By Sana Bucha –
The can of worms that the NATO blockade opened
They have two tongues in one mouth, and two faces on one head, so that they can speak everybody’s language. They use everybody, deceive everybody.” These are the words of AbdulSalaam Zaeef, former Ambassador to Pakistan for Afghanistan’s Taliban government. Zaeef is not describing a demon or a supernatural creature; here, “they” is Pakistan. If Zaeef had been asked – in the same breath – to describe the US, all he would need to do is add another head to his analogy. Zaeef is no authority, but this much is true: split personality disorder is evident in both countries’ foreign policy towards each other. It is on these lies that a relationship was built between the US and Pakistan. And it is, amidst these falsehoods, thatPakistan’s sovereign parliament has been asked to step in and decide the long-term fate of two extremely distrusting countries.
Things soured last November when US airstrikes on Pakistani check posts in Salala left at least 24 of our soldiers dead. Tragedy struck a nerve and it all came back to haunt us. How CIA operative Raymond Davis killed two men in Lahore with such impunity and got away scot-free. The raid carried out by US Navy Seals in Abbottabad in a bid to hunt down Osama bin Laden. The civilian nuclear deal that the US struck with India (and not with Pakistan), the incessant drone strikes, Dr. Afia Siddiqui, the false promises and delayed payments. Pakistan had had enough. With no unconditional apology forthcoming from the US and without much deliberation within parliamentary quarters, Pakistan cut off its supply routes to NATO troops in Afghanistan.
To date, they remain suspended. Pakistan can choose to bask in its moment of glory, but the truth is that the drone strikes continue unabated, one as recent as this Friday in Miramshah, North Waziristan. Dr Siddiqui still languishes in a US prison, there is going to be no trial conducted in the US for Davis and the Obama Administration is not planning on striking any civilian nuclear deal with Pakistan whatsoever. Lastly, for clarity’s sake, there will be no apology either. Not for the Abbottabad raid and certainly not for the attacks on Salala.
So, while the opposition, united for once, and the government along with some of its disgruntled coalition partners, honestly persevere to reach a consensus on whether or not to reopen its routes to NATO, there are more lies doing the rounds. With routes suspended for more than four months and counting, and no sign of being lifted, why was there talk of an agreement being reached recently between Pakistan Railways and the military-led National Logistics Cell? Also, exactly how many times was there an exchange of words between Chief of Army Staff General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani and Chairman of US Joint Chiefs of Staff General Martin Dempsey since November?
General Kayani told some parliamentarians that he had spoken to General Dempsey only once all this while. General Dempsey, meanwhile, has alleged that he had spoken with General Kayani at least five times since the Salala tragedy. President Barack Obama’s recent meeting with Prime Minister Gilani in Seoul also raises more questions than it answers. Yes, Prime MinisterGilani told the American President that the future course of action would bedecided by the parliament. But it is also a fact that even though Obama said he would wait for the parliament’s decision, there was an undertone message: his need to protect American lives needs to be considered.
Meanwhile, conflicting statements are emanating both inside and outside ofparliament. Federal Minister for Railways, Ghulam Ahmed Bilour, with a push from the right quarters came up with a brilliant plan of action: if the US could provide engines for Pakistan Railways, NATO supplies could be transported to Afghanistan via railway. Although he was quick to retract, Bilour’s statement dealt a real blow to those who were thinking of supporting the resumption of routes to the US. I believe that is what the GHQ wants now. However, proxy right-wing teams, which blew hot when tragedy struck, are refusing to back down. After the Taliban, this is anothermonster our establishment has helped create. The chickens have, once again, come home to roost.
With the leader of Jamaat-ud-Dawah hogging a large share of a daily newspaper’s front page, for putting forward his ‘recommendations’ (read: warning) and other members of the Pakistan Difa-e-Council echoing a similar stance in a not so rare show of street power and a chilling warning from the Taliban to boot, parliamentarians have a daunting task ahead. Despite the hysteria, the answer to the US is an emphatic no. For now. Before we move forward, however, it is imperative that we separate fact from fiction. That Pakistan is an important US ally is a myth. Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani has many a time spoken of ties between both countries being based on mutual respect. That’s not happening.
Allies don’t conduct covert operations, or kill innocent civilians on the soil of the same ally and certainly don’t abandon them when their work is done. Allies don’t, but superpowers do. That’s Uncle Sam for you. However, that’s only part of the truth. Pakistan became an ally of the US, willingly (!) during the Cold War against the Soviet Union. Pakistan’s former presidents (military dictators) have taken substantial aid from Washington and worked in lieu with them to achieve their goals. Noteworthy, however, is the fact that while doing so Pakistan has never compromised on its own national interests.
Since 9/11, Pakistan has continued to be a willing partner to the US. This time round, the deal was struck through President General Pervez Musharraf. This is the time that the US was given an NOC for conducting predator strikes on Pakistani soil. If Imran Khan or Jamaat-e-Islami demand that the government ask the Americans to stop, they’re merely wasting their time. Our sovereign parliament can only reach a consensus to stop drone strikes. Those who control the drones have a silent understanding with the most powerful quarters in Pakistan. So when the Parliamentary Committee on National Security stresses on its approval for “use of Pakistani bases or airspace by foreign forces” and that there be zero tolerance for “overt or covert operations in Pakistan,” I’m tempted to ask: “who are you kidding?”
Coming back to the billion-dollar question of why we ever chose to become the US’ most trusted ally, the truth is, we didn’t. No parliamentary oversight was sought in 1958, and we weren’t always caught between a rock and a hard place. Our fate was sealed and delivered by former generals in the name of national interest. The truth is that Washington and Islamabad have no choice but to work with each other to achieve some common goals. And it’s not going to help if we keep lying to our own people about the drone strikes, the aid usage, strategic gains, and of course, we also need to come clean on whether we are also willing allies of the Taliban. How Osama bin Laden ended up living in Pakistan for years, is an uncomfortable question, but nevertheless needs an answer. Snapping back to now, the truth is also that the US is not desperate to get its NATO supplies fully restored.
Its soldiers in Afghanistan are not in dire straits. After all, we now know that the airspace was still being used to supply the US troops through Pakistan. Also, if push comes to shove, there’s always Islam to the rescue. Raymond Davis was allowed to depart on account of blood money (Diyat) and this time around Islam permits foodsupplies to be allowed even to the enemies, with a complete ban on transit of weapons. But who will have the time or manpower to check each supply that goes through. There is however a flip side to this: the members of Difa-e-Pakistan Council and sections of media, will speak volumes about the recent desecration of the Holy Quran, and the Kandahar killings of innocent women and children at the hands of US forces. As much as the incidents need to be condemned, triggering a good versus bad Muslim debate within our own country is not going to help.
The Jamat-e-Islami’s recent rhetoric is a preview of times to come. Accusing the government of bowing to US pressure, they believe that the government has taken a principle decision to reopen NATO supply routes. They have threatened to hold country-wide protests if this materializes. DPC and PTI will surely follow suit. Others from the opposition front may join in, or choose to go solo. Either way, the country will be brought to a grinding halt while NATO trucks will start rolling in. Once more, the only ones left to suffer will be the bloody civilians.
The writer hosts the programme Lekin on Geo TV