US-Pak Ties on the Rocks

General Musharraf’s resignation on August 18 brings to an end an era of unprecedented Pakistani cooperation with the US foreign policy and security needs. It also marks the beginning of a new negotiation between Pakistan and the US as the US seeks fresh reassurances of Pakistan’s cooperation in its war on terror and Pakistan seeks a new relationship, under different terms and circumstances with the U.S.

By Muqtedar Khan (Building Bridges)

Published: Fri 1 Aug 2008, 11:02 PM

Last updated: Sun 5 Apr 2015, 11:12 AM

At present both Pakistan and US-Pakistan relations are in a flux and the two are mutually related. This is a critical year for US-Pakistan relations. With General Musharraf’s resignation and in a few months President Bush’s departure from power will mean that both countries will be reformulating their policies and priorities and by summer of 2009 we will witness a new geopolitical paradigm in place that will dictate how US, Pakistan and Afghanistan relate to each other.

The war on terror first brought prominence and popularity for General Musharraf and then it brought defeat and disgrace. General Musharraf’s decision to abandon the Taleban, an ally and an asset of Pakistan, to joins the US made him an instant hit among majority of Pakistanis and in the West.

For two years, 1999-2001, he was seen as a dictator who had subverted Pakistan’s democracy and thumbed his nose at the West and was shunned by the US and its allies. But over night he became America’s staunchest ally against terrorism and was welcome as a friend in London and Washington.

A broad segment of Pakistani’s applauded his decision to ignore Islamic sentimentality and praised his realism. His decision to abandon the Taleban was seen as the right thing to do because it was in Pakistan’s national interest.

Since 2007 Musharraf had become a serial failure. The Taleban and Al Qaeda continued to consolidate and both the US and Afghanistan started blaming him for all the failures of the western alliance in the region. For Pakistanis it became obvious that Pakistan had now become a partially failed state heading towards disaster and the government was still more concerned about Washington’s needs than its own national interest. This perception that Musharraf had become a Washington tool united the extremists and the moderates, the secularists and the Islamists. The key virtue that made General Musharraf popular was his insistence that his policies were in the national interest and when this claim lost its credibility in the eyes of the Pakistani people, he quickly became a US agent.

When one talks to Pakistanis, their anger and frustration with the US and with the political realities of their own nation is palpable. “Yes,” they say, “Three thousand innocent Americans died on September 11, 2001, but hundreds of thousands of Muslims have died in the aftermath.” Pakistanis have started to react and kicking Musharraf out is the first step. The end of Musharraf, I suspect, is just the beginning of a dangerous turn that Pakistan has now taken. Now with Musharraf gone, the US is without an ally and without a policy, for its policy in the region was Musharraf.

The Pakistani leadership is now in fundamental disagreement with US’ methods. They feel that Pakistan’s extremism problem cannot be done away with by use of force. They also feel that the US is part of the problem. US policies in the region fuel extremism and the heavy-handed use of force further alienates those who are not radicalised. The solution, they feel, will come slowly through peaceful means and through compromise. Basically, they are pursuing accommodation with the Taleban, while US seeks elimination.

Unless the US agrees to play ball on Pakistani terms, it will have to pursue its goals without any active help from Islamabad and perhaps even in the face of covert, active opposition from Pakistani intelligence and military.

From the outset US’s policy of reliance on Musharraf and force was an unwise strategy. It has failed completely. Bin Laden is still free and Al Qaeda is strong and active. Taleban are still there and much stronger now and chipping away at Nato’s resolve. Pakistan, a nuclear state and a longtime US ally is destabilised, no more friendly, and heavily radicalised. Unless Washington acknowledges its errors and adopts a new policy ó one made in consultation with Islamabad and sensible voices in America, Nato, the US, Pakistan and Afghanistan are all in for really tough times ahead.

US-Pakistan relations are now at a critical juncture. It is imperative that both sides handle the crisis with respect for each otherís interests and with recognition of the fact that they both need each other.

Dr Muqtedar Khan is Director of Islamic Studies at the University of Delaware and Fellow of the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding

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