I can’t think of anyone in any government in Pakistan has ever openly rejected anything proposed by Washington before Pakistan’s current President, Asif Zardari publicly and strongly rejected Obama’s new strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan. Speaking to Financial Times, President Zardari correctly pointed out when he said:
“Afghanistan and Pakistan are distinctly different countries and cannot be lumped together for any reason.”
In reality, Pakistan has always objected whenever Pakistan was linked with Afghanistan for a broad policy frame work to stabilize the region.
Despite tremendous challenges, Islamabad has been pointing out that Pakistan is a fully functional democracy with robust media and an independent and powerful judiciary. Moreover, Pakistan army is exceptionally well trained, organized and fully funded. Regretfully, nothing is operational in Afghanistan when both countries are compared.
At this point, I want to point out to my readers that by comparing the two countries, I am not attacking or God forbid maligning Afghanistan when I suggest that Afghanistan is behind Pakistan in every area – be it functional economy, established and cohesive government, or anything else that is necessary for a sovereign country, at least for now.
Therefore, whenever Pakistan is linked with Afghanistan, Islamabad reacts sharply and angrily because Pakistanis have been leading the fight against the Taliban on their own, unlike Afghanistan where Americans and NATO forces are fighting the Taliban. Furthermore, most of the Pakistanis are against the Taliban and favor completely eliminating the Taliban.
Washington has to listen to Zardari because if an ally like Zardari reacts this harshly towards a particular policy coming out of Washington, it must not be ignored. In fact, it would also be a mistake to strong arm Zardari and Islamabad into accepting something that Islamabad considers to be a wrong approach towards Pakistan. Remember, if America rolled over Zardari, and lost the support of progressive parties like the People’s Party, the United States will have to deal with right winger Nawaz Sharif, who is surrounded by anti American and pro Taliban leaders.
During Secretary of State Clinton’s visit to Islamabad next month, all these issues are likely to come into focus. But, these issues must not wait for high profile visits to come under discussion. Washington has to listen to Islamabad whenever any policy about this region is being shaped. During my conversations with folks in the government in Islamabad, I have noticed that people feel that Americans believe that only they have all the answers for the problems of this region, which of course is not true. Both Islamabad and Washington have a lot at stake here and it is critical that both countries realize each other’s position. Most importantly, it is important that Washington understand Pakistan’s delicate situation, and because of Washington’s unfortunate actions after the Soviet’s left Afghanistan, it is very difficult for Islamabad to fully appreciate America’s long term commitment to this region. Pakistan also believes that so far, only Pakistan has successfully beaten the Taliban, something which American and NATO forces have not been to accomplish in Afghanistan even after almost 8 years.
The choice for Washington is simple and easy, at least today. If Washington continued down the wrong path, it would become extremely difficult, if not impossible to find any support for anything that would comes out of Washington, either in Afghanistan, or in Pakistan. If on the other hand Washington listens to Islamabad and is willing to make adjustments accordingly, at least towards Pakistan, the coalition forces are likely to achieve their goal of peace in the region sooner then they expect.