Polygraphing Pak-US ties

More than deploying a Sigmund Freud of international relations to understand what’s going on in the kooky world of Pak-US ties, perhaps all we need is a lie detector.

So who’s lying? They all are.

The federal government has been holding ‘parallel negotiations’ with the Americans for the last several weeks, all the while vending the parliament-is-supreme mantra.

The opposition happily signed on the dotted line when PCNS recommendations were confined to whisperings in Raza Rabbani’s chambers. But the moment the proposals landed in the open, the PML-N broke out in paroxysms of fist-waving, chest-thumping allegiance to some vague idea of sovereignty no one really knows how to define.

And the Americans. Do they really ‘respect’ the parliamentary process in Pakistan? Don’t even answer that.

Which leaves us with the boys – the so-called guardians of national interest who would have us believe they’re suddenly fine with putting the national interest entirely in the hands of the bloody civilians.

So who’s been lying? All of them.

Though US officials will deny it publicly, privately they admit that the US is even ready to offer Pakistan the golden handcuff to get its way: $1.18 billion under the Coalition Support Fund. It could be released immediately, they say, and if need be, the man in the White House could personally intervene to get procedural delays removed.

So, all this time, here’s what the Americans seem to have meant by a ‘balanced approach’ to working through differences: quietly take this $1.8 million; open GLOCs; and stop making a big stink about drones – otherwise, y’know what, we’re okay with status quo. Plus, remember Kerry-Lugar? GHQ, the politicians, media and public all erupted in unison but not one term of the document was changed. And the Raymond Davis affair? Despite the pandemonium in Pakistan, the Americans got their guy back, didn’t they?

And this time round too, if Pakistan decides to play hardball on, say, GLOCs, “We’ll use alternative roots but they’re expensive and don’t be surprised if folks in DC make the argument to take the extra money out of Pakistani assistance,” was how one American diplomat explained the worst-case scenario.

And guess what? In its final recommendations on new terms of engagement with the US, Pakistan has decided to drop the conditional approach to reopening Nato ground routes.

But who gained what from this something-nothing of a consensus parliamentary resolution on foreign policy? The ball is back in the government’s court, it can take credit for ostensibly putting foreign policy in the lap of parliamentarians, and it may have bought itself greater leverage with the Americans when they return to the table next.

But what happens, for instance, when the government is unable to ensure the “immediate cessation of drone attacks inside the territorial borders of Pakistan” and the opposition and the public all cry foul? The sluggishness and indecision of parliament has pushed the Americans to offer giving the drone programme the ‘cover’ of coordination: to evolve a new framework for use of drone aircraft that essentially entails pretending that the Pakistanis know what’s going on when they really don’t. “We can call it whatever they want -’New Era of Cooperation’ – whatever,” an envoy said.

As for the opposition, one wonders why they’ve agreed to put their signatures on what is being widely called a toothless document. Because the ‘recommendations’ are broad enough for them to give the battle cry once the government inevitably fails to implement them, a PML-N insider explained.

So who’s lying here? Everyone. And it looks like there only are more lies to come.

Consider the boys. They’ve kept a safe public distance from the circus of sanctimonious indignation the PCNS meetings had become, waiting for the civvies to make all the decisions: negotiate how much the Americans needed to pay the boys for their good fight against Al-Qaeda and the Taliban; decide how much extra dough the boys wanted to allow the resumed delivery of critical Afghan war supplies; set the limits of ‘American activities’ in Pakistan. Yes, it’s all in parliament’s hands now, the khakis will tell you.

The army, which fears nothing more than that this government will run the economy into the ground and thereby jeopardise the army’s own fiscal needs, is ready to silently stand by and let Zardari and his ring of treacherous oddballs take the real decisions.

But before you fall for this line, understand the method to the boys’ silence: fermenting public turmoil, roiling the political waters, and then retreating like a thief in the night – this has been the boys’ strategy on drone strikes, Raymond Davis, Aafia Siddiqi, Kerry-Lugar and every other little disagreement Pakistan has had with the US. Generals before him have been reckless fire-eaters, gifting the Pakistan army with its image of a blowgun always ready to go off. But not so, our Gen K, who has understood better than anyone else that you’ll still get what you want from the civilians – extensions, pay raises, foreign policy – if you do it quietly, from the sidelines, rather than throw a fit.

So while everyone continues lying, what should us common Pakistanis do? Until all alternative options of deception have been exhausted, don’t expect to have a clue what we’re agreeing to. Hope, after all, is the most universal liar of them all.

(From The News, Pakistan)

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