Democratic Pakistan and the Global War on Terror

Madhavi Bhasin

The terrorist attacks on the World Trade Centre on September 11, 2001 resulted in a historic partnership between the U.S. and Pakistan. Pakistan emerged as a key ally of the U.S. in the global war to counter terrorism. Though barely realized, in February 2008 this war entered a new phase. The U.S. had thus far fought the war against terrorism with the support of the dictatorial regime of the Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf. The parliamentary elections in Pakistan in February 2008 transferred political authority in favor of the democratically elected government. The war on terrorism will be profoundly impacted by the response of democratic Pakistan to the strong anti-American sentiments within the country and to the lucrative aid offers by the U.S. for continued support in the counter-terrorism efforts.

The Pakistani government and the Bush administration are attempting to reformulate their mutual relationship in the counter-terrorism campaign. The Pakistani government is seeking to pursue a more independent policy on countering terrorism, while the U.S. is re-packaging proposals to win the support of the new government of Pakistan.

The new government has clearly stated its intention of re-working Pakistan’s relationship with the U.S. Several decisions are beginning to reflect changes in policy. The leaders of the new coalition government in Pakistan have decided to open negotiations with the militants, who continue to target civilians through suicide attacks. This is a marked departure from President Musharraf’s aggressive approach towards militants. It has been communicated to the U.S. that henceforth all political decisions, including proposals for implementing the U.S.- Pakistan counter-terrorism partnership, will be subject to the approval by the Pakistani Parliament. This implies that the U.S. counter-terrorism proposals would now face opposition from several quarters and require longer time for gaining approval. The U.S. has been asked to clearly define the war on terrorism, while the Pakistani government has gone ahead with drafting a peace agreement with the Taliban militants in the tribal regions of the country. Pakistani government has also released Maulana Sufi Mohammad, who is the founder of the militant outfit spearheading the resistance movement against the U.S. in Afghanistan in 2001. In forging foreign relations, the Pakistani government is showing signs of pursuing an independent policy. As a marked departure the Pakistani High Commissioner to India has insisted on conducting a bilateral dialogue with India, disfavoring excessive U.S. involvement on the issue. President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran, a staunch rival of the U.S. is due to visit Pakistan next week to meet the new government.

The Al-Qaeda and the Taliban have been able to re-group due their ability to gain sanctuary in the tribal regions of Pakistan. Consequently, American commanders in Afghanistan have in recent months urged a widening of the war that could include American attacks on the tribal areas inside Pakistan. As a gesture to win the support of the new government, the Bush administration has refused to implement any such plans. On the contrary the U.S. has promised to curb the strikes by U.S. Predators drones in Pakistan tribal areas, which were initiated in January this year under an agreement between the U.S. military and President Musharraf. Even though the U.S. military officials consider that attempts by the Pakistani government to negotiate with the militant will give the latter the opportunity to rearm, official opposition to the move is muted. In an effort to strengthen relations with the newly elected government of Pakistan in March 2008, the Bush administration seeks to put before the Congress a bill providing Pakistan an aid package worth more then $7 billion. Pakistan will also be given a "democracy dividend" of up to $1bn, a reward for holding peaceful elections and forming a coalition government.

For the Pakistani government and the Bush administration modification is as challenging the continuation of the current approaches. The U.S. and Pakistan are compelled to balance national compulsions with coalitional compromises and concessions. The Pakistani leaders have not provided any specific formula for negotiating with militants nor have they singled out the groups that they intend to initiate the dialogue with. The Pakistani political parties could be simply indulging in anti-U.S. rhetoric for gaining popular support. Even if the leaders seek to distance Pakistan from the U.S. the two countries are bound through various strategic and economic agreements. These linkages will greatly reduce the ability of the Pakistani government to maneuver. For example, America is sponsoring a $400 million plan to train Frontier Corps, a paramilitary force patrolling the Pakistani border with Afghanistan. In a situation where Pakistani Parliamentary Committee on Defense has to publish its report only after receiving financing from the U.S. state agency, the ability of the new government to disassociate themselves from the U.S. appears to be limited.

The U.S. had forged a less troublesome alliance with Pakistan under the regime of President Musharraf, while the future interactions with democratic Pakistan appear challenging. The U.S. at the present is focused on building a stable relation with the new government, even at the cost of temporarily altering its counter-terrorism strategy in the region. On the other hand, the Pakistani government is consciously altering its counter-terrorism strategy to gain political stability within the country. The U.S. and Pakistan are struggling to realize the challenges inherent in forging partnerships between democracies, in much contradiction to tenets of the classical democratic peace theory.

Author Note
Madhavi Bhasin, Research Scholar, Jadavpur University, Kolkata