Originally Published 2012-05-19 00:00:00 Published on May 19, 2012
The Pakistan Accountability Act, moved in the US Congress this week, lacks the necessary coercive elements required to persuade Pakistan or to alter its strategic calculus in the context of Afghanistan. It very well realises its importance to the US for successful completion of the counter-insurgency campaign and sustaining troops.
Pak accountability bill: More harm than good
The Pakistan Accountability Act, 2012 , which was introduced in the US Congress this week, is a momentous legislation which implicitly puts a price for every American killed in the AfPak region to be picked up by the government of Pakistan. The tag - $50 million - is linked to the continuous US aid flow to Pakistan, which would accrue to the family of the deceased.

The legislation comes in the backdrop of the frustration that the international community feels with the fractious behaviour of Pakistan, a country that thrives on American money while at the same time supports the very radical groups which cause the killings of Americans. The US, obviously, does not take too kindly to abject betrayal by one of its most tamed allies.

The terms of this recently passed legislation imply that if passed, it would lead to the freezing of all aid to Pakistan except for the funds that are meant to help in securing nuclear weapons and facilities.

The Department of Defence has been entrusted with preparing a list of all Americans that lost their lives as a result of terrorist activities which flourish unfettered within the political frontiers of Pakistan and Afghanistan with covert or overt support of the Pakistani government.

However, the legislation seems to be silent about the degree of certainty required to hold Pakistan to account for the loss of American lives. In other words, the legislation is silent on whether a proper enquiry mechanism shall be put into place to determine the degree of involvement of Pakistan in these terror attacks or whether mere allegation or suspicion would suffice to entitle the USA to curtail financial aid to Pakistan.

The US-Pakistan relationship has been fairly rocky historically. Despite the fact that Pakistan is the most crucial and strategically placed ally for the US in the region, their relationship has been fraught with distrust. This is a fact that can be empirically documented by the level of financial aid provided to Pakistan by the US over the past six decades as well as by the off-now-on-again nature of its flow.

After the September 11, 2001 attacks, the United States decided to woo Pakistan with renewed vigour. The aid flow was dramatically stepped up by the George W Bush administration with the hope that a grateful Islamabad would play an auxiliary role in the US’ war against the al-Qaeda and Taliban in Afghanistan.

These expectations were rudely dashed when unequivocal proof was available that the Pakistani government had secretly providing refuge to Osama Bin Laden in Abottabad. This shook Washington’s faith in Pakistan’s claimed commitment to US’ interests in the AfPak region. Additionally, there was a lot of mud-slinging which resulted from the Pakistani military’s failure to intercept and detect a foreign military raid.

Moreover, the location and circumstances that shrouded Osama Bin Laden’s death exacerbated Washington’s long-held suspicions on Pakistan’s ostensible role in carrying forward the US’ war against terror and the relationship between the two countries has been marred with suspicion ever since.

The turbulence in the relationship started unravelling when on January 27, 2011 Raymond Davis, a US national working at the consulate in Lahore shot and killed two men who approached his vehicle in broad day light in traffic. Though Davis claimed he had resorted to self defence from armed robbers, the Pakistani authorities accused Davis of murder and the court prohibited the government from releasing him despite immense insistence that diplomatic immunity shielded him from prosecution.

The controversy numbed the Pakistani leaders who had to maintain the delicate balance of International conventions on the one hand and the surge of public resentment on the other. This controversy turned out to have a direct bearing on the cordiality of the bilateral ties as it led to the postponement of the trilateral talks that were scheduled to happen between Afghanistan, Pakistan and USA in February 2011.

Hope of some reconciliation came on February 23 when the military officers from both sides met for a day-long meeting in Oman. Although this meeting was scheduled for much earlier, the main agenda of discussion was the issue of release of Raymond Davis. Soon after this meeting, the CIA had opened direct negotiations with the ISI to secure his release. However, the negotiations went on unsuccessfully into mid-March when after a series for extremely protracted talks leading up to the pledge of a $2.3million ’blood money’ payout to the family of Davis’ victims, the official was flown out to the US. For the record, however, Washington denied any quid pro quo arrangement.

The outcome of the Davis affair left many in Pakistan feeling that their justice system had been heavily manipulated by the US government. This triggered a fresh wave of suspicion on the true nature of America’s motives in Pakistan. Against this milieu, the discovery and subsequent killing of Osama Bin Laden by the USA on Pakistani turf proved to be the last nail in the coffin .

In the aftermath of the decade-long hunt and killing of Osama Bin Laden, Pakistan’s credibility suffered a major setback as the discovery starkly contrasted with the claims of senior Pakistani officials that most wanted extremist figures were not finding any refuge in their home land.

In October 2011, the US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton visited Islamabad along with a delegation to help assuage the acrimony that had ensued following the killing of Laden. She urged the Pakistani government to take positive steps to uproot the terror wings like the Haqqani Network that operate from within Pakistan.

The events transpired in 2011 have plummeted US-Pakistan relations to its nadir. In this context, the bilateral track requires trust building measures. Unfortunately, the Pakistan Accountability Bill will serve to be counter-productive.

In conclusion, the Bill lacks the necessary coercive elements required to persuade Pakistan or to alter its strategic calculus in the context of Afghanistan. It very well realises its importance to the US for successful completion of the counter-insurgency campaign and sustaining troops. More importantly, Pakistan continues to remain vital for the eventual peace negotiations with Taliban and other insurgent entities. Moreover, Pakistan’s cooperation in persecuting al-Qaeda’s top leadership will continue to drive US-Pakistan cooperation.

A $50 million fine is not sufficient to convince Pakistan otherwise. On the flip side, the Bill, far from proving a deterrent to Pakistan’s complicity in the ongoing Taliban insurgency, may backfire and become a cause of its further alienation from the counter terrorism community.

(The writer is with Observer Research Foundation)

Courtesy: The Pioneer, May 19, 2012

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