The American Game

Jul 12, 2012 by     No Comments    Posted under: The Diplomat

Nothing could be more unpredictable, erratic and callous than the Pak – US relationship in recent years. The Pak – US relationship has been clouded with a number of problems. From memos and drones to secret operations and government complicity, it sometimes becomes almost indeterminable whether the countries are allies or foes. The recent thaw in relations has come with the resumption of NATO supply routes and the issuance of the US apology for the border killings of about 24 soldiers back in November.

A blockade initially expected to last a few weeks ended up in a seven month standoff, which is an encouraging indicator of Pakistan’s resilience and persistence to make its stand clear in the global arena. Many people, however still strongly believe that Pakistan had the upper hand in this face-off, and that it was giving USA a run for its money. From my personal standpoint, Pakistan’s position weakened with every passing instant.

The Americans have played a clever game – one that borders on clairvoyance. The US knew its greatest infirmity was its utter dependence upon Pakistani routes for the transport of critical war supplies, with over 80% of its fuel coming from Pakistani refineries in 2007. In 2010, as the trust-deficit grew, Pakistan suspended the NATO supply routes for one week, sending shock waves to the US. Their worst fears had come to life – Pakistan was exploiting this dependence to express its opposition over recent events.

NATO Supply TrucksNATO has always been actively involved in trying to reduce this dependence, and strengthen its position. Previously, it started expanding storage capacity and stockpiling at the Bagram Airbase, within Afghanistan. Recently, in response to the blockade, the US shifted to the Northern Distribution Network (NDN), a Central Asian route, for transit of its supplies. This route, despite being more expensive is still a viable substitute. In May 2012, at the Chicago NATO Summit, President Obama tactfully applauded Central Asia and Russia for their active role in the transport process, thereby exuding an aura of composure that would tell the world that the US could endure any such blockade.

The US apology is indeed significant, but not decisive as compensation for the continuation of the supply route. It sends a message that the US does, to an extent, accept its mistake in the border killings, but barely anything else. Some analysts have claimed that this is an equally beneficial ‘tit for tat’ situation. However, Pakistan has given up too much. In April 2012, Prime Minister Gilani had demanded an immediate end to drone attacks and many politicians supported the idea of this being exchanged for resumption of the supply route. Later on, Pakistan asked for a fee of $5000 on each oil tanker along the supply route. Both demands have been audaciously rejected and replaced by a worded apology, which has nothing more than symbolic importance.

The US has played its game well, clearly foreseeing that the supply route, its cheapest convenience could at some point become Pakistan’s greatest weapon. This major feud will only confirm American reservations and they will work day and night to come up with suitable alternatives in the hope of becoming less reliant upon Pakistan. In the long-term, Pakistan’s bargaining power is likely to erode away, slowly and gradually.

However, all is not lost. For now, the move is likely to cool down the political heat that has been bubbling between the two countries since November. The resumption is undoubtedly good news for the hundreds of Pakistani drivers and servicemen who have been unemployed, desperate and penniless since the blockade. Back in November, Pakistan was successful in compelling the US to vacate the Shamsi airbase in Balochistan, which is expected to have at least some impact in reducing drone attacks in the north-west. The US is also likely to soon release millions of dollars of aid previously withheld as part of the Coalition Support Fund (CSF). In a way, the end of the blockade also convinces the international community of Pakistan’s commitment to the counter-insurgency and stabilization efforts in the region. The immense clutter of idle trucks and Lorries will finally clear out from the border. As the trucks clear out and the fresh air returns, the roaring engines might just be a signal of a brighter future ahead.

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Pakistan Military Review Website

The Author

I have an avid interest in international politics, disparate global perspectives, human social and economic evolution, cultural diversity and how all these ideas tie together with Pakistan's current scenario. I believe in a secular, culturally integrated and stable Pakistan, and I hope to work towards the materialization of this dream.

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