Earlier, under pressure from the USA leaders, General Musharraf tried to seek political alliance with the PPP of Benazir Bhutto. Ms. Bhutto and his spouse were facing corruption cases in the UK and Switzerland. An adverse verdict against the pair was imminent. In a way, both the sides, Musharraf and Ms. Bhutto, needed each other’s support to come out of their respective predicaments. They struck a deal. He signed the ill-famed National Reconciliation Ordinance paving the way for the withdrawal of cases against Benazir Bhutto, her spouse and their acolytes within the country and in foreign courts. Along with the pair, many of their erstwhile cronies from the bureaucracy returned to the country to claim their post retirement perks and to hold high positions in the subsequent Zardari regime.
One of the largest beneficiaries of the NRO was MQM. Thousands of criminal cases were withdrawn against its workers including Dr. Ishrat-ul-Ibad who was later appointed as Governor of Sindh and remained the longest serving Governor in the history of the country. Overnight, the NRO turned the sins of our delinquent politicians and bureaucrats into virtues. The proclaimed offenders or fugitive of law reappeared on our landscape as greater patriots. One such great patriot served the country in a highly powerful position for five years under Mr. Zardari and was later imposed on the nation in a constitutional position for another five years, though the man was already within the 80thspring of his life.
The PPP of the slain Benazir Bhutto under the leadership of her spouse emerged as the winner of the general elections of 2008 with the largest number of the National Assembly seats followed by Pakistan Muslim League of Mian Nawaz Sharif. The Pakistan Muslim League (Q) was trailing as the third large group with 52 seats. This increased the vulnerability of the General. He was left with two options either to face impeachment or resign. He preferred the second option and resigned in August 2008 prompting Asif Ali Zardari to get himself elected as the new President of the country. The political transition from the autocratic rule to a democratic civilian government was apparently well received by the USA leaders.
Obama entered the White House in January 2008. His pledge to disrupt, defeat and disarm Taliban remained a distant dream despite troop surge. His administration, while reviewing cooperation with Pakistan in the counterterrorism war from 2002 to 2008, concluded that they had disbursed to Pakistan $11.2 billion, of which $8.1 billion was military related. They came to the conclusion that the disbursement of more money to Pakistan military would not help solve the Afghan conundrum. In an attempt to exercise strict control over the role of the Pakistan Army in the counterterrorism war and the utilization of the USA aid, the controversial Kerry-Luger Bill was introduced in the Senate in September 2009. John Kerry, the Chairman of the Senate’s Foreign Relations Committee, was the architect of the Bill along with Senator Richard Luger.
The Bill proposed $1.5 billion in non-military aid annually for Pakistan for the period from 2010 to 2014 on far intrusive terms ranging from giving a leeway to the USA in the administrative matters of the army to establishing civilian or the parliamentary oversight over the army to diverting certain portions of the aid to NGOs, Civil Society and the Human Rights Organizations, to auditing the utilization of the funds by the USA Auditor General as reported by Dawn on 14 October 2009. The Bill required the USA Secretary of State to make a certification before the release of the assistance every year that should include “a description of the extent to which the civilian executive leaders and parliament exercise oversight on the approval of military budgets; the chain of command; the process of promotions for senior military leaders; civilian involvement in strategic guidance and planning, and military involvement in civil administration”. Though President Zardari and his administration, for obvious reasons, tended to accept the Bill, it outraged the military leaders of Pakistan. The Bill with these intrusive terms portrayed a vote of no-confidence in the military establishment.
The military commanders’ opposition to the Bill was justified to a greater extent. They saw the Bill as a blatant attempt to undermine the sovereignty of Pakistan by interfering in the internal administration of Pakistan Army. General Ashfaq Ahmed Kiani and his Director General of ISI, General Shuja Pasha, in a meeting with the USA Ambassador Ms. Anne Paterson and General Mac Crystal made it clear that the Bill in its present terms was not acceptable to them. General Mac Crystal reportedly had a sympathetic view of the reservations of the Pakistani Generals. Later, there were a number of huddles between President Asif Zardari, Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani and General Ashfaq to make suggestions to the USA leaders to water down the terms of the Bill. Finally, both the countries agreed to a toned-down version of the Bill dropping most of the controversial conditions or making them inoperative. The Bill was passed into law on 15 October 2010 paving the way for renewed cooperative relations between the two countries with continued flow of USA economic aid to Pakistan.
With this bumpy start with the Obama Administration in 2009-2010, the Zardari Government would encounter more daunting challenges rocking Pak-USA relations in the following years and create fissures in the civil-military relations that have been the most peculiar feature of the political history of Pakistan. These included arrest of the CIA operative Raymond Davis in January 2011; the elimination of Osama Bin Laden by US Navy Seals on 2nd May in Abbottabad without prior consultation with Pakistan; the Memogate involving Pakistani Ambassador to Washington Hussain Haqqani in October; the NATO attack on the Pakistani military outpost at Salala on the Afghan border killing 28 and injuring 12 soldiers.
The Pakistani leadership under pressure from the military took a strong exception to the attack. The Shamsi air strip was evacuated and the NATO supply line from Karachi to Peshawar to Kabul was blocked. The Pakistan Government boycotted in protest the Second Bonn Conference on Afghanistan. Pakistan demanded an apology from the USA at the highest level. This tension in bilateral relations continued until July 2012 when the Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, tendered an apology to the nation of Pakistan for the loss of lives. This brought about some normalcy in Pakistan’s relations with the USA.
Relations between the two countries also remained strained by the excessive increase in drone attacks on targets within the tribal agencies. The increase in drone attacks was noticed even in the last years of the Musharraf Government. The collateral loss of lives was enormous. The reaction of the military as well as the civilian leadership against the drone attacks was somewhat muted. One view was that the Pakistan’s military had logistical problems to take head on the Taliban due to the difficult terrain and the local public support to them. Thus, they had acquiesced in the USA drone attacks which actually killed a number of ferocious Taliban commanders including Baitullah Mahsud and his successor Hakimullah Mahsud.
Zardari is quoted to have once told a visiting USA delegation that they (Americans) were more concerned about the collateral loss than the Pakistanis. His Prime Minister, Yousaf Reza Gilani was quoted to have told his hosts in Washington that the USA should continue with the drone attacks in the tribal agencies; he and his colleagues would make some noise in the press and parliament to satisfy the public concerns. If true, all this was pathetic and verged on degrading subjection to the dictates of a foreign power.
The differences with the USA on the role of Pakistan in counterterrorism kept causing irritation in bilateral relations. The Pakistan military had genuinely tried to control the subversive activities of the Afghan Taliban against the Karzai regime. They could not register much success for some obvious reasons. The Karzai regime was confined to the outskirts of Kabul and the remaining part of the country was sublet to the Afghan warlords with the connivance of the NATO commanders. The process of the establishment of the Afghan National Army was slow. The Afghan Taliban and their foreign allies were making a common cause with the Pakistani militant groups to create difficulties for the Pakistani military. Their strategy morphed into the regrouping of some Salafi militant groups into Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP).
The General elections of May 2013 brought Pakistan Muslim League of Mian Nawaz Sharif to power. In 2014, there was a change in the command of the army also. The appointment of General Raheel Sharif as the new Army Chief brought about changes in the strategic policy of Pakistan. Pakistan came out with a clear support for an Afghan-based and Afghan-owned solution of the Afghanistan problem with a landmark decision to move against the Afghan Taliban and their Pakistani and foreign allies in Waziristan and their sleeper cells in the mega cities of the country. The operation codenamed as Zarb-e-Azb was launched that continued for three years. The TTP leadership taking the advantage of lax control on the border crossed into Afghanistan.
President Obama at the senescence of his second tenure wanted to leave the White House with a legacy in Afghanistan. His policies in the Middle East had totally failed to bring a semblance of stability in Iraq or created any possibility of a negotiated solution to the civil war in Syria. His failure in Afghanistan was further fueling his frustration. They found a good scapegoat in bashing Pakistan for their dismal failure in disrupting, defeating and disarming Taliban. The superpowers never take the responsibility for failures. They ascribed their failure in Afghanistan to Pakistan easily forgetting that this country had already purge her territory of the Afghan Taliban and other militant groups after a sustained war against them for over two years.
The strengthening of India as a countervailing power to China in the South East Asia; pressuring Pakistan to restrain her missile development project or developing minimum nuclear deterrence; reneging from their pledge to defray half of the cost of the F-16s allies by the Obama Administration greatly strained bilateral relation. Pakistan and China were sincerely working along with the USA and the Afghan regime to find a negotiated settlement of the Afghanistan problem within the Quadri-lateral Group. The USA failed to accept the Taliban’s minimum demand of lifting sanctions on their foreign travel. They killed Mullah Mansoor in a drone attack.
(To be concluded)
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