While some analysts see no link between the Mohmand incident and the Memogate affair, it would be unwise to think so. This line of reasoning would also suggest that there is no connection between US withdrawal from Afghanistan and Pakistan’s domestic politics. While some Pakistani politicians may be oblivious to this fact, its establishment and Western powers are not. The public mood in Pakistan has been shifting away from its partnership with the US in the war against terror. Similarly, opinion in the US is moving towards political reconciliation and managing the role of Pakistan after it withdraws from Afghanistan. Moreover, the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have caused many in Pakistan to move to the right, and ultimately this segment would have a role in the emerging political dispensation.
Al Qaeda, Afghan Taliban And Pakistan
The position of the US on Afghan Taliban has been evolving since the start of the conflict. As Mullah Omar refused to hand over Osama bin Laden after 9/11, America declared that the supporters of its enemies are also its rivals. More recently, the US has stated that for reconciliation to occur, Taliban will have to distance itself from Al-Qaeda. However, this position also maintained that some of the Taliban groups, such as the Haqqani network, are too closely linked with Al-Qaeda, ideologically and operationally, to be reconciled with.
As the Arab Spring got underway at the beginning of the year, PoliTact had pointed out that US would exert maximum stress in the AfPak region as this is where Al-Qaeda (AQ) Central was believed to be. And, NATO wanted to prevent AQ leadership to be able to exploit the chaos that is developing in the Middle East. The elimination of Osama and other top leaders of AQ is believed to have weakened the organization, Additionally, due to pressure from the drones, what is left of AQ has reportedly moved to Yemen and the Horn of Africa. Thus, if Taliban were finding it hard to disassociate from Al-Qaeda, US pressure has made the task of reconciliation easier for the Taliban.
Meanwhile, the US also pushed Pakistan to act against the Haqqani network. Frustrated by the stalemate, US drones started targeting the Good Taliban in FATA. However, this occurred at the expense of US-Pakistan relations.
Now that the original intent of decimating AQ has been achieved, and with the election year approaching fast in the US, Vice President Joe Biden has declared, “Look, the Taliban per se are not our enemy. That’s critical,” he told Newsweek. Joe Biden’s comment would have come as a relief to Pakistan that feels that the established Taliban leaders are more amenable to compromise after years of war, and their elimination would mean the emergence of more obscure and unpredictable younger leaders.
Nonetheless, the hardliners in the US would like to go after Taliban, now that Osama has been dealt with. Thus, the chances of more Mohmand style attacks are still there, and this perhaps is one of the reasons the US has not apologized for the incident. However, PoliTact believes that President Obama had strategically tended to the hardliners earlier, when as a result of the Afghan review in 2009, he had decided on the surge in troop levels in Afghanistan. Now, he is more likely to follow the political route.
US Relations With Pakistan’s Military and Civilian Government
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 into 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. In this context, the gathering of 44 right-wing entities and personalities last Sunday in Lahore, under the banner of the Difaa-i-Pakistan Council (Pakistan Defense Council), is an intriguing development. 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.