by Zafar Bangash (Editorials, Crescent International Vol. 40, No. 11, Safar, 1433)
How long this standoff will continue is debatable but what we need to consider is how this situation has deteriorated to a point that the US feels it can attack and kill Pakistanis at will.
Like a scorpion, the US has a peculiar way of showing gratitude. This was evident yet again on November 26 when US-NATO troops attacked two clearly marked Pakistani border posts killing 24 soldiers including two officers and wounding 28 others. Since the attack lasted more than two hours, the excuse that it was a mistake is a lie. Relations, already strained, have deteriorated further. Apart from expressing sympathy at the loss of Pakistani lives, the US has offered no apologies. Instead, the US Congress withheld $700 million in fees, due for services rendered because Pakistan was “not doing enough” to fight militants that cross over into Afghanistan to fight US-NATO forces. Pakistan has closed its border crossings for US supplies into Afghanistan and suspended intelligence sharing.
How long this standoff will continue is debatable but what we need to consider is how this situation has deteriorated to a point that the US feels it can attack and kill Pakistanis at will. And why is the US behaving in such a cavalier manner towards a country whose support is vital to its safe exit from Afghanistan? The general feeling among Americans is that Pakistani officials will come to their senses after a cooling-off period. Such thinking is based on the assumption that Pakistan cannot do without US financial help. Are American handouts essential for Pakistan’s economic survival and at what point would Islamabad say enough is enough?
Pakistan’s tragedy is not that it is economically weak, only poorly governed. Worse, the US has penetrated almost every layer of Pakistani society. People are easily bought. This includes almost the entire spectrum of political leadership, retired and serving bureaucrats as well as army officers, journalists, university professors and students. Given this level of penetration, the Americans are not too far off the mark if they believe the Pakistanis will soon come to their senses. It is also not difficult to surmise the discussions taking place in the plush drawing rooms of the Pakistani elite. The point has been made; Pakistan should now mend fences with the US. We cannot afford to antagonize America, seems to be the overriding thinking of the elite. But is this true?
The answer depends on the kind of sacrifices, if any, the ruling elites in Pakistan are willing to make. Are they prepared to curtail their extravagant lifestyle? Perish the thought as far as Asif Ali Zardari and his equally thieving family and their hangers-on are concerned. Ditto the other political parasites. For them, stealing from the national treasury as well as the people is a favorite occupation, indeed their only occupation. This is also true for the rest of the crowd that pass for leaders of the myriad political parties.
Politicians, however, are small fries. The real power-wielders and decision-makers in Pakistan are the top military brass. What they decide goes. If they want friendship with the US, then it will be friendship; if they want to reduce the level of cooperation, then that is what will hold. The present cooling of relations is the direct result of the decision by the military top brass after 24 soldiers and officers were killed. For nearly eight years the Americans killed thousands of civilians but the military took little notice. After all, the drone planes that have killed civilians with Hell-fire missiles were flown from Shamsi airbase in Baluchistan, which was leased by the military (true, it was leased to the UAE which in turn leased it to the Americans but the ultimate decision was the military’s). Is it OK for the US to kill 3,000 civilians including women and children using drones but it is not OK to kill 24 Pakistani soldiers? Is there are a hierarchy of life in Pakistan?
The people of Pakistan must face certain bitter truths. The Pakistani State has not only become dysfunctional, the social contract between citizens and the state has completely broken down. Mere tinkering or changing faces at the top will not solve the problem. It is time for a complete overhaul and a new social contract. The current aimless drift will only hasten the country’s disintegration. A good starting point would be to end once and for all dependence on the US. But this will require taking people into confidence by showing them that those that want power will exercise it to serve the people, not lord over them, or serve American interests.