December 4, 2011 Special Dispatch No. 4340

Inaugural Session of the New MEMRI E-Chat Series: 'The Future of U.S.-Pakistan Relations'

December 4, 2011
Special Dispatch No. 4340

On December 2, 2011, MEMRI hosted a live e-chat on the future of U.S.-Pakistan relations, with MEMRI President Yigal Carmon and MEMRI South Asia Studies Project director Tufail Ahmad. Questions were submitted via Facebook, Twitter, and email.

The following is the transcript of the chat:

We would like to welcome all MEMRI readers to this e-chat on U.S.-Pakistan relations, which are entering yet another phase of uncertainty following the November 26 NATO air raid that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers.


Yigal Carmon, MEMRI President

Tufail Ahmad, Director of the MEMRI South Asia Studies Project

(10:30AM) Question: How badly will the deadly U.S.-led NATO assault on a Pakistani checkpoint close to the Afghan border, which killed 24 soldiers on Saturday, [affect] the relationship between Washington and Islamabad?

Answer: In recent years, Pakistan has begun moving away from the U.S. This process got a push forward in the wake of the Abbottabad operation in which Osama bin Laden was killed. Pakistan has now been allying closely with China, both militarily and economically. It appears that the U.S.-Pakistan relationship has reached a turning point from where it will only slide downwards.

(10:32AM) Question: In his new video, Al-Zawahiri says that Al-Qaeda is holding Warren Weinstein. How did this happen?

Answer: U.S. aid worker Warren Weinstein was kidnapped from Lahore by armed men in August of this year. It is not the style of Al-Qaeda to plan raids to kidnap Western people or officials. Weinstein was probably kidnapped by a criminal group for ransom but later sold to another group of militants or others for a higher amount of money. It is possible that some Pakistani intelligence men were involved in his kidnapping or later traced the kidnappers and took control of Weinstein in order to set terms for a bargain with the U.S. amid the deteriorating Pakistan-U.S. relations. In view of the November 26 raid that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers, it appears that Weinstein was delivered by his kidnappers in the Pakistani intelligence apparatuses to Al-Qaeda, or sometime earlier. But it is more complicated than that.

(10:34AM) Question: What will China's support of and solidarity with Pakistan after the NATO attacks mean down the road, and how will this affect China's relationship with the U.S.?

Answer: As an emerging power, China is mindful of its place in the world affairs, but especially in its neighborhood. China has repeatedly voiced strong support for Pakistan, especially against any violation of Pakistan's sovereignty by the U.S. For the foreseeable future, it does not appear that China would jeopardize its own relationship with the U.S. for the sake of Pakistan, also because China continues to depend heavily on the U.S. dollar to prop up its own currency, the Renminbi.

(10:36AM) Question: What's the religious parties' response following the NATO raid that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers?

Answer: The religious parties have been organizing mass protests against the U.S. following the NATO raid. Such protests have been organized by the Jamaat-e-Islami, Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam (JUI-F), Sunni Tehreek and others. However, such mass anti-U.S. protest rallies are a norm in Pakistani society, even on minor issues. But more than religious parties, what is more likely to come up in the next year or two is the role of Imran Khan's Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party. The PTI has been now leading anti-U.S. sentiments in Pakistan, and it is widely believed that Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) is behind it.

(10:40 AM) Question: Will India be successful in forming an alliance with Afghanistan against Pakistan?

Answer: India traditionally enjoys goodwill among the people of Afghanistan. It has invested more than $1 billion in infrastructure projects in Afghanistan over the past decade. In October 2011, India and Afghanistan signed a strategic partnership agreement to bolster their bilateral relationship. However, because of Pakistan's geography, the two countries will not be able to build an alliance "against Pakistan." Despite Pakistan's support for the Taliban, Afghanistan and India will have to live with their neighbor.

(10:42 AM) Question: Are 1) information from the ISI about Al-Qaeda and 2) Pakistan's nuclear arsenal the only issues that keep the U.S. engaged with the Pakistani government?

Answer: The ISI does not supply any information about Pakistan's nuclear arsenal to the U.S., but it did help the U.S. to hunt down Al-Qaeda terrorists over the past 10 years, especially those who were not Pakistani nationals. Al-Qaeda and the Pakistani nuclear programs are not the only issues on which the U.S. has engaged with Pakistan. The U.S. continues to support Pakistan's civilian sector, in the areas of education, health and development projects. Over the past year, the U.S. and Pakistan have explored the possibility of U.S. support in Pakistan's energy sector.

(10:43 AM) Question: What is the nature of the relationship between the Taliban and Pakistan? How much can the U.S. trust Pakistan as an ally?

Answer: Pakistan has consistently nursed and maintained a deep relationship with the Afghan Taliban as well as with various commanders of Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP). Pakistan thinks that they are essential to further its interests in Afghanistan and counter the influence of India in the region and also in Afghanistan. The situation has reached such a stage where the U.S. policymakers are finding it difficult to trust Pakistan.

(10:44 AM) Question: The Atlantic article "The Ally from Hell," by Jeffrey Goldberg and Marc Ambinder, brings up the fact that the government in Pakistan promotes a great deal of the anti-U.S. sentiment found in the country, with many of these media sources reporting on an "imminent danger of the United States attacking the country." Goldberg and Ambinder cite the ISI, SDP, and military leaders as the main perpetrators of this propaganda. Do you agree with this statement? Moreover, how do you think the United States should proceed regarding this issue, or should it decline to address the issue at all?

Answer: There is a misunderstanding regarding the power structure in Islamabad. The elected government in Pakistan does not make crucial decisions about Pakistan's foreign policies vis-à-vis the U.S., Afghanistan and India, as well as on other critical issues. It is Pakistan Army chief General Ashfaq Kayani and ISI chief Lt.-Gen. Shuja Pasha who are dictating anti-U.S. policies and public sentiment. The military-ISI establishment does fan anti-U.S. sentiment through religious parties as well as through the Urdu-language media, and through amenable media commentators and TV journalists. As of now, the U.S. is dealing mainly with the military, which entrenches the military's role in Pakistan at the expense of the elected government. The international community should work to reduce the role of Pakistani military and strengthen the civilian government.

(10:45 AM) Question: Can Musharaff get re-elected?

Answer: Realistically speaking, it is unlikely that General Musharraf can return to Pakistan. His only hope of returning to Pakistan was a positive nod from the military. Although he is seeking a way to enter Pakistani politics and has even launched a political party from his base in London, the Pakistan military will not allow him to return because this will hurt the military's image among people.

Additionally, there are a number of court cases in Pakistan against him. Gen. Musharraf fears that in some of these cases, he can be effectively put behind bars, for example regarding the unconstitutionality of his military coup as well as the sacking of the entire higher judiciary.

(10:47 AM) Question: The United States focuses a large amount of its attention with regards to Pakistan on jihadism as an all-encompassing term, while the Pakistani government distinguishes between good and bad terrorists, picking and choosing which groups to support in order to further the political and military leaders 'own self-interests. With this in mind, it is obvious that the United States needs to broaden its scope from primarily jihadism. If you had a say, what two topics do you think the United States needs to pay more attention to with regards to Pakistan?

Answer: It is precisely Pakistan's use of so-called "good" militants who serve its cause that needs to be dealt with by the international community. Pakistan is acting against some extremely bad terrorists, but its efforts are not good enough. The Pakistani military does not kill or capture any big militant commander; these remain untouched by the Pakistani military operations so that they can be later used to advance Pakistan's strategic interests in Afghanistan or Kashmir.

(10:48 AM)Question: Is the deterioration of U.S.-Pakistan relations impacting the Pakistan-India situation regarding Kashmir?

Answer: In recent months, India and Pakistan have been moving to build their economic ties. They have agreed to open more transit points across the Line of Control (LoC) in Kashmir for trade and to ease restrictions for Kashmiris to travel more frequently across the LoC. Although India says that the bilateral initiatives are backed by the Pakistani military, it is not entirely clear. In fact, the jihadist groups like Lashkar-e-Taiba and the Pakistani Army are now beginning to oppose any moves for cordial relations between the two countries.

(10:50 AM) Question: When the United States raided Osama bin Laden's compound earlier this year, it increased anti-U.S. sentiment in Pakistan as well as hostility and suspicion. Do you think that the raid and killing of Osama bin Laden was worth the increased instability it created between the United States and Pakistan? (I am not asking whether the killing of Osama bin Laden was justified, more asking if the ends justified the means)

Answer: Terrorist movements can be curbed effectively if their leaders and masterminds are killed. Let's see it this way: Pakistan does not need to kill thousands of militants. It needs to kill or capture their leaders and demonstrate a tough willingness to confront jihadist forces.

(10:51 AM) Question: What would you say has a greater likelihood of materializing: the Pakistani fear of the United States raiding their nuclear compounds or the United States' fear of Pakistan using their nuclear weapons?

Answer: The likelihood that the militants can gain control of Pakistani nuclear weapons is not far-fetched; but the militants can do so only through the jihadist officers of the Pakistani military. This is a realistic possibility. Pakistan does not show a sign of moving on to a positive path of development in next few decades. In such a situation, the U.S. or the wider international community might be forced to secure the Pakistani nuclear weapons. It can also happen as a result of an individual act.

(10:52 AM) Question: Following the recent NATO attacks on Pakistani forces, Pakistan has made a large statement to the international community – that they feel the attack compromised their sovereignty – by refusing to attend the upcoming conference in Bonn. However, Pakistan is ultimately reliant on the United States to fund their military, and therefore only have so much bargaining power concerning their involvement or lack thereof in the discussions regarding Afghanistan. What role do you believe Pakistan will play in shaping Afghanistan following full troop withdrawal in 2014?

Answer: After 2014 and beyond, Pakistan – rather its military and intelligence – will continue to mount efforts for gaining control over the government in Kabul and larger influence in Afghanistan. Any government in Kabul that does not tilt toward Pakistan might not be acceptable to the ISI and its surrogates the Taliban. For years, Pakistan has considered Afghanistan its backyard. It opposes the American involvement in Afghanistan. On April 16 this year, the Pakistani leaders visited Kabul to hold a meeting with Karzai. During that meeting, they did not shy away from threatening the Karzai government to obey their commands, and in fact they also asked the Karzai government to appoint Pakistani nationals in the Afghan government. These Pakistani leaders included Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani and Army chief General Kayani. This imperialistic Pakistani approach to Afghanistan will remain a source of regional instability in the coming years.

(10:54 AM) Question: I've read MEMRI's reports about Imran Khan, the famous Pakistani cricket player who has become a politician with widespread appeal, and who I've also seen interviewed by Fareed Zakaria and written about this week in the Washington Post. With whom is he aligned? Has he become an insider in the Pakistani power establishment, or is he just a popular figure who has no influence?

Answer: Imran Khan had so far been a one-man political party. But early this year, Khan began leading mass anti-U.S. protests against the U.S. drone attacks. The established political parties were shocked by his sudden popularity. Leaders of the opposition parties such as Pakistan Muslim League (PML-N) accused the ISI of supporting Imran Khan and creating a "test tube politician" who in their opinion could not even win a mayoral election. But now he is popular, and some political leaders from other parties, such as former Pakistani foreign minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi, are joining him. There are two ways to see his popularity: There was no political party articulating fully the common people's sentiments against the U.S., and his is now the only party that is doing so forcefully; and it is also that he is now believed to be supported by the ISI and Pakistani Army.

(10:56 AM) Question: What is the future of Pakistan's peace negotiations with the Taliban?

Answer: The Western media reports released last month that the Pakistani Taliban and the government and army of Pakistan are engaged in negotiations are in contradiction with ground realities in the jihadist belt. However, it's always the case that some Pakistani officials maintain contacts with Taliban commanders in the border region.

We wrote an analysis of the Western media reports in this regard recently, which can be read by clicking this link: Reports on Taliban-Pakistan Peace Negotiations – What to Believe and What to Reject

(10:57 AM) Question: In light of the constant incursions and rocket fire over the Afghan border by the Pakistani military, why did Afghan leader Hamid Karzai claim that in the event of a U.S.-Pakistan conflict, Afghanistan would side with Pakistan? Is he ideologically aligned with Pakistan, or is it just that he has more to fear from crossing them than from crossing the U.S.?

Answer: President Karzai had recently returned from India, where he signed a bilateral strategic partnership. Pakistanis were angry at him for agreeing to the pact with India. Karzai got a media chance to assuage the feelings of Pakistani leaders by delivering a strong statement against the U.S. Ever since Barack Obama became the U.S. president, Karzai has adopted an anti-U.S. position that reflects the personal differences between the two leaders rather than the Afghan-U.S. relationship. Karzai is not ideologically aligned with Pakistan, though he did explore the possibility of remaining in power for a third term by subverting the Afghan constitution with the help of Pakistan.

(10:58 AM) Question: What was NATO's response to the killing of Pakistani soldiers? And do you think such a response is sufficient to tame future Pakistani public protests when additional Pakistani soldiers are killed?

Answer: There were some media reports that on Wednesday morning, some fresh clashes took place between Pakistani soldiers and NATO. Expressions of apology from the U.S. and NATO are unlikely to have any influence in reducing anti-West sentiments in Pakistan; rather such apologies will only strengthen religious parties' viewpoint that the West is guilty of violating Pakistan's sovereignty.

(11:00 AM) Question: What is the current Pakistani-Iranian relationship? Do you see it changing in any direction in the near future?

Answer: Iran is a Shi'ite country and hasn't trusted the Sunni Pakistan. It has also been unhappy about the anti-Iranian Sunni militant organization Jundallah, which is believed to be operating from its base in the Pakistani province of Baluchistan. We do not see any major change in this relationship in future.

(11:01 AM) Question: What are Pakistan's short- and long-term goals in boycotting the Bonn Conference?

Answer: It is still possible that international pressure, especially from the Europeans, might convince Pakistan not to boycott the Bonn Conference on the future of Afghanistan. However, Pakistan's boycott of the Bonn conference will adversely affect the situation in Afghanistan, though in this process Pakistan's interests will also be hurt. Pakistan will stand isolated internationally.

(11:02 AM) Question: Can you address specifically China's stance on both U.S./NATO operations in Waziristan and the Bonn Conference?

Answer: There are no U.S./NATO operations in Waziristan, except the drone attacks. China has impressed upon Pakistan the need to act against the terrorists, especially those who are fighting against China in its Xinxiang province. With regard to Bonn conference and other international efforts, China always expresses diplomatic support for stability in Afghanistan.

(11:03 AM) Question: How do you foresee the geopolitical situation in and around Afghanistan in five and in 15 years, especially after the U.S. intervention in the country will have been proven to be a complete failure?

Answer: The Taliban in Afghanistan are on the offensive. They are able to launch major terror attacks in Kabul, Kandahar and other major Afghan towns. The fears about the Taliban overthrowing the Karzai government are real, but it cannot be said yet with certainty that the U.S. intervention would be considered a "complete failure" in next few years. Although the U.S. and NATO troops are set to end the occupation of Afghanistan by the end of 2014, a new U.S.-Afghan strategic partnership agreement will still allow some troops to remain legally in Afghanistan. But the Taliban will for sure survive as a major terror group.

(11:05 AM) Question: Is this really not the time for U.S. to give a stop to the relations with the Pakistan? After all this 10 years, now I am sure the U.S. is feeling the real problem, while it will have some harsh to change the direction and make new friends, but now is never late. Pakistan as a country needs to do what is been done, as Pakistan feels it to be in its best interests. It is in the U.S.'s best interest to maintain peace. Is it worth it for the U.S. to have all the lies from the U.S. and never show a bad face?

Answer: No country can break off its relationship completely with other countries, though there are some exceptions such as North Korea. The U.S. and Pakistan will continue to interact and have some relationship, though the real question is will the Pakistani military stop its support for terror organizations, or will the U.S. cut off the financial lifeline of Pakistani military and ISI by designating some of its serving and former officers as terrorists.

Thank you all for joining this timely discussion. And please don't forget to visit and subscribe to newsletters from the MEMRI South Asia Studies Project to receive the latest research on developments in Pakistan, Afghanistan and other South Asian countries. Thank you!

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