March 19, 2010

Pakistan to America: Do More

Maybe a turning point did occur in US-Pakistani relations, but is this what US officials had in mind? During his weekly press briefing at the Foreign Office, Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi was asked whether America will press for more action against the Taliban during next week’s Strategic Dialogue in Washington.

“Gone are the days when the US used to press Pakistan to do more. Now we are going to demand of the US to do more,” he replied.

Qureshi’s attitude could be a good thing. His general point is that Pakistan has indeed altered its counterinsurgency strategy, citing military operations in Swat, South Waziristan, Bajaur, Mohmand, and Khyber agencies, the long trail of dead al-Qaeda and TTP commanders, and a half dozen high-level Taliban arrests.

But we also know that its collection of Taliban are pawns more than prisoners.

We know that US officials still demand an operation in North Waziristan, the most connected agency to the Afghan Taliban, and are worried about a relapse in Swat. They’re skeptical of negotiations with Mullah Omar and his inner circle, want action on LeT, and believe Pakistan should redeploy away from the Indian border.

US military officials would likely vouch that Pakistan has done enough - for now - but the White House and Congress are another matter. What’s changed more than anything is Islamabad’s aggression on the political and military battlefields. It hasn’t decided to help Washington so much as take charge of its own interests.

Good for Pakistan, but a potential bomb for America.

Qureshi did his part to highlight the Strategic Dialogue, saying, “I believe our forthcoming dialogue will provide a good opportunity to re-build confidence and trust on both sides. We need to build comfort on all sides. We want these talks to be broad-based and that is why I am proposing a completely different format for interaction between the two countries.”

But the niceties ended there. Qureshi is leading the talks with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and has orders from above to put the foot down.

“My message to Washington is: we’ve been talking a lot. The time has come to walk the talk. We’ve done our bit. The ordinary citizen in Pakistan has paid a price. We’ve delivered. Start delivering.”

He knows what he wants too.

“I am also proposing 10 tracks of sectoral engagements in economy, energy, defense, education, science and technology, counter-terrorism strategic stability and non-proliferation, health, communication, agriculture and public diplomacy.”

Again, this could be good news for America. Only through a broad civil strategy can an efficient martial strategy thrive. Its incurred wrath in Pakistan is largely due to military obsession. America stands to gain if Islamabad wants to develop a mature, long-term relationship. Even its people, in time, might be persuaded if America constantly delivers on its promises.

A few items on Pakistan’s list include independent drones technology, civil nuclear technology, lifting security measures at airports, and accepting Taliban negotiations mediated by Islamabad. Most Pakistanis want America to exit from Afghanistan.

Naturally March 24th is a day to keep an eye on. For the moment all Pakistan has done is seize negotiation lines with the Taliban through a secret deal with America and leverage its actions last year into demands for the future.

US-Pakistani relations could actually take a step in the right direction if the Strategic Dialogue is handled correctly, but the potential exists for conflict over how much has been done, still needs to be done, and what should be delivered.

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