Pakistan’s parliament Thursday approved recommendations of a parliamentary committee to reset the terms of U.S.–Pakistan relations, paving the way for the reopening of NATO supply routes and the resumption of high-level U.S.–Pakistan diplomatic engagement.
The supply routes were shut down and high-level visits suspended following a NATO air strike that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers along the Afghan border nearly five months ago. While the parliament’s action is a positive sign that Islamabad wants to avoid a complete collapse in the relationship, tensions between the two countries will persist as long as Islamabad works at cross-purposes with the U.S. in Afghanistan and fails to crack down on terrorist sanctuaries.
Aside from allowing the transit of NATO supplies (non-lethal only) through Pakistan, the parliamentary resolution requests that the U.S. end drone strikes on Pakistani territory; apologize for the November 26, 2011, NATO strike; refrain from further unilateral military operations inside the country or “hot pursuit” operations by U.S. forces from Afghanistan into Pakistani territory; and withdraw private security contractors from the country. The resolution also restated Pakistan’s commitment to eliminating terrorism.
The most controversial recommendation from the U.S. perspective is the cessation of drone strikes. This is not the first time Pakistan’s parliament has called for an end to U.S. drone strikes, and Pakistani government officials privately recognize that Washington considers the drone campaign one of its most effective counterterrorism tools. Documents found at Osama bin Laden’s compound in Abbottabad showed bin Laden was worried about the devastating impact of the drone campaign on his organization.
As long as terrorist sanctuaries continue to exist in Pakistan, the U.S. will have to take steps to deal with them in the absence of effective Pakistani action.
It is Pakistani officials who will have to show more flexibility on the drone issue. The U.S. apparently offered in January to make concessions to Pakistan on drones by providing Pakistan advance notice of future strikes and applying new limits on types of targets. While Pakistani security officials rejected the offer at the time, they may have to reconsider it as a way to reach a compromise with the U.S. If Pakistani officials retain a rigid stance on the issue of drones, they are likely to be embarrassed when the U.S. conducts the next inevitable strike.
As further evidence that tensions between the U.S. and Pakistan will persist on the terrorism front, the U.S. last week announced a $10 million bounty on Hafiz Muhammed Sayeed, founder of the Lashkar-e-Tayyiba terrorist group responsible for the 2008 Mumbai attacks that killed 160, including six Americans. Sayeed has been roaming freely around Pakistan, addressing political rallies and making high-profile speeches. The Administration is right to pressure Pakistan to detain Sayeed and prevent his free movement around the country. However, by saying the bounty was merely to gain information that could lead to his arrest, the Administration has actually weakened its case against Sayeed.
The U.S. instead should have continued to highlight that Sayeed’s public appearances call into question Pakistan’s overall commitment to fighting terrorism. Indeed, the U.S. should pressure Pakistan to bring legal proceedings against all of the Pakistani individuals named by David Coleman Headley as being involved in the Mumbai conspiracy. Until Pakistan demonstrates that it is capable of prosecuting terrorists, the international community will harbor doubts about Pakistan’s commitment to fighting the terrorist scourge.