Pakistan in Obama’s Strategy: Any Success?

Pakistan in Obama’s Strategy: Any Success?
obama1The first Afro-American president has come to power in the US at a time when the world is suffering at the hands of the terror wave spurred by the global “war on terrorism” that was launched by his predecessor in response to the 9/11 attacks.

Obama’s election to the highest position in the most powerful and resourceful country of the world certainly struck a huge blow to racism. It raised hopes throughout the world for being a symbol of change, against those who had initiated a war that has resulted only in the killing of hundreds of thousands of innocent people and who had celebrated war crimes, violated international and humanitarian laws, and, above all, denied America an opportunity to genuinely work for global peace.

While hopes remained, Obama’s keeping of Robert Gates as secretary of defense and appointment of people like John Brennan as senior counterterrorism adviser and Admiral Dennis Blair as director of national intelligence signaled a contrary to these hopes.

Being a symbol of change, his election was also hailed by the people in Pakistan, who suffered the most from state-led terrorism after the declaration of US global war on terror.

The deaths and destruction suffered by Pakistan alone from that US-led so-called war on terror is much greater than that caused by the 9/11 attacks in the US.

Today, when Obama’s entrance in office with the slogan of change is on the verge of completing a year, a glance over the US role particularly in Pakistan and Afghanistan during the year depicts a tendency of continuation and consolidation rather than change.

This tendency is clearly evident in his Afghanistan and Pakistan strategies, wherein, instead of coming up with an alternative strategy to the use of force, he has decided to bring in more troops to Afghanistan. He also allowed to increase drone attacks on parts of Pakistan, in the name of partnership and alliance in the Swat valley, and has squeezed the Pakistani government not to go for any negotiated settlement with its own people but just to attack them. As a result, Pakistanis have seen extensive civilian casualties, destruction of large areas, and violent reactions from the residents of those areas.

The total number of such violent incidents rose to around 100 (exactly 92) in 2009 — some 40 percent higher than the number recorded in 2008. With all these facts in mind, can we still hope for a change?

Unilateral Interest

At the outset, it should be comprehended that the 9/11 US alliance with Pakistan is the direct consequence of the former’s strategy in Afghanistan. Hence, the US role in Pakistan is oriented in a way to abandon the campaign in Afghanistan, as acknowledged by the US president in his December 1, 2009 speech, where he stated, “We will act with the full recognition that our success in Afghanistan is inextricably linked to our partnership with Pakistan.” Seen in this context, the current US role in and relationship with Pakistan are manifested in engagements that preceded them.

Besides the appointment of a special US envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan and establishment of Afghanistan-Pakistan-US contact group, an extraordinary number of high-level visits of US officials, congress men, and military commanders to Pakistan as well as the visits of dignitaries from allies such as NATO and EU countries reflects the depth of engagement between the two countries. The year 2009 saw more than 70 US high-level delegations and visitors coming to Pakistan, including the secretary of state.

Public diplomacy, to promote a softer image of US in Pakistan and efforts to reduce anti-American sentiment, is another facet of the US involvement in Pakistan. A lavish amount of money is being spent on establishing direct contacts with NGOs, civil society organizations, professionals, media, and other important segments of Pakistani society, including tribal elders, women, youth, and even students.

The promulgation of the Kerry-Lugar Law, with the so-called emphasis on economic aid promised through this law, is also an attempt in this regard.

Thus, the interaction engages at least five levels: (1) military–military, (2) military–civilian, (3) civilian–civilian, (4) multilateral contacts, and (5) intelligence sharing and logistic support.

While the first four kinds of contacts are quite overt, an active collaboration in intelligence and military areas with regard to the campaign in Afghanistan is not so transparent. Keeping aside the above contacts, various reports suggest many operations are underway covertly by the CIA and other US official and privately contracted agencies.

By every account, this is a huge engagement that apparently shows the significance the two countries attach to their relations. Many would interpret these measures as an indication of increasing cooperation between the two countries, but for many Pakistanis, there are serious questions about taking these measures as a token of genuine cooperation.

Drone attacks in the tribal areas of Pakistan and the practices of private military agencies such as Blackwater (now Xe Services) depict the other dimension of the US engagement in Pakistan. In 2009 only, there were more than 40 drone attacks. At the end of his visit on January 7, 2010, John McCain, head of the visiting US senators, has indicated quite categorically that the US intends to continue using this method in Pakistan despite protests from the latter.

Indian Dimension

An insight into the US role in Pakistan remains fragmentary without the mention of the Indian factor, as the perception of Indian threat has always compelled the policymakers in Pakistan to seek US help. Indo-US strategic partnership in this regard is not a positive development in the context of Pak-US relations.

A considerable majority in Pakistan believe that the violence resulting from the suicide bombings in Pakistan, which started in the aftermath of the US invasion of Afghanistan and which have intensified in the recent months, have international linkages, and that Indian agencies are involved in it with the connivance of US agencies, as the two have a commonality of most of their strategic goals for the region.

The recent statement of Indian Army Chief Deepak Kapoor, where he said “[there is now] a proportionate focus towards the western and northeastern fronts,” has given a fresh impetus to the prevailing negative trends in the regional politics as regards the strategic partnership between India and US.

Shifting the Afghan War to Pakistan

Obama’s emphasis on the sharing of a “common enemy” between the US and Pakistan, and a “strategy that works on both sides of the border,” is not in total contrast with the aspirations of the people of Pakistan and many in the region who expected a political solution to this problem from the new administration in Washington DC.

It is rather reflecting the US efforts to shift the theater of war from Afghanistan to Pakistan, as well as the plan to check the operations of Pakistan’s army beyond the tribal belt on Pak-Afghan borders. This has been endorsed by General Stanely McCrystal in his recent statement, during his visit to Pakistan, when he said, “I’m hopeful of the time when the Haqqani Network, which is causing damage inside Afghanistan, is taken on by both of us jointly to reduce the damage they are causing. It is important that we together do that.”

Hence, the partnership or engagement between both countries, as it happened to be in the past, is based on short-term considerations, rather than long-term, strategic ones. It can survive in the case of a convergence of interests between both states. The partnership’s survival is rooted in the sacrifice of Pakistani interests. Pakistan practically sacrificed its sovereignty, in the wake of the aerial drone attacks, in this ambiguous, never ending war. The partnership has caused a widening of gap between the Pakistanis and their government, resulting in the latter’s loss of legitimate authority.

This loss is detrimental to the government on all fronts, as it increases pressure on the government from both within and outside. This ultimately leads toward the collapse of the political system.

Nothing Changed

The recent events at the global level are also pointing toward the continuity of the US policy in its so-called war on terrorism. The current events in Yemen and Somalia indicate the opening of another theater for the war on terrorism in other parts of the world — more specifically, in the Muslim World — after Afghanistan.

The announcement by British Prime Minster Gordon Brown of the convening of an international conference on terrorism in Yemen in the near future is a reminder to the world that the US and its strongest ally UK are still interested in continuing their old strategy. The way the US reacted to the Goldstone report on Gaza conflict is yet another testimony to the approach that is not targeted toward any genuine efforts to redress the root causes of the growing violence phenomenon in the world.

The listing of 14 countries whose citizens’ entrance into the US has been subjected to extensive screening is another serious addition to the situation. This has been done in the name of countering the failure of intelligence and security agencies.

By chance or by design, with the exception of Cuba, all the countries in the list are Muslim-dominated. Whether this act ensures the security and safety of the US territories or not is a separate debate; nevertheless, it will definitely endorse the notion of anti-Islam bias of the US global war waged on terrorism.

Very soon, Obama will enter into his second year of presidency; he may continue talking sweetly, but the US appears to be doing business as usual, maybe at much higher costs to both Americans and the world people at large.

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