If ever the USA doubted the utility of agents of influence, those doubts should have been laid to rest by the DCC meeting, followed by the Cabinet meeting that approved the restoration of the Nato supply routes, leaving the exact modalities to be settled by the ‘technical teams’ of both sides. The big difference between this decision and the original one of joining the war on terror is that when General Musharraf took Pakistan into the war on the American side, the Americans had not killed any Pakistani soldiers. It seems that the quid pro quo was rushed. As Pakistan decided to reopen supplies, its President was invited by Nato Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen to attend the Chicago Summit later this month. Not only will President Asif Zardari get the opportunity to meet his US counterpart, Barack Obama, but he will meet the Commander-in-Chief of the men who killed 26 Pakistani soldiers.

The DCC meeting, and the succeeding Cabinet meeting, generated no statement, because the government hoped to avoid the odium of deciding to reopen the routes. This was an indication of how much the nation resented doing so. The DCC still tried to place conditions on the reopening of the supply route, but the fact remains that Pakistan decided to reopen without any apology for the Salala massacre. It has been said that the Isaf commanders will apologise, and there will be compensation for the families of those killed. The compensation proposal means the truth of the assertion that Pakistanis will sell even their mothers for dollars. It also equates the Pakistanis and the Afghans, who are also subjected to occasional bloodletting by the Americans, and given compensation in return. It also undermines the other condition, that there be no repetition of Salala-type incidents in future. Without an apology, in turn acknowledging that the Nato helicopter gunships were at fault, implies that the American forces will be free to make another such ‘mistake’ in the future, which will be papered over by making a payment to those killed.

Besides, the failure to apologise has meant that Pakistan bears responsibility for the incident, as has been found in two American military enquiries so far. That not only means that the Salala massacre is within the tradition of 2010, which was an annus horribilis for Pak-US relations, starting with the Raymond Davis affair, but that the USA is not taking any remedial action. There have been several massacres in Afghanistan, and the Nato forces there have so far not found any way of stopping some crazed American soldier from shooting up the natives. The only way the USA has of stopping this is to allow the killers to run amok in their schools or workplaces in their own heartland, so it would be better if the killer was to kill people from some other nation. Especially, when that nation was willing to be compensated. The USA would like Pakistan to be one of those countries where its soldiers could run amuck, so the present ‘soft landing’ would suit it.

It is in this attempt for a ‘soft landing’ that neither meeting came out with a firm decision, but moved on. It is with this approach that the USA, perhaps, had most reason to be satisfied, for it seems that Pakistan’s government wants to move towards restoring the supply routes, but not take the flak for doing so. However, the DCC meeting, which was attended by the Service Chiefs, the Joint Chiefs Chairman and the DG ISI, showed that the entire leadership of Pakistan, both civilian and military, was on board.

The agents of influence may not think of themselves as agents, but they are. They may not stuff any microfilms in the false heel of their shoes, but they further the interests of the foreign power, even if it means harming their own country. In this case, the crucial question would be: can Pakistan afford the USA’s anger? If the person asked will adduce a lot of arguments to show that Pakistan cannot, then he will be an agent of influence. This is behind the argument that Pakistan has made a point by stopping the supplies, and that the two countries should move on to more positive behaviour.

The DCC meeting also decided that it would not permit lethal cargo. Leaving aside the implication that weapons were transported before, it did not put in place a monitoring mechanism. Without every container being opened for inspection, there can be no guarantee that there are no weapons. In this connection, it seems that the proposal that Nato containers be made to pay taxes has disappeared. It might re-emerge later, and it might be a ‘live’ issue at the experts’ level.

However, the government needs to think of two further stages. First, immediately, it is combining this decision along with the onset of summer. Now the already loadshedding riots have become virtually routine, and a government which has so far avoided the consequences of the Arab Spring should take its consequences very seriously. With that happening, it cannot afford any other protests, for any reason whatsoever, and the outrage that restoring the Nato supplies will provoke could melt into the power protests, which will only grow worse as the hot season advances. Second, this is an election year. Though elections are not on the horizon, they are less than a year away, and this is the final parliamentary year. The government, which has already not got the best of records of governance, is apparently still competitive. But if it restores the Nato supplies, then it probably would not remain so.

The USA, as well as its agents of influence, should think about why the people of Pakistan are resisting the restoration of Nato supplies. Though a visceral issue, it is not so much about apologies for Salala as about the USA’s engagement in the war on terror in cahoots with India and Israel, both of which occupy Muslim lands. The anti-Americanism of the Pakistani people is not based on hatred for American freedoms, as President George Bush said about the 9/11 suicide bombers, but on American interference in their homes. This is best symbolised by the drone attacks, which the parliamentary joint sitting wanted ended, but which the DCC and Cabinet meetings did not mention, even though they threw a nod towards the resolution Parliament passed.

Another aspect that deserves thought is how far the other Nato countries are willing to go in the USA’s interest. The government itself is creating the impression that not opening the routes would offend its members. However, just so that President Zardari has a comfortable summit is no reason to ignore the national interest. And that has been the failing of the government, that it has been unable to convince the nation that it is in its interest to reopen the Nato supplies. That reflects either the inefficiency of the USA’s friends, or rather agents of influence, or simply the fact that the American and Pakistani interests clash in this matter.

The USA may be more powerful, but it is still an earthly power, and its abilities are not merely finite, but also limited. It must not be allowed to force Pakistan to act against its interests, particularly when continued engagement will not only mean a recurrence of Salala-type incidents, but also a continuation of the drone attacks, fatal for Pakistani citizens caught in them, humiliating for the entire Pakistani nation, not least because its own President has said he does not care about the collateral damage they cause.

n    The writer is a veteran     journalist and founding member as well as Executive Editor of TheNation.

    Email: maniazi@nation.com.pk