The speech delivered by US Vice President Mike Pence, at the Bagram Airbase in Afghanistan, earlier this week, has created a stir within the national security establishment in Pakistan. This speech – which is a reflection of President Trump’s boorish style of governance – has been met with a gritty response from our Foreign Office, as well as the ISPR.
As expected, the “mujhe kiyo’n nikala” group – which otherwise needs no excuse for issuing ridiculous statements from the PID – has remained silent. But more on that later.
In the current geo-political circumstances, Vice President Pence’s speech must be seen in the larger context of regional politics, and India’s role on our Western border. Specifically, VP Pence, while addressing a gathering of American soldiers said, “For too long has Pakistan provided safe haven to the Taliban and many terrorist organizations, but those days are over.” He continued, “President Trump has put Pakistan on notice. As the President said, so I say now: Pakistan has much to gain from partnering with the United States, and Pakistan has much to lose by continuing to harbor criminals and terrorists.”
This speech of VP Pence comes at the heels of President Trump’s statement, where he said that he had “made it clear to Pakistan that while we desire a continued partnership, we must see decisive action against terrorist groups operating on their territory.” And that since the United States (allegedly) makes “massive payments every year to Pakistan; they have to help.”
And, just like that, the narrative of Modi… pardon me… the narrative of American foreign policy was articulated by the two most senior official of the White House.
Also important is the question about how much of this perspective is based on America’s recent humiliation in the United Nations over the Jerusalem issue? A vote in which, despite American threats, even countries such as Afghanistan and India voted against President Trump’s move to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. Is this just the empty roar of wounded pride? Or an attempt to endorse Modi’s stance in the region, as a counterweight to the expanding influence of China? Or should Pakistan really be concerned about the impact of this statement (along with the foreign policy statement issued by Trump administration earlier)? What should our response be, in the short/medium/long term? Should we exercise caution… toeing a careful line between regional interests and American support? Or is it time to review our sordid history with the American establishment? Should we pander to the American narrative, and promise to “do more”? Or is it, instead, time to reconsider our regional options, and shed this burdensome cloak of American imperialism?
In response to VP Pence’s speech, the ISPR has replied that “Pakistan isn’t fighting the war against terrorism for the sake of money” and that “we do not need aid from the US, but mutual trust.” Also, Foreign Office spokesperson issued a strong statement, condemning Pence’s speech, and saying that “allies do not put each other on notice”. Foreign Office further stated that “instead of Pakistan, on notice should be those factors responsible for exponential increase in drug production, expansion of ungoverned spaces, industrial scale corruption, breakdown of governance, and letting Daesh gain a foothold in Afghanistan.”
These are strong words for a country that, up until a decade ago, was overtly dependent on American support for the functioning of its economic and security apparatus. So, has this change in our State narrative taken place because of PML(N) government? Or despite it? Is the Foreign Office statement the narrative of Nawaz Sharif, Shahid Khaqan Abbasi and Khawaja Asif? Or is it, instead, the narrative of a State that has started to look beyond such individuals who have trouble articulating anything other than “mujhe kiyo’n nikala”?
To answer these questions, it is perhaps pertinent to review Army Chief’s briefing before the Senate, earlier in the week. In this regard, according to all accounts of those on the inside, the (concerning internal and external security of our country) was focused entirely on issued concerning Afghanistan, India, regional politics, and domestic security threats. According to the accounts narrated, Nawaz Sharif was not even mentioned once; there was no discuss on “mujhe kiyo’n nikala”; there was no comment on “paanch log”; or ‘Adal bachao tehreek’. None at all.
Because, importantly, none of these issues are of any pressing concern to the State (and people) of Pakistan. In the context of developments taking place in this region, no one – except one family and its handful of coterie – cares much about what happens to Nawaz Sharif and family. With ISIS digging trenches across our Western border (supported, in part, by the United States), no one cares about Maryam Nawaz’s tweets. With Indian narrative gaining popularity with the US administration, no one cares about the infighting between Maryam and Hamza. With Trump administration threatening Pakistan, no one cares about saving the personal wealth and offshore companies of one family. Or about the abhorrent tirades of Daniyal Aziz and Talal Chaudhry.
This reality, however, has escaped members of Sharif family, who seems to assume that the removal of Nawaz Sharif, and the resultant trial in the NAB court, is Pakistan’s most important issue. Wrong. Nawaz Sharif should recognize that the State of Pakistan has bigger challenges that him. And it needs better people than him to overcome these challenges. He also needs to realize that his international masters – who helped him escape in 1999, and then brought him back in 2007 – no longer exert the same influence of Pakistan. That toeing the Saudi or American line, in terms of domestic political policy, is no longer necessary for our country. Pakistan today sits at the heart of the regional ‘Great Game’ in South Asia. The choices we make, will also determine the fate of India, Afghanistan, Iran, and the influence of China in this region. And the regional paradigm has no space for non-issues such as “mujhe kiyo’n nikala”.
In the same breath, the US must recognize the (diminishing) reach of its international influence. This is no longer a unipolar world; this is no longer a world in which American imperialism is the only power that the world bows before. This is no longer a world which petro-dollar is the only currency of influence. And Pakistan is no longer a country where imperial stooges will be accepted into corridors of power, based on foreign recommendations.
The age of mujhe kiyo’n nikala leaders is over. And so is the age of American made democracies. And the sooner that this PML(N) leadership comes to term with this reality, the better it will be for their political survival.
The writer is a lawyer based in Lahore. He has a Masters in Constitutional Law from Harvard Law School.
So, has this change in our State narrative taken place because of PML(N) government? Or despite it?