Senator John Kerry, Chairman of the United States Senate Foreign Relations Committee, has been emphatic in his remarks during and after his flying visit to Pakistan.
Yet it comes across as an utter surprise that someone so well placed in foreign affairs should base his opinion on conjecture when talking to an “ally” government. On the one hand Pakistan is accused of “harboring” terrorists and on the other Senator Kerry admits there is no credible US intelligence to support the claim that the Pakistan government or its military intelligence are protecting Al Qaeda and Taliban terrorists.
The threat of cutting off aid to Pakistan (currently $1.2 billion annually) and shifting the scope and content of their relationship with the embattled country will only play into the hands of the radical right Islamist parties. It will affirm what many privately have believed for long that aid to Pakistan would only suit Washington till the senior leadership of Al Qaeda was hiding in Pakistan. The excuse for the funding to be stopped is that the Senate is furious that Osama bin Laden was hiding in Pakistan.
I suggest the Senate all read the old issues of The New York times. They will learn that from the day he left Afghanistan it was believed that he was hiding in Pakistan. If he was supposed to be elsewhere then why are US drones attacking sites in Pakistan?
The fact remains that a cooling of relations with Pakistan will actually hurt US interests in the region. The moral and material commitment that they have made in Afghanistan cannot be ignored as the support lines for their presence there run through Pakistan. More dangerously, a weakening of Pakistan’s government and military will mean a proportional increase in radicalism of Pakistan’s politics and the entrenchment of the Taliban.
Pakistan’s former cricket star turned politician Imran Khan made an effective point the other day that if Pakistan had helped the US with intelligence to get Osama bin Laden then why didn’t they act on his or her own and get Osama? Perhaps such an act would have provoked the likes of the Taliban even more. Yet the impunity with which the US has violated Pakistan’s sovereignty has, on balance, been a worse pill for the government and the military to swallow.
It is thus no surprise that no sooner had Senator Kerry left Pakistan’s air space, the Prime Minister of Pakistan was in China. It is almost as if the message is clear that America’s loss is China’s gain. China’s relationship with Pakistan has been very close and all the more acceptable to the Pakistani population because it has not been mercurial and the Chinese have not been interfering in Pakistan’s domestic affairs.
For the US the biggest challenge will be to restore respect for the sovereignty of Pakistan and cease the drone attacks. If cooperation against terrorism is sought then it goes without saying that it should be Pakistani troops who should actually carry out the raids on suspected terror sites. It is not enough to say that one suspects the Pakistan army may be in cahoots with the terrorists, there needs to be conclusive proof on this matter.
Senator Kerry’s whole approach to the subject was totally off key. If you are to stand and make statements that cannot be substantiated then don’t make them. Be a statesman and also acknowledge that there was intelligence provided to help find Osama bin Laden by Pakistan. Acknowledge that Pakistanis themselves have died in far larger numbers than US citizens in terrorist attacks.
Yes, there are many lapses in Pakistan’s handling of the matter and yes, there will be rogue elements in any government; but the issue is one of state policy. It is impossible to conceive that as a state policy Pakistan has not supported the war of terrorism. If such were the case then no American convoys of supplies would pass through the country to Afghanistan, no US planes and support facilities would be in Pakistan, and drones sent over the border would be fired at by the Pakistan military.
Senator Kerry could have been a little more thankful for the pains and suffering of Pakistan in its war on terror. It must be acknowledged that were the Americans to abandon Pakistan the fight against terror will continue within Pakistan, not because it serves US interests but because allowing radicalism within Pakistan will destroy the country—and many in Pakistan know what happened to Afghanistan under Taliban rule. This is the time for Senator Kerry to cut the rhetoric and see the writing on the wall.
(Anwer Q. Sher can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org)