Monthly Archives: March 2012

Signs of US-Pakistan reset beginning to appear

Oil tankers wait in Karachi


Pakistan’s parliament is due to debate new terms of engagement with the US next week, but it looks like the first signs of the reset may already be starting to show.

Last week, CENTCOM Commander General James Mattis publicly praised Pakistan’s efforts in the fight against the Taliban, noting that where havens still exist, it is “because the Pakistan Army is stretched,” not a lack of will on the part of the military.

Unlike past instances in which US officials appeared to gloss over differences with Pakistan, though, Gen. Mattis acknowledged that the two countries don’t always see eye-to-eye, but that they are using areas of agreement to inform future plans.

The statement by General James Mattis came a few days after he met Pakistan’s newly appointed Ambassador Sherry Rehman. General Mattis said the US has a problematic relationship with Pakistan at times but that does not prevent them from working together. There is a lot of common ground that both the countries use and operate together against the enemy, he added.

“We don’t have 100 percent common ground about it, but it is not a showstopper,” Mattis remarked.

One area where we may be seeing some change is in the US drone program. Long a source of tension between the US and Pakistan, the drone program was until recently officially non-existent according to US officials. In Pakistan, where drone strikes are an undeniable reality, there has been a lack of consensus on the issue. Most of Pakistan’s public is opposed to drone strikes, and government and military officials frequently called for the strikes to end. Reportedly, however, the military leadership and some politicians privately supported the program as an effective counter-terrorism tactic. It seems that this may be changing.

Businessweek reported earlier this week that Ambassador Rehman “met Vice President Joe Biden’s national security adviser Antony Blinken on March 9 and told him that Pakistan’s political parties have agreed that the drone flights over Pakistan must end.”

NATO supply lines through Pakistan, too, appear likely to remain closed for the near future. As with drones, this may have more to do with public sentiment than resistance from military and civilian officials. According to a report in Pakistan’s Express-Tribune, “the country’s top civil and military leadership evolved a consensus on lifting the almost four-month-long blockade – but under ‘tough conditions’.” It’s unclear what those ‘tough conditions’ are, but for the man on the street, it’s not another promise of aid.

Akram Durrani, chairman of the All Pakistan Oil Tanker Owners Association, says the supply route should not be opened again until the U.S. apologizes [for an incident that killed 24 Pakistani troops last November].

“This has made people furious over the American attitude, that they have not offered an apology,” Durrani says. “So if they offer an apology, we could also talk to them, help them. But this is not possible without the apology.”

While Pakistan defines new terms of engagement with the US, the shape of this new relationship is beginning to appear in changes to the way that the two countries have dealt in the past. The US may have to work a little harder, but a new engagement paradigm that involves a more humble American side and a consensus-driven Pakistani side may be what is required to put the relationship on a workable and sustainable path.

Shad Begum – 2012 International Women of Courage Award Winner

Shad Begum is a courageous human rights activist and leader who has changed the political context for women in the extremely conservative district of Dir, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. As founder and executive director of Association for Behavior and Knowledge Transformation (ABKT), Ms. Shad provides political training, microcredit, primary education, and health services to women in the most conservative areas of Pakistan. Ms. Shad not only empowered the women of Dir to vote and run for office, she herself ran and won local seats in the 2001 and 2005 elections against local conservatives who tried to ban female participation. Despite threats, Ms. Shad continues to work out of Peshawar to improve the lives of women in the communities of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.