Thursday, 15 March 2012

For a change, something to celebrate


by Ayaz Amir
Friday, March 09, 2012

Banana republic, client state, dictation from the US? This is not how puppet states are supposed to behave. Following the American attacks on two of our border outposts, leaving 26 of our soldiers dead, Pakistan has held off the United States and – would you believe it? – the heavens have not fallen.

The Nato supply route across Pakistan remains closed, not a container getting through, and it is the Americans who are sweating. US envoy Marc Grossman wanted to visit Pakistan for a damage-repair operation but he was told the time was not opportune.

Time was when the sound of clicking heels was a regular feature of life in Islamabad. The new reserve is something vastly different. It comes as a result of the realization dawning in the corridors of national security early last year that instead of any appreciation coming Pakistan’s way for what it was doing to help the US in Afghanistan, in support of a mission seen increasingly as running into the sand, American behaviour was cocky and arrogant.

The Americans may put a brave face on the suspension of Nato supplies but it doesn’t take much to figure out that it would be a serious problem. Pakistan, however, is playing it cool, having made it known that a parliamentary committee is reviewing relations and whatever emerges from the exercise will be subject to parliamentary scrutiny. Seldom in Pakistan’s history have the Americans so eagerly awaited a joint session of our parliament.

As everyone understands, parliamentary oversight is a bit of a fig-leaf. Government and GHQ will decide and parliament will go through the motions. In any event, the one-phone-call relationship is a thing of the past – although, to be fair to Pakistan, even that was greatly exaggerated. Whenever Pakistan has wanted to stand its ground it has been able to do so. When it has jumped into America’s lap it has done so on its own.

No one had to force or convert Gen Zia into backing the so-called mujahideen. It was his own decision. Gen Musharraf did not have to be threatened to fall into line post-Sep 11. In the wake of that occurrence Pakistan’s newly-discovered importance spelled the end of Musharraf’s international isolation. So he welcomed it.
Another issue on which Pakistan is sticking to an independent position is Iran.

Hillary Clinton did not so much warn Pakistan as state what she thought was the obvious: that the Iran gas pipeline would entail financial and economic consequences for Pakistan as per US law. But the riposte from Pakistan was quick, Foreign Minister Hina Khar – a lot smarter than her famous uncle, the once-upon-a-time Loin (sic) of Punjab, Malik Ghulam Mustafa Khar – saying that Pakistan would take a decision in its own interests.

The important thing remains that even as war-talk relating to Iran from Israel and the US is on the rise, Israel desperate for a US strike on Iran’s nuclear installations, Pakistan is not backing off from the Iran deal.

To say that Pakistan is breaking out on its own would be another exaggeration. But it is fair to say that the Americans are learning the limits of their influence in Islamabad. This is a good thing. Even close friends should not be taken lightly and the feeling had grown in Pakistan that the Americans were taking us for granted.
But here’s a remarkable thing. When official Pakistan was supposed to be in America’s pocket, or dancing to America’s tune, anti-Americanism at the level of public sentiment was strong and virulent. But with the relationship going a bit cold, the psychological necessity for overt and loud displays of anti-Americanism has diminished. On the banner of Pakistani patriotism America-bashing has slipped several notches. Pakistan seems a more relaxed place as a result. Long may it remain this way.

Pakistan must think long and hard before allowing a resumption of the Nato supply line although the best thing would be for it to remain closed.
Notice one thing more. Imran Khan’s rhetoric has gone a bit flat, the fizz having gone out of it. This is not because other parties have suddenly hit the comeback trail but because the American relationship has been downgraded. Some of the wind has been taken out of his sails.

In order to reignite popular anti-Americanism two conditions have to be met: more drone strikes and more American visitors descending on Islamabad and Rawalpindi.
Who’s really standing up to the Americans? Popular folklore would have it that it is the army which is calling the shots. But this is too black-and-white an explanation. The government and army are on the same page on this. On each and every matter – Raymond Davis, May 2, Salala, etc – if the army has taken a position, President Asif Zardari and Prime Minister Gilani have unequivocally backed it.

On Afghanistan, and on what happens next there, Zardari, Gilani and Kayani are one. Indeed, Zardari started cultivating President Karzai of Afghanistan when it was bad form in Pakistan to do so. And on Iran at the height of Memogate Zardari said something, this in Naudero, which wouldn’t have gone down too well with the Americans: that Pakistan would not be drawn into unwanted conflicts. He did not name Iran but the meaning was clear.

No one has been dealing separately with the Americans, which is one reason why General Headquarters, for all its Memogate fulminations, really has no charge against the political government. It also says something for the unwitting sophistication of the present diffusion of power – with no single power centre able to have its way in all things – that despite the friction between GHQ on one side and the political government on the other caused by the memo caper, the two sides are back to a working relationship.

Solitary dictators, under no compulsion to look around, have been the death of Pakistan. The present model of government suits Pakistan best – a decentralized system putting a premium on negotiation and consulting. But working this model requires flexibility and exceptional political skills. To the growing surprise and dismay of their detractors, Zardari and Gilani possess both in sufficient measure.
But not to put too fine a point on it, Pakistan is also being well served by its army leadership. How stereotypes crumble. Kayani was supposed to be an American creature.

Yet here it is him and Gen Shuja Pusha as the head of the ISI who have stood up to the Americans. Imagine the kind of pressure – congressional hearings, senatorial warnings, etc – they have had to face. But they have stuck to their guns...and, it should be noted, without undue horn-blowing or flag-waving.

Memogate was an exercise in folly but then the best men make mistakes. Zardari and Gilani seem clever today. But the imposition of governor’s rule in Punjab back in 2009 was their Memogate. The only thing to be said in their favour in that context is that they quickly recovered. Kayani and Pasha too will recover from their governor’s rule, if they haven’t done so already.

ISI chief is one of the key posts in our security hierarchy, one especially important in view of the American withdrawal from Afghanistan. We have had sinister figures and not a few outright dunces standing at the gates but, the memo intervention apart, Gen Pasha has been a clever head of the organization.

Let’s not be blinded by bias or prejudice. This is the freest democracy in our history, not because of any Abraham Lincoln but because of circumstances conspiring to bring about a diffusion of power and authority. Let us keep it this way, hoping all the while, and trusting to our good fairies, that the coming elections lead to a smooth democratic transition...this at a time when the Americans are cutting and running from Afghanistan.

The torch of government and democracy safely handed over...this will be a first in our history. If there is an occasion for some champagne that will be it.