The US and Pakistani governments seem to be heading for a divorce full of recriminations. So great are the divergent objectives and lack of trust between them that Pakistan seems to be contemplating moving out of the United States’ orbit altogether and into China’s embrace.
The US decision, without it seems informing Pakistan nor seeking its help, to send a hit team deep inside Pakistani territory to kill Osama Bin Laden may have proved to be the last straw. Pakistan’s leaders are furious. Army chief Gen. Ashfaq Kayani, for example, declared that any future action violating Pakistan’s sovereignty would lead to a complete review of military and intelligence co-operation with the United States.
Added to this, Pakistani Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani expressed fulsome praise for China on a visit to Beijing late last month. China, he said, was a source of inspiration for the Pakistani people, while Chinese premier Wen Jiabao declared that China and Pakistan will remain forever good neighbours, good friends, good partners and good brothers.
As well as co-operating in the military, banking, civil nuclear and other fields, Pakistan wants China to build a naval base and maintain a regular naval presence at the port at Gwadar on the Arabian Sea, in Pakistan’s Balochistan Province, something that has alarmed the United States, India, Malaysia and Indonesia.
Worried at Pakistan’s drift away from Washington, US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton hurried to Pakistan for a few hours on May 27 in an attempt to patch things up, but apparently with little success. Why? Because the row over the killing of bin Laden is only the latest chapter in a long narrative of mutual misperceptions.
CIA missile attacks by unmanned drones against alleged terrorist targets inside Pakistan invariably end up killing civilians, and arousing furious anti-American sentiment. The Pakistani Parliament has denounced these strikes as a violation of Pakistan’s sovereignty and demanded a permanent halt to them. Some parliamentary members warned that Pakistan could cut supply lines to US forces in Afghanistan if drone attacks continued.
The extent of hostility towards the United States was already evident following an incident on January 27, when Raymond A Davis, a covert CIA officer, shot and killed two Pakistanis in a crowded street in Lahore. Pakistani popular opinion wanted him hanged, and it was only with great difficulty that the United States managed to secure his release.
But by then the idea was already taking root in Pakistan that the United States was deploying a secret army against Islamic militants in the country. The Pakistani Army has demanded that the number of US military personnel in the country be reduced. Relations between the CIA and Pakistan’s Inter-Service Intelligence directorate (ISI), headed by Lt. Gen. Ahmed Shuja Pasha, are said to be tense.
At the heart of the US-Pakistani estrangement lies a profound disagreement about everything to do with Afghanistan, especially how to deal with radical factions, such as the Taliban. Not content with having eliminated bin Laden, the United States wants to hunt down and destroy any remnants of al-Qaeda and other militant groups, whether in Afghanistan or Pakistan, and even in places further afield like Yemen. Obsessed with the danger of terrorist violence, the United States has been unwilling to recognise that Arab and Muslim hostility toward it springs mainly from its own catastrophic wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan itself, with their heavy toll of civilian casualties, and from its blind support for Israel.
Suspecting Pakistan of complicity with Muslim radicals, the United States insists that it should join in with the US anti-terrorist campaigns. It would like Pakistan to break relations with Mullah Omar, the spiritual leader of the Afghan Taliban; with the Jalaluddin Haqqani network (now run by Jalaluddin’s sons, Sirajuddin and Badruddin); and with the Lashkar-e-Taiba — a militant group considered responsible for the devastating Mumbai attack of 2008.