pakistan with Afghanistan are clear: first, the bilateral and trilateral cooperation between the two countries against terrorism has increased, and gone are the days when their leaders will engage in mutual blame-game over issues of cross-border terrorism. Secondly, like Afghanistan, Pakistan has started to receive international financial commitments, such as the US civilian aid package under the Kerry-Lugar Bill and the creation of a special multi-billion dollar fund by an international grouping called the Friends of Democratic Pakistan.

If the Af-Pak policy has linked one country with another in order to combat terrorism and insurgency in the region effectively, it seeks to de-link Taliban and other local insurgents from al-Qaeda and its hardcore local insurgent-terrorist allies. Under the Af-Pak policy, political reconciliation is possible in the case of those Taliban and other insurgents who are ready to surrender arms and dissociate from al-Qaeda.

Unlike the Bush Administration, the US goal in Afghanistan and Pakistan is clearly stated: "to dislocate, dismantle and destroy al-Qaeda and their hardcore terrorist allies." It is not to create a Western-style democracy in Afghanistan, as Bush Administration’s use of abstract and ambiguous words and phrases such as War on Terror or Terrorism implied. For the Obama Administration, the war is not against Afghans, Muslims or even Taliban. It is essentially against al-Qaeda and its hardcore allies in the region.

Clear-Cut Goal

Such clarification of the US broader goal was essential, as part of the reason why insurgency in Afghanistan has grown and Taliban terrorism in Pakistan has worsened in recent years is the public perception in the two countries that America and NATO want to occupy Afghanistan for a long time for strategic reasons, including the exploitation of vast oil and natural gas riches in Central Asia. The Obama Administration has clearly stated that as soon as its mission to "dislocate, dismantle and destroy al-Qaeda and its hardcore terrorist allies" in Afghanistan and Pakistan is over, the US and NATO forces will withdraw from Afghanistan.

Since Pakistan’s enemy is also al-Qaeda and its hardcore terrorist allies among Taliban and other local insurgents, this is another area that creates compatibility of US-Pakistani strategic interests in the region well into the future. The reason is simple: it is not tomorrow that the principal source of international terrorism—namely, al-Qaeda and its hardcore terrorist allies—will disappear from the regional scene. Pakistan has indeed achieved significant successes this year against al-Qaeda and its hardcore terrorist allies, first in Swat and now in South Waziristan. But the country’s struggle against foreign-inspired and home-grown terrorism is a continued affair, and the challenges from this danger will not be over tomorrow. That is what will continue to strategically link Islamabad with Washington in the months and years to come.

It was a mistake on the part of the Bush Administration to shift the emphasis of the war from Afghanistan to Iraq in 2003 and beyond. This is exactly why Taliban-led insurgency in Afghanistan has intensified and al-Qaeda and its Taliban and other local terrorist allies have established their foothold in Pakistan’s tribal areas in the last half decade. The reason the United States under President Obama is exercising the troops’ surge option in Afghanistan and tens of thousands of Pakistani troops are battling hardcore Taliban, Uzbek and other insurgents and terrorists in South Waziristan now is because of the Bush Administration’s neglect from the “war of necessity”, President Obama’s popular expression for the Afghan war.

The US troops’ surge and Pakistani military operation have a shared objective: to weaken the terrorist-insurgent forces so much that they are forced to eventually beg for peace and join the political process. Intensified counter-insurgency campaigns, as they are currently under way in Afghanistan’s southern and eastern regions and Pakistan’s tribal and Frontier regions, are, therefore, meant to create moderate constituencies among current insurgent-terrorist groups, with which a process of reconciliation can be pursued after the military victory is achieved.

Changed Priorities

Unlike the Bush Administration, whose priority was to win the Afghan war only through military and security measures, the Obama Administration wants to employ all elements of national power to defeat the terrorists. Apart from the use of military force and the adoption of security measures, it wishes to develop and reconstruct the insurgency-ridden areas in the tribal hinterlands of Pakistan and Afghanistan. It aims to build the capacity of the two countries’ security forces to effectively undertake counter-insurgency operations on their own. It wants to empower the people of the war-ravaged Afghanistan and terrorism-ridden Pakistan.

Above all, the Obama Administration wishes to win the hearts and minds of Taliban and other local insurgents. As stated before, the increasing preference of the current US Administration in the weeks and monthd to come will be to find a negotiated outcome of the conflict in the two countries, but only after the forces of insurgency are beaten enough so that they voluntarily dissociate their links with al-Qaeda, agree to surrender arms, and are willing to become a part of the political process as responsible citizens of the respective state.

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