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The silence is broken

GIVEN just how much hyperbole circulates within this country about America and its evil designs, the absence of any meaningful commentary about the possible contours of Washington`s future ties with the incoming government has been glaring.
That all changed with Barack Obama`s speech at the National Defence University in Washington on Thursday.
His announcement of a more circumspect policy vis-à-vis the use of drone technology has set offyet another debate within media and political circles about `state sovereignty` and our much-heralded `national interest`.
The two primary victors in the general election, the PML-N and the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI), spent considerable time during their campaigns promising the electorate that they would resist Washington`s dictates and thereby restore Pakistani self-respect (and presumably, self-reliance).
It has been argued that the PTI won a decisive victory in KP precisely because of Imran Khan`s impassioned commitments to shooting down drones and rejection of American hegemony.
What is interesting is how Washington has reacted to this rather hackneyed rhetoric. Let us not forget that commentators and politicos in Pakistan and the US were preoccupied only a year ago about an apparently irreversible breach in the relationship between the two countries.
The media convinced us that there was an irreconcilable contradiction over aprospective military operation in North Waziristan.
Within Pakistan, China and other non-Western powers were being touted as far more reliable allies than the US.
Today the bad blood appears to have dissipated. Pakistan may not be Washington`s `most allied ally` again but it is definitely not being advertised as a rogue state. Clearly both parties found a way out of the morass, and that too quite comfortably.
Nowadays the Americans seem to prefer dialogue and reconciliation over indiscriminate military operations and other such indicators of a `zero-tolerance` policy vis-à-vis `terrorism`. The PPP and Awami National Party (ANP) are clearly the biggest losers of this change in posture; their unabashed commitment to the so-called `war on terror` did them no favours on May 11.
Meanwhile the PML-N and PTI have been basking in the glow of countless congratulatory messages from, and courtesy visits by, the diplomatic corps (and Western attachés especially). One can only conclude that the `free world`, and Washington in particular, has no gripe with Imran Khan and the Sharif brothers.
One of the major promises made by Obama during his second successful presidential campaign was that he would end what has become another unpopular war in Afghanistan. Washington`s preparations for the so-called `endgame` in our neighbouring country have included a reappraisal of which political actors in Pakistan can facilitate a mutually beneficial outcome for all major protagonists.
It is worth being reminded that the association between Islamabad (read: Rawalpindi) and Washington has histori-cally revolved around both countries` security establishments. From at least as early as 1954, the Pentagon and GHQ have cultivated a strong corporate relationship that has not been hugely affected even at the worst of times.
It would not be incorrect to assert that the Pakistani military is still largely dependent on its American counterpart to provide hardware, training and other facilities whereas the American military continues to rely on its Pakistani counterpart to secure its strategic objectives in southwest Asia.
In short, so long as the American engagement in the region continues to be a primarily military one, the Pakistani security establishment will continue to call at least some of the shots.
The PML-N and PTI, meanwhile, are much better equipped to perform the political task of reaching out to and reaching a compromise with the militant right-wing, than the earlier PPP-ANP combo. Whether this realignment will precipitate a shift away from war, suffering, profiteering and exclusion is another matter altogether.
Indeed, most seasoned analysts are predicting a return to unbridled conflict soon after the American `withdrawal`. It is premature to speculate on what will happen post-2014. What is clear in the here and now is that the Empire is no more committed to the welfare of the people of this region now than it was when it invaded Afghanistan in 2001; indeed such considerations have never informed the policies of imperialist powers.
The principle Pakistani protagonists of this `long war` will continue to be just as cynical in their strategic calculations.
Lest we forget, the founda-tions of war were laid almost 40 years ago when Gulbuddin Hekmatyar and Burhanuddin Rabbani were invited from Afghanistan, thereby kickstarting a political economy of jihad which is now so complex and vast as to make comprehension of it a virtually impossible task. The PML-N and PTI will need to do more than sloganeering if they are serious about ending this `long war`.
As for the liberals who were convinced that the Americans would fight our war against the establishment and the obscurantist outfits that it has spawned: they should have known better. The mainstream parties that pitched the `liberal card` to Washington the PPP and ANP will now have to pick up the pieces of a failed gamble.
And then there is the media. Both in Pakistan and the Western countries, the media has chosen to keep mum about strategic realignments over the past year or so and those that might follow the swearing in of the new government. The Pakistani media has preferred to spout hot air about a `naya Pakistan`, and its Western counterparts have seamlessly accepted the shift in priorities of their governments.
The passive recipients of the media`s selective depiction of facts continue to be torn between the slogans of the various protagonists in this most cynical of imperialist adventures. On all sides there is talk of freedom, dignity and peace, even while the brutal realities of war continue to unfold. Obama`s speech may have broken an uncomfortable silence, but it only indicates just how little has actually changed. • The writer teaches at Quaid-iAzam University, Islamabad.

Aasim Sajjad Akhtar, "The silence is broken," Dawn. 2013-05-26.
Keywords: Political science , Political issues , General election , Military operation , Military-Pakistan , Economy , Drone attacks , Imran Khan , President Obama , Burhanuddin Rabbani , Gulbuddin Hekmatyar , Afghanistan , Pakistan , Washington , PTI , PMLN , ANP