By K.N. Pandita
Pakistan Premier Reza Gilani called off his proposed visit to the US at the last moment. He was to attend the UN General Assembly session in New York and all arrangements for the Pakistani delegation headed by him were finalized. Gilani told reporters that he had cancelled his visit because he wanted to personally supervise the relief work being carried out for the flood sufferers in Pakistan. But knowledgeable circles are not convinced with the reason given by him. He had recently been in Teheran while the floods raged in his country. However reputed Pakistani daily Dawn has reported that the real reason for calling off the visit is President Obama’s refusal to meet him on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly session in NY, which both were scheduled to attend. Pakistan mission in the US had worked hard for the meeting on the sidelines but at the last moment it fell through.
UN General Assembly meeting is an occasion on which world leaders usually do find time to meet on the sidelines and exchange views on current world affairs. The US President is seldom reported to refuse meeting his counterparts on these occasions. Administrative staff begins its spadework in good advance to ensure that meetings between the heads of the governments take place smoothly. Even the agenda for such meetings is also decided in advance and nothing is left to chance.
The reason for President Obama to refuse a meeting with Pakistani premier is to be looked in the indication given by the US Ambassador in Pakistan that Pakistani government is linked to the recent 20-hour assault of Taliban on the US Embassy in Kabul which resulted in the death of 27 persons. In a forthright statement Mr. Cameron Munter, the US Ambassador in Pakistan told press reporters that the attack was led by the Haqqani group of Afghan Taliban with whom ISI has close links. Haqqani group has been playing the frontline role in resisting US-NATO forces in Afghan war. President Obama’s refusal to meet with Pak Prime Minister in NY shows that the US is angry with Islamabad government not able to rein in the ISI and stop subversion of fight against terror in the region.
Obama’s displeasure uncovers some interesting dimensions of soured US-Pak relations. It is generally believed that the US has two-pronged strategy of dealing with Pakistan: it reaches the civilian government and at the same time Pentagon has developed relations with Pakistan Army knowing that real power in Pakistan rests with the Army. In this way, whatever understanding was reached at between the White House and Islamabad government could become meaningful only if the Pentagon-GHQ combine put its seal on it. But since ISI is the arm of Pakistani Army, the USA usually did not bother to be critical or even appreciative of ISI. It is a different story that during Afghan war against Soviet Union, super intelligence agencies of the two countries worked in tandem and were privy to each other’s secret missions. The point to note is that the American Ambassador put the blame on the government in Islamabad and referred to ISI only in an understatement. The US knows that an attempt made by the civilian government of Islamabad to put ISI under the control and command of civilian government was foiled by the Army. Had Washington put its foot down and demanded Pakistan Army to let ISI pass into the control of the civilian government, perhaps relations between the two countries would not have come to this pass. But one needs to note that the US Defence Minister has issued a strict warning to Pakistan that attack on the US Embassy in Kabul was carried out by Haqqani group with which ISI has close relations, He said that the US would not hesitate to retaliate and smash the group even if it was based on Pakistan soil. It remains to be seen what will be the reaction of Pakistan Army to the hardened stance of the US. Hopefully Washington now understands better the dynamics of Pakistan’s fight “against” and “for” terrorism. It should convince Washington that the US must revise its Pakistan policy in the light of ground situation in Pakistan, be it the case of civilian government or Army assertion. The US should have demanded dismantling of ISI on the day when her troops landed in Afghanistan to fight her war on terror. The situation has worsened today and it become all the more important that US makes the demand now failing which more clandestine camaraderie between ISI and terrorist groups will be.