The Obama doctrine and Pakistan

Daily: Daily Times
Date: 26.11.14

Strategically, not much distance is present between the news item that on his recent visit,
the Chief of Army Staff (COAS) General Raheel Sharif had been given a red carpet
welcome in the US and the news item that US President Barack Obama had silently
permitted a residual combat force (numbering about 10,000) in Afghanistan to fight against
the Taliban for another year in case, after December 31, they threatened the nascent
Afghan government and in case the remnants of al Qaeda resurfaced. These
developments are not surprising if one understands the latest doctrines governing US
foreign policy.

A doctrine can be understood in terms of a principle that engenders policies and
consequently means for their execution. In the context of Pak-US relations, the doctrine of
US President Barack Obama can be understood in his two addresses in the beginning of
his first term. First, on March 27, 2009, Obama declared his resolve to fight against al
Qaeda in both Afghanistan and Pakistan, especially in Pakistan’s lawless tribal belt where al
Qaeda had shifted its bases and had silently been waiting to repeat 9/11. The annunciation
of this stance prompted the famous Af-Pak strategy, which is a hallmark of the US foreign
policy overseeing US relations with Pakistan and Afghanistan. Second, on December 1,
2009 (while speaking to a gathering of US army cadets at the West Point Military Academy,
New York), Obama said that Pakistan was key in solving the Afghanistan crisis. In this
address, Obama outlined three fundamental elements of his policy towards the Af-Pak
region: “A military effort to create the conditions for a transition, a civilian surge that
reinforces positive action and an effective partnership with Pakistan.” In effect, the US is
now operating in the third element of this policy. Nevertheless, the overarching goal of the
policy was to “disrupt, dismantle and defeat al Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and to
prevent its capacity to threaten the US and [its] allies in the future.” Certainly, General
Sharif should have been venerated for launching Operation Zarb-e-Azb.

Though Obama entered the White House in January 2009 with the slogan of change, in
some ways the Obama doctrine was a development on the Bush doctrine. The prospective
part of the Bush doctrine uttered on June 1, 2002 (on the occasion of the graduation
exercise of the US Military Academy, West Point, New York) was this: “[W]e will not hesitate
to act alone, if necessary, to exercise our right of self-defence by acting pre-emptively
against...terrorists [whether a state or its clients], to prevent them from doing harm against
our people and our country...even if uncertainty remain as to the time and place of the
enemy’s attack.” This aspect of the Bush doctrine transformed the US view of the world and
vice versa. The doctrine generated two main principles: first, to act pre-emptively and
second, to act unilaterally, whether the (perceived) enemy is a state or non-state actor.

The doctrine was also the recognition of three points. First, the world had entered a new
era of warfare in which not only rogue states but also non-state actors could launch attacks
(or wage wars). Secondly, in the (consequent) asymmetrical style of warfare, the initiative
could rest with non-state actors. Thirdly, deterrence, which was a functional term during the
Cold war, ceased to be functional. Apparently, it was the execution of these principles that
has compelled Obama to allow the US residual force in Afghanistan to stay proactive for
another year even after December 31, 2014.

Recently, Obama told Nawaz Sharif telephonically that he would not be visiting Pakistan.
Instead, he will be visiting India. In the past, US foreign policy paired Pakistan with India in
the region. However, since 2000, the US has started viewing India as a partner in economic
terms. Then, General Pervez Musharraf was ruling Pakistan. After winning the presidential
elections in 2000, Bush also aspired to develop a US-India strategic partnership. With that,
the process of de-hyphenation of Pakistan from India started. The appalling incident of 9/11
just hastened the process. Subsequently, there took place cooperation between the US
and India in the fields of spaceflight, satellite technology and missile defence.

On the other hand, having sensed the policy change, Pakistan raised a hue and cry but in
the context of its vulnerability in the domain of security. No doubt, in 2004, Bush mollified
Pakistan by awarding it the status of a Major Non-NATO (MNNA) ally but, in 2005, formal
negotiations for a US-India nuclear energy deal started and the famous 123 Agreement was
signed in 2008. In this way, Pakistan’s pleading for security backfired. Obama picked up the
threads where Bush left off. On March 27, 2009, the Obama doctrine hyphenated Pakistan
with Afghanistan and, on December 1, 2009, Obama detached Pakistan further from the US
by saying: “In the past, we too often defined our relationship with Pakistan narrowly. Those
days are over. Moving forward, we are committed to a partnership with Pakistan that is built
on a foundation of mutual interest, mutual respect and mutual trust.” This statement alone
changed the contours of the Pak-US relationship, as it happened. For instance, Pakistan
was kept in the dark about the Abbottabad Operation in May 2011.

The prescriptive part of the Bush doctrine, announced on June 1, 2002, was to reform the
political societies of the world by introducing democracy and by recognising the importance
of human rights where these were suppressed. The Obama doctrine toed the same line. In
fact, both doctrines viewed a relationship existing between the emergence of democracy
and the decline of extremism. In the Kerry-Lugar-Berman Act, 2009, Pakistan received the
prescriptive part of the Obama doctrine. Now, it is up to Pakistan to make policy changes
both domestically and regionally that are more acceptable to the US in the future.

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