Despite many statements by foreign offices of US and Pakistan, the relationship between the two countries is fast deteriorating. USA, while wishing to maintain relations, is not confident about Pakistan’s dealings. Hence, while talking about a strong relationship it is not relenting from drone attacks. Several other incidents that have occurred of late need mention. The `Fai episode’, `The Raymond Davis affair’, the `Admiral Mullen accusation’ and most recently the attack by NATO helicopters on two Pakistani border posts which led to the death of 24 soldiers and propelled the Pakistan Army into announcing a review of all diplomatic and military links with NATO. The pattern of action and reaction in the US-Pakistan détente is, by now, well set. First, Pakistan Army spells out its version of the events then the US officials come out with their explanations. There seems to be no attempt to reduce the differences between the two sides by reconciling the conflicting versions.
Perhaps the reason behind this lies, in no small measure, in the level of anti-American fervor that has welled up within the ranks of the country military. Prominent Pakistan watchers are of the opinion that high-ranking military officers are putting pressure on General Kayani to radically reduce cooperation with the US. That pressure was intense in the weeks after the Bin Laden raid, and the aforementioned drone attack has rekindled it. Commanding troops at a time when there is a lot of anguish about relations with US Is a huge challenge for the Pakistani military leadership. Kayani has his hands full in trying to steer the situation in a manner that pacifies both sides.
Pakistani security analyst, Talat Masood, feels that if the intent is to pacify the troops, then Kayani has a rather strange manner of doing so, by stoking the fire further. At his recent address, Kayani clarified that troops could respond on their own when attacked, without waiting for orders from the command. This may be a case of genuine anger in Pakistan Army, but the frenzy that has been created has severely limited the Army’s diplomatic maneuverability. General Kayani has boxed himself into a position from which there seems to be no climbing down. If he tries to strike a conciliatory position with the US, it will elicit a very strong reaction from the rank and file; if he does not then the US will go for the country’s jugular, whereby, the Army will be the biggest sufferer.
In the last couple of years, Pakistan and the US have visited this situation a number of times. A crisis followed by Sabre rattling and recriminating followed by behind the scenes patching up. But this time things seem to be different, ironically, due to the very man that the Generals thought that they had done well to get rid of – Pakistan’s former Ambassador to the US, Husain Haqqani. Haqqani was a master at working things behind the scenes in Washington DC. To compound matters, Pakistan has few friends left in the White House, the Pentagon or the CIA; neither the US Congress nor the Senate is likely to vote for resuming civilian, leave alone military aid to Pakistan.
President Obama has, himself, discounted the possibility of an apology to Islamabad for the drone strikes.
All of this is bound to push Pakistan deeper into the Chinese lap. Chinese officials have, of late, been describing Pakistan as “their Israel.” The key will then lie with China and most critical will be the extent to which the Chinese will go in providing succor to their all-weather ally. The thin silver lining is that it does not seem to be easy for Beijing to take advantage of the US-Pakistan spat and try to replace the US in Pakistan’s scheme of things. In its standoff with the Americans, Pakistan has already tried to play the China card but it has not worked. China has, so far, not come out with an overly supportive role for Pakistan. On the other hand, China is steadily building economic relations with India. A recent visit to Islamabad by Chinese Public Security Minister Meng Jianzhu, probably speaks for itself. The writing on the wall was that China is not likely to walk the extra mile for Pakistan and will, most likely, try to keep out of the fray. In other words, it is reasonable to assume the Pakistan government knows full well that there are limits to Chinese support in its confrontation with the United States.
As an offshoot of all this there are indications that Pakistan’s civilian and military leaders may close ranks in the face of American pressure. This is probably the reason behind President Zardari’s return to Pakistan. He may get out once again but the exit will be dignified and it will not affect the functioning of the government.
India could have managed with rogue elements in Pakistan helping Jihadi forces, but two nuclear powers joining hands militarily to rebuff the Americans is a terribly frightening scenario for New Delhi. Secondly, the Americans, till now, were a major counterbalancing power in the regional matrix of India-Pakistan-China. With US-Pakistan relations going downhill, a livid Pakistan could be expected to go hammer and tongs in aiding and abetting the jihadists which will spell trouble for India. Any upheaval in Pakistan’s domestic politics is bound to put brakes on the India-Pakistan peace process, which recently got revived at the SAARC Summit in Maldives. Hence, howsoever the situation evolves in the South Asian region India is likely to be the loser all the way. India has to keep a close watch on all developments in its neighbourhood and constantly come up with the policy which bests serves its interest.