Thursday, May 12, 2011

Gilani expects US overture to Pakistan

Pakistan PM Yousuf Gilani's exclusive interview with Time magazine carries an important message for the Barack Obama administration. Gilani compared Pakistan to a jilted lover. The overall tenor of the interview is that Pakistan's relationship with US is under great strain and the intelligence-level cooperation has broken down and this will have fallouts on the US' Afghan strategy - unless the Obama administration moved quickly to kiss and make up.

Gilani took pains to underline that even after Abbottabad, Pakistan's rapprochement with Hamid Karzai is intact, as they are based on pragmatic interests, implying that Pakistan can always play the "Karzai card" against the US.

Gilani was surprisingly mild on Abbottabad. His grievance was that "we should have done it [operation[ jointly." He looked beyond Abbottabad and hinted Pakistan expects a major US gesture of reconciliation. He listed transfer of drone technology and a nuclear deal (such as US has with India) as part of Pakistani 'wish list'.

The interview is timed with Indian prime minister Manmohan Singh's visit to Kabul. But there is no tendentious remark by Gilani about India's activities in Afghanistan. Main points of the interview:

1. Continuing to work with the United States could imperil his government, unless Washington takes drastic steps to restore trust.

2. Complained repeatedly about the widening "trust deficit"."When there's a trust deficit,there will be problems in intelligence sharing." [As for reason for trust deficit], "It's not from our side. Ask them."

3. Cooperation between the CIA and ISI has broken down.

4. Washington and Islamabad differed on how to fight terror and forge an exit strategy in Afghanistan.

5. [On Abbottabad raid], "Naturally, we wondered why they went unilaterally. If we're fighting a war together, we have to work together. Even if there was credible and actionable information, then we should have done it jointly." He was first alerted to the raid through a 2 a.m. call from Pakistan's Army Chief, General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani. Gilani then called his foreign secretary and asked him to demand an explanation from U.S. Ambassador Cameron Munter. "I have not met or spoken to [U.S. officials] since. Whatever information we are receiving is from the media. Today, we have said that we want them to talk to us directly."

7."We (elected government, military and ISI) are all on the same page."

8.Emphasized strengthening links with Afghan President Hamid Karzai. But that doesn't necessarily translate into support for the U.S. strategy there. "In our discussions with Karzai, we came to an agreement that terrorists are our common enemy. We both have suffered; we both have made sacrifices. So we have decided to unite to fight against them."

9.Acknowledges his abiding "difference of opinion" with Washington on how best to fight militancy. "Military solutions cannot be permanent solutions. There has to be a political solution, some kind of exit strategy."

10.Favors a political solution to the conflict, led by Afghans. "It should be owned by them and be on their own initiative.” Saw Pakistan's role as that of a "facilitator".

11.Rejects any suggestion that Pakistan will compensate for any cooling of U.S. support by drawing closer to China. "We already have a stronger relationship with China. It's time-tested."

12. At the same time, didn't believe Washington was really going to cut aid. If it did, "We'll cross that bridge when we come to it."

13. Despite his constant references to the trust-deficit, hoped to see a restoration of closer ties with Washington, but put the onus on Washington. "They should do something for the public which will persuade them [Pakistani people] that the U.S. is supportive of Pakistan." As an example, cited the 2008 U.S.-India Civil Nuclear Agreement. "It's our public that's dying, but the deal is happening there. You claim there's a strategic partnership?"

Do you get a sense of deja vu? Evidently, Gilani read up history before giving the interview to Time magazine. Remember the burning down of the US embassy in Islamabad in 1979? That was in the month of November over the rumours regarding the burning of a copy of Koran somewhere. Then, on December 24, detachments of the 40th Army of the Soviet Union crossed into Afghanistan. The then US National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski later recounted: "We [Jimmy Carter administration] immediately launched a twofold process when we heard that the Soviets had entered Afghanistan. The first involved direct reactions and sanctions focused on the Soviet Union, and both the State Department and the National Security Council prepared long lists of sanctions to be adopted, of steps to be taken to increase the international costs to the Soviet Union of their actions. And the second course of action led to my going to Pakistan a month or so after the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, for the purpose of coordinating with the Pakistanis a joint response, the purpose of which would be to make the Soviets bleed for as much and as long as is possible."

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