Some commentators have described Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s visit to Washington (October 21–23) as a huge mistake. It is not difficult to see why. Smoke signals from the capital of the great Satan clearly indicated trouble ahead and it came aplenty so the question is, why did the “Lion of Punjab” (Mian Sahib to his buddies and admirers) still undertake the trip?
It brought nothing but additional US pressure demanding virtual abandonment of its defence doctrine. In his brief meeting with President Barack Obama, Sharif was also told to crack down harder on the terrorists as well as get the Afghan Taliban to the negotiating table, almost echoing Afghan government allegations that Islamabad is backing them and that it does not want peace in the war-torn country.
Lost in these demands was the fact that the July 31 meeting in Urumqi, China, between the Afghan government and the Taliban was sabotaged when the Afghan intelligence agency, the National Directorate of Security (NDS) leaked information about the reclusive Taliban leader Mullah Omar’s death. He had died several years ago but the Taliban had managed to keep it under wraps. So why did the Afghan intelligence agency make the announcement just a couple of days before the talks were to be held unless they wanted to sabotage the talks?
Under such circumstances, it became impossible for the new Taliban leadership to participate in the talks. It had to consolidate its position within Taliban ranks and holding talks with the Afghan government, even one headed by Ashraf Ghani who is keen to meet them, would have been interpreted as weakness on their part. The Afghan intelligence agency dominated by Northern Alliance warlords, whose leader is the obstreperous Abdullah Abdullah, is against such talks succeeding because it would strengthen Ghani’s hand.
In Washington meanwhile, American officials demanded that Pakistan surrender its nuclear option and place its nuclear weapons under international control and supervision. The demand springs from the same mindset that the US has displayed against other Muslim countries such as Iran that was accused, without proof, of pursuing a nuclear weapons program. American demands are not predicated on fact; there is always another agenda behind them.
In Pakistan’s case it is even more serious. The US completely ignores the existential threat that Pakistan faces from arch-rival India that has an annual defence budget of $40 billion and another $100 billion are earmarked for acquiring conventional weapons over the next 10 years. The US is grooming India as a rival to the growing power of China. India is no match for China. It is unlikely to ever reach the stage of mounting an effective challenge to the Asian giant. The Americans, however, are pumping the Indians to use them to achieve their own geostrategic agenda. No such demand has been made of India, another nuclear power that has not signed the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).
The three demands America has made of Pakistan are inter-related. First, there is the constant drumbeat about the “safety” aspect of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons. The allegation is that such weapons might fall into the hands of terrorists via some rogue elements in the Pakistan army. Assurances given by Pakistani military officials that are in charge of nuclear weapons seem to have fallen on deaf years. American demands have now become even more shrill in view of Pakistan’s development of tactical nuclear weapons in response to persistent Indian threats of “Cold Start” doctrine. This has been articulated by the Indian Chief of Army Staff, General Dalbir Singh.
What this doctrine amounts to is that India would launch a limited strike against Pakistan crippling its defences. The Indian army is also holding large scale exercises near the Pakistan border to hone this doctrine. What this ignores is that one side alone cannot determine the duration or nature of war. Pakistan’s development of tactical nuclear weapons is meant to blunt precisely such Indian threats and in the unlikely event of an attack, it would be in a position to give a fitting response.
If Pakistan has prevented Indian attacks for more than 40 years, it is precisely because of the nuclear deterrent. The US wants to divest Pakistan of this deterrent capability. No leader — civilian or military — can ever contemplate such an outcome. This would be suicidal.
So the question is, why did Sharif make the pilgrimage to the White House if it was known that the meeting would be little more than a set of insulting American demands? Unfortunately Pakistani leaders, especially civilians seldom think of what is good for the country. For them, meeting American leaders is viewed as a great boost to their sagging popularity at home. Such meetings are presented as proof of the leader’s importance who is received by Obama in the White House. Never mind if Obama twists his ears and lower-level American officials insult the Pakistani prime minister in subsequent meetings. That is considered a small price to pay for getting photographed with Obama. Selfies with the US president are all that matter back home.
Sharif went with a laundry list that he thought he would present to Obama. Instead he got an earful. When he told the American president that Pakistan was going after the terrorists in earnest, Obama demanded that the Haqqani network also be targeted and dismantled. No amount of explanation that the military’s Zarb-e Azb operation was dismantling the terrorist networks in North Waziristan as demanded by the Americans for many years, held water. The operation had driven many terrorists across the border into Afghanistan. Obama and his officials held Pakistan responsible for uptick in violence in Afghanistan.
Sharif’s Washington visit was preceded by Susan Rice’s visit several weeks earlier to Islamabad. Rice, the US National Security Advisor is brusque to the point of being rude and she was her blunt self during her talks with Pakistani officials in Islamabad. She threatened to halt payment for anti-terrorist operations unless Pakistan showed progress on targeting the Haqqani network as well.
The Americans never miss an opportunity to remind Pakistan of the $20 billion paid over a 15-year period. No Pakistani official has the guts to tell these loudmouthed Americans that this money is not bakhshish handed out to Pakistan. This money is for services rendered: the use of Pakistani military bases, supply of fuel and transit facilities for American goods going through Pakistan to Afghanistan as well as military operations launched against militants in Pakistan. The Pakistan army has deployed 120,000 troops in its tribal belt bordering Afghanistan.
America’s war on terror has cost Pakistan dearly: $68 billion in infrastructure damage, loss of 55,000 Pakistani military personnel and destruction of its social fabric by bringing terrorism into Pakistan. The damage caused by this phenomenon is incalculable and the Pakistani society will not recover from it for many decades. American officials are not interested in what damage they cause to other societies; their only objective is to protect and project their own interests.
In one sense, the Americans cannot be blamed. After all, they are not in the business of protecting others’ interests but what does this say about Pakistani rulers? Why are they so keen to protect American interests and hope that the Americans would return the favour? This is not how the world works.
Nor surprisingly, when Sharif requested Obama to persuade India to hold talks with Pakistan over Kashmir, the latter bluntly told him to address this directly to Delhi. He was equally dismissive of the dossier Sharif carried with him about Indian intelligence agency RAW’s support of terrorist activities in Pakistan. Again Obama directed him to discuss it directly with the Indians.
The American president, however, had no hesitation in putting forward Afghan government demands about curtailing activities of the Haqqani network and persuading the Afghan Taliban to come to the negotiating table. According to our information, Sharif did not counter this by saying that the Afghan government — more precisely its intelligence agency — is protecting and financing the terrorist operations of Mullah Fazlullah. He is operating in Kunar province just across the Pakistan border. Why have Afghan security forces not gone after the Fazlullah terrorist network and also refused permission for the Pakistani military to take care of them inside Afghanistan if their forces will not or cannot do it?
Pakistan is being squeezed from two sides: in the West by Afghanistan using the Fazlullah terrorist proxies, and in the East by India. And what does the US — this so-called ally of Pakistan without whose help the war in Afghanistan, whatever its status or success, could not have been prosecuted — do? Washington continues to bolster India economically, politically and also in the field of nuclear technology while it bears down heavily on Pakistan to surrender its nuclear weapons.
What this reflects is the weakness of Pakistani leadership. The Americans know that Sharif has little popular support at home. His so-called mandate is achieved through electoral fraud. When rulers lack public support they can be easily pushed around by external powers. This is what is happening to Sharif and company.
Power and strength reside not in the number of guns and bullets but the kind of values a society upholds. History provides many lessons of how a small group of dedicated people have defeated much larger and more heavily armed forces. The Vietnamese defeated both the French and the Americans in two successive wars.
Pakistan does not have to look far. In its own neighbourhood, two countries — Afghanistan and Iran — defeated the Americans, one through armed struggle, the other through determined resistance to blackmail and sanctions. How could two much smaller countries withstand US gangsterism while a nuclear-armed Pakistan cannot? The answer lies in the quality of leadership.
Unfortunately Pakistani leaders lack courage and dignity — two commodities essential for successful resistance. Unless the Pakistani rulers abandon their habit of begging and adopt the policy of self-reliance, they will continue to be humiliated by all and sundry. They have nobody but themselves to blame for their predicament