July 12, 2011

Continuing Aftermath of Pakistani Aid Cut

As if to counter Pakistani threats to redeploy away from the Afghan border, a total of three drone strikes and 12+ Hellfire missiles eliminated 48 militants in the Waziristan agencies. Except feigned strength has already failed to achieve results. The Obama administration’s strategy to coerce Islamabad is accumulating risks without any sign of reward.

Two can play with their equipment

As the Pentagon justifies its aid suspension through a shortage of U.S. trainers, Pakistani Defense Minister Ahmed Mukhtar countered, “If at all things become difficult, we will just get all our forces back. If Americans refuse to give us money, then okay. I think the next step is that the government or the armed forces will be moving from the border areas. We cannot afford to keep military out in the mountains for such a long period.”

The Dawn notes that “real defense and military policies” are set by the army, but Pakistan’s military is lobbing similar resistance at U.S. pressure.

A “golden opportunity”

Many levels of Pakistani society consider Washington’s military cut as a blessing in disguise. Islamabad should further extract Pakistani policy from U.S. strings and turn to more supportive allies such as China, who just reaffirmed its all-weather support. With popular reaction immediately trending in this direction, Pakistan’s military has also declared its sovereignty from U.S. funds and pushed back against U.S. propaganda.

“The majority in Pakistan and also many in the ranks of the military are angry at Washington,” said one Pakistani military official. “This, in turn, will put pressure on the government and military to review and reassess the counterterrorism cooperation with the U.S.”

Three days ago Major General Athar Abbas singled out The New York Times in particular: "In recent weeks the NYT has continued to publish wild claims presented as news stories on the basis of information supposedly provided by unnamed US officials. If the paper continues with its vilifying campaign without any concrete evidence, I am afraid at some point it may end up expressing its deep regret the way it did in the case of its Iraq coverage.”

Burning conspiracy theory

The combination of suspended military aid and repeated pressure (both public and private) to restructure its security forces has naturally stimulated Pakistan’s climate of conspiracy. Such sensitivity continues to be ignored by Washington at great cost to U.S.-Pakistani relations. First the NYT reported an internal move against Pakistani military chief Ashfaq Kayani, portrayed as surrounded by an increasingly radicalized army leadership. Although potentially true, this story was perceived as hostile to the military. Next came the NYT’s editorial demand to remove ISI chief Ahmed Shuja Pasha, which Abbas labeled “a direct attack on our security organization and intelligence agencies.”

Today MQM Chief Altaf Hussain spoke for a potentially large number of Pakistanis by accusing his government of conspiring with Washington against the military.

Aid cut leads to dead end

While private discussions between Washington and Islamabad remain ongoing, the slightest sign of progress has failed to surface publicly. Getting tough with Pakistanis woos American voters but not Pakistanis themselves. The situation is merely spinning further out of control, and it wouldn’t be surprising if Washington slammed on the brakes sooner than later. Not only does America need Pakistan’s cooperation in the region, even at a partial level, but its plot has backfired quicker and on a greater scale than the White House likely anticipated.

Pasha will reportedly land in Washington for one day of high-level meetings inside the Pentagon, and a “breakthrough” could follow.

Moderate voices are still willing to accept a joint-intelligence team to hunt down Taliban and al-Qaeda leadership hiding or residing in Pakistan. But The New International also warns,”It’s high time the US decided if, and on what terms exactly, it wants to stay in this relationship. This half-way-house, of veiled threats and pressure tactics, will achieve nothing.”

If the Obama administration is holding an ace up its sleeve, it shouldn’t have waited until after playing this lousy hand. An “aid cut” wouldn’t have hit the table to begin with. The disastrous state of U.S. policy necessitates real diplomacy, not another tactic, trick or gimmick.

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