Public mood in Pakistan has been shifting away from its partnership with the US in the war against terror. Similarly, opinion in US is moving towards political reconciliation and managing the role of Pakistan after it withdraws from Afghanistan. The essential challenge for the US at this point is if the Afghan Taliban cannot be defeated militarily, and Pakistan’s Army would not be any more forthcoming in this regard, how would it manage the influence and role of Pakistan in Afghanistan? This is where the domestic politics of Pakistan gets introduced in the equation.
The first time in history, it’s the military-to-military relations between the US and Pakistan that are not going well. As these relations have diverged, US reliance on the PPP government has increased, as it relates to the war on terror and Afghanistan. At the same time, as the civilian government became increasingly unpopular due to poor governance and corruption, it has tried to identify too closely with the goals of US. And, it’s these dynamics that have given birth to the Memogate fiasco. This is not much different than what President Musharraf did previously; in order to prolong his rule, he portrayed himself as the best bet for the West against the extremists.
One would think that Pakistan’s leaders would have learned the lesson by now, especially in the wake of the Arab Spring. The foreign entities cannot save governments that are hugely unpopular locally and have scarce ability to deliver. Earlier this year, PoliTact conducted interviews with a sampling of Pakistani politicians and scholars, and asked them about the connection between the events of the Middle East to that in Pakistan. Most of them believed there was no relationship, as Pakistan already had a democratic set-up. However, the current situation indicates what matters most is not if there is an authoritarian or a democratic leader in power, but if they enjoy popular support. Moreover, it’s not foreign but local sympathy that ultimately saves governments, and the lesson does not get any elementary than this.
In the emerging political scenario of Pakistan, those politicians would perform well that harness the public sentiment resulting from the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and focuses their efforts towards providing public relief. The recent election results in Tunisia and Egypt reveal that the Islamists are resurgent. Managing this trend in Pakistan, and in other places, would mean tempering the religious hardliners with the moderate Islamists. Short of going to war, this is perhaps the best outcome the US can expect in Pakistan, and from its establishment, in Afghanistan.