Washington: The upheaval in Egypt can spread to Pakistan, as both countries have huge similarities in terms of governance and relations with the United States, American novelist and columnist David Ignatius has said.
“Think of Pakistan for a moment as the equivalent of Hosni Mubarak’s Egypt. Both countries have strong militaries and weak civilian governments. Both are nominally America’s partners in the war against al Qaeda, but both chafe at US pressure. In each nation, the street is buzzing with talk of the nation’s shame and humiliation under American hegemony,” Ignatius wrote in The Washington Post.
“In Egypt, this pressure cooker led to a revolution whose loudest slogan was “dignity.” The same upheaval could spread to Pakistan, and given the strength of Islamic extremism there, it would have devastating consequences,” he added.
Noting that the relationship between Islamabad and Washington becomes “more poisonous by the week”, Ignatius said that international affairs are sometimes more like a playground fight than a gathering of diplomats in striped pants.
“Countries feel `disrespected` in the same way as kids on urban streets; they worry about `losing face`, they sometimes place national honour before pragmatic interests. They talk past each other, as was the case for years between [Hosni] Mubarak and a string of US presidents. And then things blow up, and people wonder why it happened,” he added.
Ignatius said that when one asks administration officials about the US-Pakistan relationship, people just shake their heads in exasperation, as they see a country beginning to crumble at the seams.
“Maybe Pakistan needs a popular revolution, like Egypt’s, where people demand a stronger role in determining their future. But it’s hard to see this working out to the advantage of anyone at this point, except perhaps [al Qaeda chief] Osama bin Laden. And it might put Pakistan’s nuclear weapons up for grabs,” he said.
One way to bolster Pakistani sovereignty, short of such an uprising, would be for Pakistan to take a stronger role in ending a Taliban insurgency that is driving Washington and Islamabad nuts, he added.
Ignatius recalled that a Pakistani intelligence official outlined to him a “framework for negotiations,” saying: “The Pakistanis would demand of Taliban groups with which they have contact - and yes, that includes the Haqqani network - that they meet US requirements for a deal by rejecting al Qaeda, halting fighting and accepting the Afghan Constitution.”
For Taliban groups that refuse this peace framework, there will be “military therapy”, Ignatius quoted the Pakistani intelligence official, as saying.
There’s no way of knowing if the Pakistanis could deliver, said Ignatius, adding that by putting them to the test and granting their role in the region’s future, the United States might at least speak to the national yearning for dignity and independence.
This relationship does not need a divorce, but maybe a little separation, to break a potentially ruinous cycle of mutual disrespect, he concluded.