By Arab News
Pakistan and the United States appear to have stepped back from the brink — for now. President Barack Obama has stepped in to check the damage inflicted by Adm. Mike Mullen’s recent claims accusing Islamabad of being hand in glove with the Haqqani network. The White House has distanced itself from Mullen’s claims, including the one linking ISI to the recent attack on US Embassy in Kabul.
Obama’s intervention has come following angry reactions from Pakistan’s military and civilian leadership. The fact that all political parties and media demonstrated unprecedented unity at the all-parties meeting hosted by Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani expressing outrage over Adm. Mullen’s charges might have helped. At Thursday’s conference, the political leadership tried to forge national consensus on the country’s security and foreign policy direction with some degree of equanimity and maturity.
This is something that Pakistan’s leaders should have done long ago. Indeed, as former Premier Nawaz Sharif suggested, it’s high time the government came clean on the terms of engagement of Pak-US partnership in this war. It’s never too late for a course correction. It’s time for some much needed introspection in Washington and Islamabad. After a fierce war of words, US officials now appear reluctant to own Mullen’s fulminations. Both sides are now keen to bring down tempers.
In fact, Mullen himself now suggests Pakistan holds key to peace in Afghanistan and Southwest Asia. There’s no stable future in the region without a partnership with Pakistan, pointed out the US top gun just before passing on the baton to his successor. The crazy idea of sending US ground forces into North Waziristan in Pakistan to deal with the Haqqani network has been dismissed for now.
However, the pressure on Pakistan is far from relenting. Afghan President Hamid Karzai has indirectly accused Pakistan of assassinating former President Burhanuddin Rabbani who was working for rapprochement with Taleban. In an unusual message to the nation’s top religious leaders on Friday, Karzai suggested it was time to hold talks with Pakistan, not Taleban, implying Islamabad was behind the insurgency in Afghanistan.
Whatever the basis of these accusations, they do no good to the fragile Pak-Afghan relations. Pakistan and Afghanistan are in this together. If one is destabilized, the other one is bound to be affected as history of the past few decades would attest. This is why instead of accusing each other, Kabul and Islamabad need to work together to take on the shared challenges. No one could deny the fact that Pakistan not long ago enjoyed close relations with the Taleban, who ruled Afghanistan until the US drove them out after 9/11, just as it did with other Afghan groups during the eventful years of anti-Soviet struggle. Which incidentally was supported by Uncle Sam and most European and Muslim nations. Islamabad was forced to abruptly snap those ties in 2001 and join America’s “with-us-or-against-us” war. Pakistan may have made some mistakes but those were not deliberate. There’s a long history of relations between the Pashtun population on either side of the border, which cannot be erased overnight. Perhaps no country has suffered as much as Pakistan has in this directionless, disastrous war in political and economic terms, not to mention more than 32,000 precious lives that it has lost to this conflict. It knows that war on extremism is in its own interest. These accusations and taunts by US and Afghan leadership aren’t, therefore, just unfair, they are downright dangerous.