The seven-month long saga finally ended earlier this week with Pakistan agreeing to unilaterally open the Nato supply routes after a carefully worded press release by Secretary Hillary Clinton saying that the United States was “sorry for the losses suffered by the Pakistani military”, while emphasising that the ground supply lines into Afghanistan through Pakistan are opening shortly. It is refreshing to see the relations between Pakistan and the United States moving towards normalcy after a rather extended hiatus.

On the other hand, this episode, yet again, clearly establishes the utter failure of our foreign policy pundits. It also reminds us that we as a nation, while huge on rhetoric, are incapable of standing by our stance, and invariably end up mocking ourselves in the global community. Unfortunately, as things turned out, we have wasted countless resources to end up at the exact same point where we started.

Pakistanis expected some positive outcome when Parliament started debating new terms of engagement with the United States. There are potential pitfalls with foreign policy being debated in Parliament, and there is some merit to the argument that foreign policy and international relations are complex areas and the same are best negotiated and settled by the executive. However, considering that the executive has been responsible for multiple fiascos in the past resulting in successive foreign policies which are completely out of line with the country’s strategic objectives, it is only fair to conclude that the executive, in the particular circumstances of Pakistan, must not be given an open hand in determining foreign policies. A policy framework by Parliament is beneficial for Pakistan because it will put to pen broad strategic objectives and thus make the executive accountable. Or at least that is what we thought.

Parliament did come up with detailed recommendations regarding the future of Pak-US relationship. Without getting into the merits of these recommendations and commenting on their viability, it was at least hoped that they would provide some sort of guiding principles to the executive. As expected, these recommendations were totally bypassed, and the ground supplies were restored without addressing even a single concern raised by Parliament in its recommendations, thus making all those parliamentary debates futile.

At the face of it, the matter appears to have been resolved in favour of the United States since it has been able to get the ground supplies restored without conceding to any of Pakistan’s demands. However, in this victory is the loss. Anti-American sentiment in Pakistan, which is already on the rise, will increase remarkably not least because the recent “end” to the dispute between two countries failed to address pressing issues such as private security companies operating in Pakistan and the ongoing drone attacks on Pakistani soil in violation of all norms of customary and codified international law. While it is important not to forget the significant military aid and civilian financial support provided by the United States to Pakistan, the same must not come at the cost of activities which are destroying the very rubric of the society.

We have also lost an excellent opportunity to address the issue of drone attacks. Drone technology is not per se bad for Pakistan since through this technology, it is possible to cover areas where Pakistani Army would have difficulty reaching due to unfavourable terrain. However, drone attacks are a violation of international law if they are unilaterally conducted by the United States without the express permission of Pakistan, thus violating its sovereignty. These attacks are also problematic because they are conducted by the CIA, and not by the US military, and therefore are not governed by laws which regulate the conduct of armed forces. This means that civilian casualties and collateral damage is significantly higher. What is therefore needed is the constant involvement of and collaboration with Pakistan Army in all use of drones on the Pakistani soil.

Similarly, such attacks must be conducted only by the armed forces, and not by the CIA, in order to ensure that the international law of armed conflict continues to play a meaningful role. Needless to say that any use of drone technology must be with the express permission of Pakistan and steps must be taken to minimise civilian casualties. Unfortunately enough, the crises has “ended” without a single utterance about the drones.

The United States is an ally and a strategic partner, and Pakistan’s interest lies in having friendly relations with America. Such relationship, however, must be based on mutual respect, bilateral trade and appreciating each other’s strategic interests. There were signs in the last few months that the negative factors disturbing the balance of relationship will be adequately addressed when arriving at new terms of engagement. What we saw, however, was that none of the crucial issues were addressed and Pakistan unilaterally went back to square one. We were not even able to negotiate favourable financial payment terms for use of our resources, road network, and infrastructure, before opening the ground supplies.

There is little doubt that the Pakistani government in opening up these supply routes was motivated, at least in part, by the domestic economic crisis. This is not to deprecate the importance of international pressure on the government, but one must remember that the executive is facing fiscal issues which were aggravated due to the escalation of the instant dispute, and is the main reason why such an unpopular decision was taken in an election year. The opening up of supply routes will definitely send a positive signal to the international community and, perhaps, even reduce diplomatic isolation. However, it is rather ludicrous to term it a matter of principles, and not that of money. One may not wish to put it in so many words but the reality is, and the history has so vividly been a testament, that for Pakistan, relationship with the United States is always about money.

n    The writer is a barrister practicing in             Karachi where he also teaches law.             Opinions expressed herein are solely his             own and not that of the institutions he is     associated with.