Raise Your Price, Pakistan

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How about exchanging Taliban Number Two Abdul Ghani Baradar for terror master Brahamdagh Bugti and the dismantling of the terror network targeting Pakistan’s Balochistan?

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan—Pakistan has agreed to hand over Afghan Taliban’s number 2, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, to Afghanistan. How about asking for Mr. Brahamdagh Bugti in exchange? Or for the dismantling of the Afghan-based terror infrastructure targeting Pakistani Balochistan?

There are signs that Afghanistan’s role as a base for anti-Pakistan operations over the past seven years is gradually shrinking. But it is not completely over yet. The rollback in that role is directly linked to what the United States wants. And Washington’s recent change of heart regarding Pakistan’s role and legitimate regional security interests are the result of the Pakistani military standing its ground, not any genuine change of heart in US policymaking circles. This is why you did not see any US official jumping in excitement at the idea of Pakistani military training the Afghan National Army, which is what our army chief has proposed.

So the change in the US position may be tactical, forced by Pakistani straight talk. Examples abound, including how CIA dragged its feet before it finally began targeting anti-Pakistan terror groups and leaders in the border area.  There might have also been some visible decrease in the level of logistical support that the so-called Pakistani Taliban received from the Afghan soil [and not all of it from the proceeds of Afghan Taliban’s drug trade, as Afghan and American officials have been trying to convince their Pakistani counterparts].  Pakistani officials are yet to certify this decrease publicly. Granted that Admiral Mike Mullen is someone who genuinely tries to understand Pakistani concerns. And he has been doing his bit with apparent sincerity in the past few months. But there are still some tensions below the surface. A Time magazine story over the weekend tried to delink US connection to the Jundullah terrorist group and throw the entire responsibility at Pakistan, targeting Iranian paranoia by suggesting a Pakistani intelligence support for Jundullah ‘as a tool for strategic depth.’  This type of media leaks and background intelligence briefings have to stop. Enough of the demonization of Pakistan that the US media unfortunately spearheaded over the past three years, apparently through some kind of semi-official patronage. If US officials can bluntly accuse their Pakistani counterparts of sponsoring ‘anti-American articles’ in newspapers, whatever that means [What is ‘anti-American articles’ anyway?], surely Islamabad can pose the same question, especially when Pakistan’s case is stronger.

The same goes for the admirable US nudge to India to resume peace talks with Pakistan. Had things not gone wrong in Afghanistan for the grand US project, Washington was all set to introduce India as the new regional policeman in Afghanistan following the eventual pullback of NATO and US militaries from that country. Pakistan was being pushed to accept this as fait accompli and Mr. Zardari’s pro-US government was more than willing to play along. Again, a Pakistani public opinion that is not ready for such a major one-sided Pakistani concession probably threw a spanner in the works.

Foreign Secretary Salman Bashir must be commended along with his team for stating the Pakistani bottom line. Forget the US statements on the need for peace between Pakistan and India. The fact is that the US played the two countries against one another in Afghanistan in the past eight years. If Pakistan accepts, a photo-op would work just fine for Washington as it does for New Delhi. We’d be asking too much if we think anyone in New Delhi or Washington is really itching to help Pakistan resolve its grievances with India. It’s just that the regional dynamic is helping us at this point in time. So let’s make the most out of it while we retain the initiative. Instead of the theatrics, we must ask for something substantial this time. No more prolonged people-to-people exchanges. There is no problem between our peoples. And please, no more equating Pakistan’s responsibility for peace with India’s responsibility. The onus is on India. It is the bigger country. It can change the entire mood in the region by taking small steps to alleviate Pakistani insecurities. It can do so by taking steps in the water dispute, in improving how it treats Pakistani visitors, and by reducing tensions with the Kashmiri people on the ground.

Bottom line: Enough of selling ourselves cheap over the past eight years. Pakistan should secure its interests and accept nothing less.

An edited version of this op-ed was published by The News International.

© 2007-2009. All rights reserved. AhmedQuraishi.comPakNationalists

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