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Pakistan should seize the moment

 

By Imtiaz Gul

The Express Tribune, May 26 ,2012

Cynics in and outside the country have derided any attempt by the government to try and resume the passage of US-Nato supplies as yet another capitulation to America. Others still have called it a compromise of national honour. And some have said that it is being done to gain dollars, without realising that America never throws dollars in charity.

The facts suggest that both Pakistan and America have tested each other’s patience and stretched themselves to the maximum. Clearly, realpolitik has been at play on both sides. Pakistan has said that the matter now lies with its parliament and is demanding an apology, cessation of drone strikes and increased compensation for each container that passes through its territory.

The US, on the other hand, desperate for resumption of the ground lines of communication and cognisant of Pakistan’s indispensable role in the Afghan peace process, has nonetheless dragged its feet. But Washington has found it hard, if not impossible, to give up on Pakistan, and thus came the understanding, after weeks of brinkmanship, paving for President Zardari’s participation in the Chicago summit.

The roadmap for Afghanistan requires both sides to stay relevant, Pakistan more so since it is right next to the country and has ethnic as well as commercial links to it. That is also, perhaps, why several US officials have camped in Islamabad since late April to work out a deal. On the face of it, Pakistan ended up taking the right decision whereby it demonstrated flexibility. But as it turned out, this seemed to lack political consensus at home and also the issue of what the transit fee would be was left unresolved. As a result, the vibes from Chicago have not been very encouraging.

Now, regardless of the invectives being used for Pakistan’s “dodgy, inflexible and vision-less” approach until the final deal, the real question staring us in the face is what happens if a deal is indeed reached. What next?

Will Pakistan set aside its India-centric mindset in favour of an economically prosperous future? Will it attempt to rationalise its relations with groups such as the Haqqani network? Or will it perpetually remain locked in a war of attrition with the US? This represents a huge challenge for Pakistan because all other countries use the American prism to judge Islamabad. Equally important is a resetting of ties with India. Since America — for its geopolitical and commercial considerations — views Pakistan through the Indian prism, one would hope that a real change of mind has taken place in Islamabad. Officials — both military and civilian — insist that it has. Also, the country is looking more towards regional friends and neighbours for fostering economic links, they say.

But, one major question that springs from this change of mind is whether Pakistan really believes in regional integration through trade and economic cooperation and whether it is actually pursuing a paradigm shift — guided by China — from militarism to commercial collaboration?

If it is doing so, it probably stands to win goodwill from all quarters and can probably rely on tangible support for infrastructure development and capacity building from friendly countries. During a recent visit to Islamabad, an EU delegation, for instance, also expressed more or less similar sentiment and underscored its long-term commitment to both Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Ambassador Vygaudas Ušackas, the EU’s special representative to Afghanistan, and other officials told Pakistani officials and members of civil society that as a strong and passionate supporter of integration, the EU encourages integration and regional cooperation. He said that while the EU stands committed to the universal values of peaceful coexistence, human rights and good governance, it is also ready to support in the common cause of fighting terrorism through a strategy of counterterrorism and security.

Pakistan must seize the moment and aim to gain the goodwill it can win following successful negotiations with the US over resumption of Nato routes and future cooperation on Afghanistan. It must learn from China that confrontation, particularly with the world’s sole superpower, only entails conflict, financial damage and ostracisation.


Imtiaz Gul is the Executive Director of the independent Centre for Research and Security Studies, and is currently a Fellow of International House of Japan/Japan Foundation, Tokyo

Email: imtiaz@crss.pk