The Pak-US bilateral activities taking place upfront and behind-the-scenes indicate that the stoppage of Nato supply routes through Pakistan is taking its toll. The claims made that there will be no or little effect on the conduct of operations in Afghanistan were hollow; aerial supply though manageable is not cost effective, not on long-term basis. The flurry of diplomatic and military activity indicates that the US wants a quick and ‘beneficial’ solution. It seems that we are witnessing a carrot and stick game again. Along with the diplomatic and military contacts, the US government has embarked upon classic arm-twisting tactics against Pakistan.

The US Deputy Secretary of State, Thomas Nides, was in Pakistan and met all those who matter here. He wanted - “Pakistan ‘must respect’ US security needs.” The US military brass was also engaged in parleys with their Pakistani counterparts at the GHQs. As usual what was discussed and decided at the GHQs will not be made public. The discussions conducted at the Foreign Office and with other leaders will also remain classified; press releases were coated in agreeable diplomatic clichés indicating all went well and mutual concerns were respected.

The intensified bilateral activity was initiated at a very sensitive time. The incumbent government is fast approaching its crucial time when it has to put together its budget for the next financial year. With the prevailing financial conditions, it will need large-scale resource inputs to come up with a budget that can be claimed people-friendly. Traditionally, Pakistan has relied on IMF loans to shore up its resources. The much trumpeted Kerry-Lugar assistance agreement is almost held in abeyance; the compensations promised for our efforts to support the war on terror, reportedly, are not coming Pakistan’s way as promised. The US realises that Pakistan is going to be in a desperate position soon. The pressure is well timed, mutual give and take can be managed.

The PIA has been put under additional sanctions by the USA. Its carriers and passengers going to the USA are put under additional scrutiny and pat down at Manchester Airport, which will take extra six hours. Besides the insult and ridicule that it will cause to the passengers, the PIA will be financially burdened as it will pay extra and additional parking and allied costs putting the national airlines under immense financial stress. This move by the US administration is indicative of the anger that Uncle Sam has on the closure of Nato supply routes.

Suddenly, Hafiz Mohammed Saeed has become a prime person on American hit list with a $10 million bounty on his head. Whatever his past, he is being targeted because he is the leading figure, who is opposing the reopening of Nato supply routes through Pakistan. His role in the Defence of Pakistan Council (DPC) that opposes the provision of supply routes to the American troops irks the US government. The US Deputy Secretary had raised the issue of Hafiz Saeed with Pakistani officials during his meetings, while Hafiz Saeed has dared the Americans to provide the evidence for allegations levelled against him. The manner the Hafiz Saeed affair is being managed shows that the US stands behind India on this which may cause double pressure on Pakistan. It is ironical that some reporters play to the American gallery when they opine that Hafiz Saeed “taunted” the Americans from the Flashman’s Hotel Rawalpindi situated opposite the GHQ gate. His presence in the “red zone” and linking it to the terrorist attack on GHQ a year ago leaves one with many speculations. The American effort seemingly is aimed to curtail activities of the DPC that it is mounting to raise public opinion against the reopening of supply routes. Linking him to official patronage has obvious consequences.

These two events are pointers towards the tip of the proverbial stick; however, there may be more to it behind the diplomatic smokescreen. On the carrot side, we are reading about the usual utterances cloaked in diplomatic verbiage. Mr Nides admits that both countries have different perspectives, but solutions will be found that ‘respect each other’s interests’. There is a desire to have relationships that are mutually beneficial to both countries; the US ‘fully’ respects Pakistan’s sovereignty and territorial integrity and it attaches a lot of importance to the parliamentary review of the Pak-US relationship that is underway. On the surface, these appear very pleasant observations, but the firm declaration that “Pakistan ‘must respect’ US security needs” also speaks volumes about the nature of talks going on.

As noted above, this is a critical moment in the Pak-US relationship, especially with reference to the ongoing Afghan war. The Nato supplies have been suspended for almost five months. The American troops under the Nato umbrella are fighting an elusive enemy that strikes at the place and time of its choice. To fight such an enemy, one has to be prepared at all times. More so, the suspension of essential war material for long duration affects the efficacy to fight effectively. This is becoming evident on ground. America will go to any limits to have this embargo lifted. On the Pakistani side, we are also at a critical point. This is the time when our financial spin masters cobble together our annual budget for which they need financial transfusions from the IMF and the World Bank to keep the country afloat. The Americans understand our predicament and diplomatic bargaining has commenced.

From our side, Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani has talked about the transparency and credibility in the terms of engagement in our relationship with the USA. He, too, attaches importance to the parliamentary review of the Pak-US relationship. However, there is a need to understand and outline a clear objective that Pakistan wants achieved. The past experience of mutual relationship has amply demonstrated that the tall promises of respect for sovereignty and territorial integrity meant nothing to the USA. We faced attacks on our troops and sustained casualties; we know about the US Senate resolutions on Balochistan and the covert support extended to anti-state elements there. Nevertheless, mutual respect and benefits in American perception run in one way only. This is the opportunity that Pakistan must avail to establish a truly transparent relationship that has mutual respect as its cardinal principle.

At the present juncture, the USA has a one-point agenda. It is engaged in a so-called war on terror in Afghanistan. President Barack Obama has given a timeline for the withdrawal of US troops and this must be achieved as promised. The US needs the supply lines to close this war on a winning note and in time. Our new relationship should have this limited aim foremost and help the USA achieve the withdrawal. The agreement document should have first and foremost defined the war on terror. Pakistan should not accept the definition of terror put forward by the US military. Terrorism and the war on terror is being used as stratagem by the US for global domination and is heavily anti-Muslim; large-scale massacres by non-Muslims are not termed terrorism. Based on this fact, the transparent document should have laid down that Pakistan will facilitate that many supplies that will help and assist the USA to meet it objectives for on-schedule withdrawal of its troops from Afghanistan. Beyond that there will be no cooperation in the so-called war on terror. It should have also spelled out in clear terms that the US would not use these supplies for operations against Pakistani territory from ground and air, including the drones. Our Parliament must honour the sentiment expressed by President Asif Zardari that drone attacks are counterproductive. Lastly, the agreement document must lay down that supplies passing through Pakistan will be subjected to custom checks, duties and transportation tariffs.

Pakistan has paid a heavy price for this on-off one-sided relationship; it cannot go on forever. If we want self-respect and dignity as a nation, we need to put forward these conditions for mutual relationship and watch the response. The promises of mutual benefits and respect for sovereignty and territorial integrity will be laid bare. Pakistan will know where it stands and can then brace for whatever comes its way.

n    The writer is a retired brigadier and political analyst.