Washington’s Moves: Signposts to Instability

Pakistan US relations have again hit a difficult patch. Cooperation on anti-terrorism is under pressure. At the operational level there are divergences. These include differing perceptions on the toolkit for battling terrorism, on the centrality of the force or politics, about the acceptable level of collateral damage, on who constitutes terrorists, on the difference between the talibaan and the al-Qaeda. A recent blitzkrieg of official statements reflect these divergences.

In Pakistan, there is strong criticism of the threats made by Bush administration officials of a unilateral military strike in the tribal areas. Being led on by the latest National Intelligence Estimate(NIE) report claiming that Al Qaeda has managed to establish a safe haven in the tribal areas of Pakistan, Pakistan has been warned of US military action incase the presence of Ossama is established there.

In fact, on the eve of the Pakistan Senate Committee’s meeting, the US Congress passed a legislation proposing to tye the US financial aid to Pakistan to an annual presidential certification that "Pakistan did show commitment to eliminate from it territory any organization such as talibaan or al-Qaeda or successor engaged in military insurgency or terrorist activities in Afghanistan." This sanctioning legislation is part of a package of security provisions for the United States recommended by the independent commission that studied U.S. government actions before and after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. It has been sent to Bush for his signature, and will take effect Oct. 1 if he approves it. When this legislation was first proposed in March the National Assembly Standing Committee on Defence had declared on March 9 that Pakistan could end its cooperation with the US in the ongoing war against terrorism, if the US Congress passed any law or resolution imposing sanctions on Pakistan.

Significantly, these developments have coincided with major security upheavals within Pakistan. The fallout of the July 10 Red Mosque operation is an endless string of suicide bombings which left over 200 dead. In the tribal areas the anti-operation anger translated into the scrapping of the September 2005 peace deal.

Pakistani officials including General Parvez Musharraf have categorically said no foreign troops will be allowed to operate on Pakistani territory. On July 28 the Senate Foreign Relations Committee logical was to pass a resolution urging the government to stop cooperation with Washington in the "war against terrorism."

The threat of an attack and the proposed legislation may be viewed as ways of rehabilitating the Bush administration’s floundering image abroad. At the core of the Bush administration’s performance is a string of foreign policy blunders. Its Iraq and Afghanistan policies have shown that when Washington believes its security is undermined it will use brute force to ‘go for the kill.’ This has proved disastrous for American and global security and for the Iraqis and the Afghans.The destruction continues and Iraqi and Afghan blood flows ceaselessly and also American blood occasionally.

A desperate Bush team’s threats may not necessarily translate into an actual strike. Key US think tanks like the Center for Strategic and International Studies(CSIS) has in a near conclusion study has recommended that the SU administration "disclaim direct U.S. military action within Pakistan." Similarly during the July 25 the US Senate Committee on Foreign Affairs the Under Secretary for Political Affairs Nicholas Burns also advocated sterner Pakistani action against "terrorists." Burns admitted " long term denials of these areas to terrorists will require local cooperation, and Pakistan will have to find a more effective and successful way to do so."

Instead of threats Burns sought that "Pakistan use all tools at its disposal to choke the flow of funds to terrorist groups… exploiting charitable donations, and by their tactic of re-forming under new names to evade international prohibitions on donations to terrorist organizations…" The US clearly wants "Pakistan to pass an Anti-Money Laundering bill that meets international standards, and to establish a Financial Intelligence Unit within the State Bank of Pakistan…"

Such demands as opposed to threats notwithstanding, the Bush administration’s proclivity for military action requires a strong rebuke by Pakistan. Responsible statecraft and an aware public demand this of a government when confronted with a threat to Pakistan’s security, sovereignty and integrity.

These recent moves by Washington will further increase public anger against US policies sully the public space. According to Pew Global Attitudes Project favorable public perception of US has been on a downward slide; from 46% 2005 Nov to 27% in April 2006 and now to 15% in May 2007

Washington’s policy moves will undermine its own campaign against terrorism. They would strengthen the ranks of armed militias and win them public sympathy. Pakistan government’s effort to tackle the politico-military challenge of containing violent armed militias that have spilled blood, heightened insecurity and undermined rule of law within Pakistan and also contributed disorder in the region and beyond.

Finally, because of these moves the Pakistan-US relationship too will come under further pressure.