Tanvir Ahmad Khan is Pakistan’s former foreign secretary. He has also served as his country’s ambassador to France, Russia, Bangladesh, Czechoslovakia and Iran among other places. After leaving the diplomatic corps, he first became the director general and then the chairman of the Institute of Strategic Studies in Islamabad.
On August 18, Saturday, the Herald invited Tanvir Ahmad Khan to a live online discussion on how the supply route reopening may reshape the frayed ties between Washington and Islamabad. The discussion has been edited for space, clarity and grammar.
Comment From Bakhtiar. Why do you think it took so long for the US to apologise for the Salala incident?
Tanvir Ahmad Khan. Quite honestly, the US “apology” was deliberately delayed and finally delivered in only a partial manner. It was difficult for President Obama to apologise in the election year.
Comment From Ansar. Tanvir Ahmad Khan: Do you think it was morally and politically correct for the Pakistani government to close down the Nato trade routes for eight months?
TAK. Pakistan had little choice after the Salala incident. Public opinion was far too enraged to avoid a strong measure.
Comment From Shereyar. In your opinion, how far has the disruption of Nato supplies led to a disruption in the actual relationship between the USA & Pakistan? More specifically, have the events of the last 8-9 months led to any serious introspection, on the part of the Pakistani establishment; about its involvement in the War on Terror while simultaneously pursuing strategic depth in the region by supporting certain militant groups?
TAK. It would not have taken eight months if Washington had given Islamabad a face saving opportunity. Washington decided to play hard ball. Pakistan-US relations have been under strain for at least two years. There are multiple reasons for it. Salala would not have happened if the relations were better. Nor would Pakistan take such an extreme measure as cutting off the supply route. There is introspection but not the will to see it through.
Comment From Bakhtiar. Rumour has it that the Taliban wanted the trade routes opened, because they were suffering economical losses when it shut down. Do you think this is true?
TAK. I doubt if the Taliban played a role in either shutting down the route or in the re-opening of it. But they do extract considerable sums of money from Afghan and Nato contractors once the trucks enter Afghanistan.
Comment From A Vetta. Now, after the mess US has made, even this withdrawal is unlikely to bring peace to the regions. I am saddened to note that the Pak Army is losing control over the people it trained for Jihad in Afghanistan. What is your opinion?
TAK. It seems Washington has given up the objective of restoring total peace. It will accept relative instability and some fighting as long as it can get and retain military bases in Afghanistan. Pakistan lost control of Jihadis of the Afghanistan or Kashmir vintage a long time ago. The TTP harbours hundreds of them who turned against the Pakistani state after General Musharraf decided to turn away from them.
Comment From Hamid Raza. You say in response to a question above that an adverse public opinion forced the Government of Pakistan to close NATO supply routes. Do you think the recent opening of the supply routes was allowed because the public opinion in Pakistan had changed in any way better for the NATO?
TAK. No. The public opinion had not changed. The Pakistan government had run out of options and was finding it difficult to deny supplies to all the Nato/Isaf countries. It tried to get a good bargain but did not succeed. Basically all that it got was that the Americans released $ 1.1. Billion that belonged to Pakistan as reimbursement of expenditure already incurred but were frozen by Washington.
Comment From Beena. America needs to understand that its foreign policy has significant weaknesses. Americans have pretty much left their fate into the hands of security establishment. Do you think this is a grave mistake?
TAK. America needs to reassess the policies formulated by neo-conservatives under George Bush. Obama has tried to bring about changes but on several issues backed off because of various pressures e.g. the Jewish lobby about the policy on Arab-Israel affairs, pursuit of peace in Afghanistan where he is attempting disengagement after first sanctioning and trying out a big surge of troops. He has not turned out to be an effective leader of change in foreign and security policies.
Comment From Ali. Whatever happened was good in a sense that the economic conditions of the people were grinding to a halt and they were in great need economic ease. It seems that the US has stuck herself badly because they will not be able to change their policy of drone attacks as long as they receive casualties at the hands of Taliban. Where do you see all this heading from here?
TAK. The release of frozen Coalition Support Funds has made things better for the government. But is a very brief respite as Pakistan has to make a large debt re-payment to IMF very soon and the Foreign Exchange reserves are dwindling in spite of remittances by overseas Pakistanis (estimated at $13 billion for the latest year). Moreover the government may spend the money on measures that enable it garner support for the next election but which are economically unsound.
Comment From Shamim Haider. I think Pakistan sold itself very cheap. They could have bargained for more. At this point it is a total loss-loss situation for Pakistan. Do you think we could have bargained for more?
TAK. Pakistan’s bargaining tactics floundered against the rock of American rejection. It needs much better diplomacy. Also the Americans knew they could count on a lobby in Pakistan that wanted an end to the suspension of routes without extracting a price. In the end it was just about the best that Pakistan could have got. Further delay would not have helped.
Comment From Ali. Moreover, which Taliban are being targeted in Waziristan by the US if it is believed that those in Waziristan pose greater threat to Pakistan than to US. Is US attacking friendly Taliban or some special anti-US groups?
TAK. The US wants to degrade the power of all insurgent groups that are likely to keep up the fight against a government in Kabul that gives them permanent bases. They believe the Haqqani group – mainly Oushtin tribes from eastern provinces with common border with FATA are ideologically more hostile to their future plans. They do not want to deploy too many troops in these provinces as they would suffer heavy casualties. They demand that Pakistanshould share the battle against the Haqqani group. Since the peace process has been abysmally slow, Afghanistan is heading for more turmoil for years to come. Pakistan may get the blow back too.
Comment From Ayesha Alam. What in your opinion has caused the worst patch of relationships between Pak and the US? The Nato supply routes being shut down or OBL killing? Or have things been even worse in the past?
TAK. The two factors mentioned by you aggravated an already tense situation. Basically, relations have gone wrong because Pakistani and American objectives in Afghanistan beyond 2014 are at variance. The role that Washington wishes to assign to India in post-2014 Afghanistan has been a major irritant. Internally the raising of a huge Afghan army with much of the officer corps drawn from non-Pushtun minorities, especially Tajiks is, viewed with suspicion in Pakistan.
Comment From Qamar Sohail. According to news reports, the president of the Nato Oil Tankers Association, Nasir Khan said that not a single oil tanker or container had crossed the Torkham border into Afghanistan until July 9 and only a handful of containers had reached Afghanistan via the Chaman border in Quetta. Why do you think this is so?
TAK. The flow of supplies has not reached an optimum level. There are security issues that have not as yet found an agreement between Pakistan and the United States. We may see increased attacks on trucks etc. Pakistan does not seem to have the means to stop them. This will keep on raising controversies.
Comment From Sarfaraz. Do you think anyone benefited from the closing of the Nato supply? If yes, who were the parties that benefited and who were the parties that lost out?
TAK. Nobody seems to have gained much. The closure was a desperate response to a series of issues: the Abbotabad episode, the continued drone attacks and finally the Salala attack that would have sent a wave of indignation in the army. Washington spent 6 to 10 times more on supplies through Russia and Central Asia. Pakistan got a bad name in the Western world. It was a sorry affair.
Comment From A Vetta. People do not like foreign troops in their land. President Bush Senior did the right thing by getting out of Iraq after the first Iraq war. His son decided to stay and look what is happening in Iraq. The only sane policy for the USA is to get out leaving a few thousand well equipped soldiers in Afghanistan to deter foreign adventurers. What do you think?
TAK. There was a fundamental difference. Bush Jr. embarked upon a mission to re-configure the broader Middle East. He had not visualised that resistance would last for years and virtually destroy the project. We have a mess in the region.
TAK. Thank you so much. Best wishes and Good Bye.