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Hillary shows Pakistan 'a new Silk Road'

 

By Imtiaz Gul

The Friday Times, October 28, 2011

Hilary Clinton's October 21 visit to Islamabad underlined a new sense of realism in Washington. It was the reiteration of the old Washington view on Pakistan, though embedded in a more cautious and comforting tone. Following the storm the former army chief Mike Mullen kicked up by lumping the Haqqani Network and the ISI together, Ms Clinton apparently took it upon herself to pacify an over-reactive Pakistan and rule out confrontation. (" The United States sees a strong, stable, secure, prosperous Pakistan as critical to the stability, security, and prosperity of the entire region. That's why we consider working with Pakistan to be not just the right thing to do, but also very much in our mutual interests."

With this, the secretary of state underscored Pakistan's "critical role in supporting the Afghan reconciliation" and at the same time repeated the Obama administration's singular focus on the Haqqani Network as the largest source of violence in Afghanistan. "So terrorism is a challenge we share, and we want to work together to root out all of the extremists who threaten us, including the Taliban and the Haqqani Network. We should be able to agree that for too long extremists have been able to operate here in Pakistan and from Pakistani soil. No one who targets innocent civilians, whether they be Pakistanis, Afghans, Americans, or anyone else, should be tolerated or protected," Ms Clinton said.

For the first time, an American leader candidly mentioned Pakistan's interests as well. "Now, we are not, by any means, asking Pakistan to sacrifice its own security. Quite the contrary, we respect Pakistan's sovereignty and its own security concerns. We believe we are pursuing a vision of shared security that benefits us all." This message was obviously meant to allay fears and objections among many Pakistanis who believe Pakistan is being asked to protect the Americans interests at the cost of its own interests. Hina Rabbani Khar also mentioned this in the press stake-out and this demonstrates, probably, an increasing clarity on what Pakistani interests are, and on the other hand, an acknowledgement by the US that it now does care of Islamabad's "concerns and interests".

While reaffirming Washington's commitment to Pakistan's democratic transition, Clinton also cautioned the Pakistani leadership on the need to look at its foreign policy afresh and be ready to become part of an expanding global community tied by economic incentives and not driven by outdated, blood-soaked security paradigms.

Ending terrorism is the most urgent task before us, but it is by no means the only task, Clinton said, but also spoke of "the vision of a new Silk Road, which would increase regional economic integration and boost cross-border trade and investments between Pakistan and all of her neighbours. That will translate into more jobs and economic opportunities for Pakistanis and for their neighbours, and thereby increase political stability." And in this context, she welcomed the progression in the Indo-Pakistani dialogue, again a theme that successive US administrations have harped on.

As a whole, the Clinton visit was a reiteration of her government's long-standing view on Pakistan; an unreliable, emotional, and paranoid partner which, despite all its flaws, remains crucial for the American policy in the region. And thus, it is a reassurance that Washington plans to stay engaged with the country and would continue supporting the democratic transition. She also stated in so many words on more than one occasion that Pakistan has to be part of the solution. This reflected the realisation in Washington that continuous engagement with Pakistan might yield more fruit that the occasional aspersions and allegations which only serve as ammunition for the detractors of the Pak-US engagement.

As for Pakistan, let us be candid about it; most of Taliban leaders, one would presume, are prone to Pakistan's influence, if not control. Without a certain degree of tolerance , support and protection, they probably cannot survive on the Pakistani soil, or even in the border regions. Just by saying "Taliban are not in our pockets" will not work. Nor is it an entirely credible claim. Pakistan has little control on groups such as Jaish-e-Muhammad, Lashkar-e-Taiba, or even little publicly acknowledged involvement with the Haqqanis. It is not pronounced and the entire Pakistani leadership is still vague about what constitutes national interest. That is why at the press conference with Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar, Ms Clinton stated in unambiguous terms, rightly invoking the example of snakes:

"And we asked very specifically for greater cooperation from the Pakistani side to squeeze the Haqqani Network and other terrorists, because we know that trying to eliminate terrorists and safe havens on one side of the border is not going to work. It's like that old story; you can't keep snakes in your backyard and expect them only to bite your neighbours. Eventually, those snakes are going to turn on whoever has them in the backyard."

Pakistan, under the current domestic circumstances and external pressures, must act straight. Rather than hoping, in vain, to rely on cold-war era survival tactics, Pakistan needs greater pragmatism and a clear vision to chart a path of peaceful coexistence and economic development - a pre-requisite for socio-political stability. It is high time to move from a flawed security paradigm to a more people-focused security framework that relies on the economic strengths of the country rather than on private militias.

The writer heads the Centre for Research and Security Studies, Islamabad

Email: imtiaz@crss.pk