By Shamshad Ahmad

It is good news. President Zardari "is a changed man" and is said to
have improved as a leader. This is the "breaking news" story emanating
after a group of notable journalists and columnists had a two-hour
discussion-cum-dinner meeting with our president this last Monday in
Islamabad. According to an eminent journalist, he found the president
a totally different person compared to his earlier impressions of him
as he no longer talks in first person, and now admits mistakes and
sounds practical.

Another prominent journalist captioned his banner-line story saying:
"The president is learning on the job, and is learning well." In his
assessment, "the president has started changing himself somewhat" and
is now willing to listen to others and register their viewpoint. But
he would still not relent on what he thinks is the "correct course"
for him. He did admit, albeit after lot of argument, that the
government was suffering "governance problems" and had become weak
because of its policies.

It was indeed a well-choreographed "curtain raiser" before President
Zardari goes to Washington to join Afghanistan's President Hamid
Karzai at a tripartite summit which US President Obama has convened on
May 6 and 7 to discuss the "operationalisation" of his new AfPak
strategy. Whether or not the president is now a changed person is
immaterial for us as far as the intent or importance of the Washington
summit is concerned.

What will be important for him in Washington is not whether he listens
to the other side well and whether he admits his mistakes or does not
relent on what he thinks is the correct course for him. Nor would
anyone there be interested in what Pakistan's president has been
learning on the job. Obama and Karzai would only expect of him to
guarantee them security from their albatross. Both would also like to
have assurances of Pakistan keeping India free of "terrorism."

This is a tall order for someone whose own country is on fire, and is
standing on the apocalyptic brink. The foremost challenge for
President Zardari in this situation is not what we are required to do
for others' interests; it is what we ought to do to serve our own
national interests and to safeguard our sovereign independence and
national dignity. This will be the real test of President Zardari's
maturity as a leader of this country and his ability to present our
case meaningfully at the Washington summit.

Zardari is an elected head of state, and unlike his predecessor, he
should not be taking arbitrary decisions on the fate and future of the
nation. General Musharraf claimed in his book In the Line of Fire that
in all difficult moments, he felt so "lonely" that the fateful "buck"
really stopped with him. For an elected president, the "buck" must not
stop with him. In a democratic spirit, he should have at least met
with major political leaders, both within and outside the National
Assembly and sounded them out on what should be our own strategy on
Obama's AfPak strategy. That would have reinforced his hands in making
Pakistan's case to his interlocutors more effectively.

Obama recognises that military force alone is not a solution to the
problems in this region. It is a welcome departure from the Bush-Mush
policy of relying solely on military option. But there are other
aspects that cannot be ignored in pursuing this new strategy. Pakistan
is now seen as the real Afghan issue. It is the single greatest
challenge facing the new American president. The US cannot afford to
see Pakistan fail, nor can it ignore the extremists operating in
Pakistan's tribal areas.

Vice-President Joe Biden has himself summed up our case well. He says
no strategy for Afghanistan will work without Pakistan's assistance,
and the US must strengthen its cooperation with the people and
government of Pakistan, help them stabilise their tribal areas and
promote economic development and opportunity throughout the country.
President Zardari should simply ask Obama to heed to his vice
president's advice and also not forget that Pakistan has already
staked everything in supporting this war.

Pakistan, however, is perturbed by America's indifference to its
legitimate concerns. The US in recent years has been targeting
Pakistan with military incursions and drone attacks in our tribal
areas without realising that a country cannot be treated both as a
target and a partner while fighting a common enemy. Drone attacks and
military incursions across the Durand Line must stop lest they further
deepen anti-American sentiment in Pakistan with greater sympathy for
the Taliban in the affected areas.

Our problems are further aggravated by a complex regional
configuration with ominous Indo-US nexus, India's growing influence in
Afghanistan with serious nuisance potential against Pakistan's
security interests in the very heart of its backyard. Pakistan has
been complaining for some time that India was using its presence in
Afghanistan to foment trouble in Balochistan and its tribal areas.
This makes India an inextricable factor to be addressed as part of the
new AfPak strategy.

President Obama understands this linkage. He knew that no strategy or
roadmap for durable peace in the region including in Afghanistan would
be comprehensive without focusing on the underlying causes of conflict
and instability. In a pre-election television interview, President
Obama had promised to encourage India to solve the Kashmir dispute
with Pakistan, so that Islamabad can better cooperate with the United
States on Afghanistan. But curiously, the Mumbai terrorist attacks in
November seem to have shifted Obama's focus. His special
representative was named only for Afghanistan and Pakistan. But one
thing is clear. Richard Holbrooke's mission would remain unaddressed
without taking the Indian factor into account. The role that Pakistan
and Afghanistan are now expected to play to make the world safer and
more peaceful is inevitably conditioned by the overall strategic
balance in the region. The effectiveness of their role and capability
in this process will suffer if other conflicts and disputes continue
to engage and divert their attention and resources. Unfortunately, the
India-Pakistan dialogue process is stalled now.

Both countries are back to their traditional confrontational mode.
This does not portend well for the AfPak mission.

Against this backdrop, any regional approach to AfPak imbroglio would
remain incomplete without addressing the India-Pakistan issues which
regretfully are now finding a manifestation in the Afghan theatre. To
keep Pakistan focused on the larger challenges in our region, the
Kashmir issue has to be resolved. But the US involvement should only
be as a facilitator of the "composite dialogue." A final settlement of
the Kashmir issue will eventually have to be worked out between India
and Pakistan through peaceful means in conformity with the wishes of
the Kahsmiri people who are the final arbiters of their destiny.
Meanwhile, Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry, who
returned from a visit to Islamabad last week, also believes that
Obama's AfPak Plan is not a real strategy for Pakistan. In an
interview with USA Today, Kerry said that Pakistan is in a moment of
peril but there is not in place yet an adequate policy or plan to deal
with this situation. He advised the Obama administration to stop using
the term "AfPak" to describe a unified strategy for Afghanistan and
Pakistan, because in his view this acronym does a disservice to both
countries and to the policy.

But Obama's strategy is not the only problem. Domestic political
instability in Pakistan is also a big handicap in dealing with the
armed threat from militant extremists. Washington has been abuzz with
expressions of fear and anxiety over the situation in the aftermath of
the Swat deal. At a news conference this week, President Obama said
that he's "gravely concerned about the situation in Pakistan," not
about an imminent Taliban takeover, but about what he called the
fragility of Pakistan's civilian government and its ability to deliver
basic services and "gain the support and the loyalty of their people."
Poor governance indeed is our problem. But in the ultimate analysis,
no strategy or roadmap will work in eliminating militant extremism in
Afghanistan and Pakistan without focusing on the underlying political
and socio-economic problems. We will have to win the hearts and minds
of those susceptible to sympathise or support militant extremism. We
need a well-coordinated strategy involving coercive as well as
political and economic approach in addressing this problem. Both
Afghanistan and Pakistan will require adequate political and economic
support in overcoming their problems. The writer is a former foreign

Article Source :

Reply via email to