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Pakistan’s interests are prime

October 3, 2010

Relationship with Washington will remain troubled as long as economic development is ignored

Pakistan’s decision to halt Nato’s supply trucks driven through the country following an attack on a Pakistani border post by Nato helicopters on Thursday, marks yet another milestone in the country’s often troubled relationship with its western allies.

Pakistan’s display of anger at this particular incident will likely spread more broadly to the country’s grassroots, where disdain for the way relations have evolved between Pakistan and the West, notably the US, evokes widespread resentment.

The episode which triggered Pakistan’s reaction may in time be addressed diplomatically. Pakistan’s decision to formally hand over a protest note to Nato’s headquarters in Brussels on Friday, in diplomatic parlance, marks the first step to eventually resolving the dispute.

In private and in public, the response across Islamabad’s corridors of power underscored just one core line. “This is a violation of an essential red line” has been an oft-repeated phrase since the flare-up.

The bottom line here is essentially that any move by an outside power to send troops or aircraft inside Pakistan’s territory will be unacceptable. This is notwithstanding what appears to be a tacit agreement on the use of drones by the US which in the month of September alone carried out 22 known attacks in the region along the Afghan border.

While the drones have targeted a number of locations of interest to the US, this mechanism has also been employed of use to Pakistan in targeting such notorious characters as Baitullah Mehsud — the late Taliban leader, accused by some of masterminding the December 2007 assassination of former prime minister Benazir Bhutto.

There are indeed valuable lessons to be learnt not just from the flare-up in diplomatic ties, but more importantly the path to a qualitatively new phase in Pakistan’s relations with its western partners.

For too long, these relations have been defined on the basis of broad strategic interests, often mainly to do with security affairs.

In the past decade since the 9/11 attacks catapulted Pakistan into a new partnership with the US in the name of the so-called ‘war on terror’, the relationship has seen two inter-linked features.

On the one hand, there has been an underlying lack of trust and on the other hand a larger than life emphasis on maintaining the focus on military ties as the primary area of interest. While lip service has been paid often by leaders from the US and other western countries to work in the best interests of ordinary Pakistanis, the over-arching theme in reality has been driven by Washington’s security interests.

Overcoming the challenge

Going forward, in dealing with this relationship, there must be substantial changes on both counts. For too long, western officials, notably US officials have complained privately about their lack of a ‘complete faith’ in Pakistan. The next step forward must include unprecedented efforts to overcome this challenge.

For the US, Pakistan’s continued obsession with its neighbourhood essentially puts Islamabad at odds with its western partners. The reality, however, is that Pakistan’s interests are primarily the consequence of the appreciation of its own regional interests.

The long-running dispute with India has fundamentally created recurring discord. The way forward must include not only an acknowledgement of this dispute, but in fact the need to work forcefully to resolve it.

Public unrest recently in the part of Kashmir administered by India must be an eye-opener for all those who are concerned about global security. The idea of two nuclear-armed nations remaining at odds for the long haul needs a concerted global effort to help with a resolution.

At the same time, there must be a concerted effort by the US and other western countries involved with Pakistan to work to shift the focus of their economic support away from strategic and military priorities to the idea of stepping up the pace of economic development.

Widespread anti-US sentiment or indeed anti-western sentiment across Pakistan is no secret. But changing that sentiment requires outside players to appreciate the flaws in their own policies.

In any given situation, it takes at least two to tango. Pakistan has for too long been accused as the main player whose ability to improve the security environment within the country and across its surrounding region remains in doubt.

A qualitative improvement to this situation must be built upon a comprehensive policy shift which finally not just makes Pakistan’s ruling establish feel like a true partner in a global effort, but in fact that feeling must trickle down to the country’s people across its grassroots. Pakistan’s interests come first By Farhan Bokhari, Special to Gulf News

Farhan Bokhari is a Pakistan-based commentator who writes on political and economic matter

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