Saturday, December 10, 2011

U.S.-Pakistan: Sliding Down a Slippery Slope

Dynamics may generate behavior at multiple levels, so the short-term dynamics do not necessarily forecast long-term trends, but still, the daily course of events in U.S.-Pakistani relations suddenly seem noteworthy.

First, consider that at precisely the moment of greatest public irritation in Pakistan with the long-standing U.S. practice of causing heavy collateral damage, we are hearing about talks between the Pakistani government and the Taliban. The context, i.e., that in this instance the collateral damage was the deaths of Pakistani soldiers, is also important, because while the Pakistani army itself is guilty of widespread collateral damage to Pakistani civilians, it is not likely to accept easily the friendly-fire deaths of soldiers at the hands of Americans, thus pushing the military and the public onto common anti-American ground. Now, in that ominous context (for Washington global manipulators), the Taliban and the regime suddenly seem to be finding their own common ground.

In the past, anti-American feeling might arise, but in general the Pakistani army knew which side its bread was buttered on. Washington decision-makers should realize, however, that a strong argument for Pakistani regime compromise with the Taliban exists: Islamabad is after all correct that the core conflict in Pakistan between the government and the Taliban really is not very closely related to Washington's battle with al Qua'ida. Rather, it is about local autonomy and is a culture war rather than a conflict for global power. In the broad context of rising Pakistani democracy, the regime has every reason to search for positive-sum solutions to this local culture war, which has become a severely negative-sum conflict for Pakistan. One issue on which most Pakistanis, Talibani or not, can presumably agree is the desirability of diminishing U.S. military activity in and above Pakistani territory.

These considerations lead to the second interesting development. After the U.S. strike on the Pakistani army position, Islamabad halted the flow of trucks delivering military supplies to U.S./N.A.T.O. forces in Afghanistan, resulting in the trucks piling up in a parking lot. That parking lot was just attacked. The Pakistani regime puts the trucks in parking, where they are vulnerable to the Taliban: this sounds like a neat way of working toward that joint goal noted in the previous paragraph, though no evidence of actual collusion is yet apparent.

All this of course raises the question of how judicious Washington's response to this delicate situation will be. One initial indication is provided by a very important Spencer Ackerman report in Danger Room revealing U.S. plans to allow mercenaries to run air missions across the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. The report deserves close reading. Giving local control to contractors in it, in the end, for the money and beyond the range of Congressional oversight and U.S. law speaks for itself.

The point here is not to read too much into a few events but simply to caution that incidental short-term dynamics can have a way of turning into long-term trends if not treated with sufficient seriousness and sensitivity.

1 comment:

William deB. Mills said...

Author's Update:

The following exuberently anti-U.S. (control) and pro-Iranian (independence) remarks in a Pakistani daily constitute a warning about where U.S. policy is pushing Pakistan:

Iran has proved that they can not only defy the Western hegemony, but also display it by actions based on resolve and pragmatism; it is also a shut up call to the Western sponsored pseudo-intellectuals and fear-mongers, who keep reminding us of the doomsday scenario, even if you think of contesting the West based on principles....Pakistan may learn from the Iranian example in dealing with the menace of drones, as well as the growing and threatening posture of the US-led Nato. The Iranians have hunted the hunter at the most appropriate time for Pakistan. If the Nato and US are becoming hostile towards Pakistan and Iran, then common sense calls for a strategic alliance between both targeted nations. []

Let Washington take heed.