Is the US on the verge of divorcing Pakistan?
BY YASMEEN AFTAB ALI
“USA looking towards increasing boots on ground clearly spells out that Taliban are strong in Afghanistan. Additional US forces will not deliver negotiated peace.”
A series of related developments are taking place in the arena of global alliances.
First: two US lawmakers, Congressman Ted Poe and Congressman Rick Nolan seek to introduce the bill to revoke the MNNA status (major non-NATO ally) to Pakistan awarded by George Bush, encouraging Pakistan to fight to fight Taliban and Al-Qaida supporting USA in this mission. The status is crucial in helping a nation with the status in buying advanced weapons, stockpiling American hardware and being a participant in defense related programs. Besides, the status allows Pakistan the rights to fast forwarding the process of arms delivery and an edge from US loan guarantee programs. In short, revocation of the status has both political and financial ramifications.
Second: the Trump administration is making a sharp pivot towards India. A deal of approximately $2 billion is in offing subject to approval by Congress. The nod from Trump came on heels of Modi’s visit to US. In a meeting at the White House both Heads of State agreed that terrorism must be curbed and crackdowns on safe havens of the terrorists must be a priority. ‘Sending out a strong message to Pakistan, India and the US urged the country to ensure that its territory is not used to launch cross-border terror strikes…’ (Press Trust of India June 27, 2017)
Third: the Office of the Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, recently lost its Head and there appears to be a confusion regarding the status of this unit, further adding credence to the impression that Pakistan’s standing Vis a Vis is being downgraded.
Without rewriting how Mujahedeen were formed, how Pakistan has been in forefront of the war against terror, how US has swung like a pendulum between praising Pakistan for her efforts and between demanding ‘do more’, how it has ignored Pakistan’s legitimate concerns about India in using Afghanistan as ‘strategic depth’ against Pakistan in recent years, let’s fast forward to how, if this bill comes to pass, will it affect both nations in backdrop of Afghanistan.
Zafar Hilaly, Pakistan’s former Ambassador to Yemen and Nigeria states, “A blessing in disguise. Imagine no longer acting as a US conduit in the Afghan war. Alas, the chances are the Bill will not pass and we will continue to be railroaded to do the US’s bidding in return for a handful of dollars. And, if the Bill does pass, we will fall into terminal depression. Actually, the price tag for the US alliance has grown more exorbitant while our capacity to foot the bill in terms of reciprocity has shrunk further. The alliance is increasingly a luxury we cannot afford. We must, therefore, begin to live within our means as best we can.”
With revocation of the status, internationally humiliating Pakistan, US will achieve one goal immediately: of alienating Pakistan and pushing her into the arms of Russia. Alienating Pakistan and stigmatising her will make a change more difficult. The threat to revoke the status is greater than destroying the leverage with Pakistan. Pakistan is already engaged with Russia and China in Afghanistan.
Engaging closely with India in Afghanistan to expect the latter to help achieve a negotiated settlement, will not work. This statement is based on ground realities. USA looking towards increasing boots on ground clearly spells out that Taliban are strong in Afghanistan. Additional US forces will not deliver negotiated peace.
Though India has over time invested in Afghanistan infra-structure and other areas of civil spectrum- they are simply not in the position to deal with the Taliban for a negotiated peace settlement. The closer the US relationship with India, allowing her greater space in Afghanistan, the more pragmatic will be Pakistan’s policy in Afghanistan driven by her concern of Afghanistan soil being used against Pakistan. No amount of pushing or applying pressure on Pakistan by US will then change Pakistan’s stance.
India is already facing a push from China at the Sikkim border. Her forces are engaged in IOK. Furthermore: to what degree will India be interested in militarily being engaged in Afghanistan at the cost of her relationship with Russia poses an interesting question.
The crux of the issue of US-Pakistan partnership in WOT has been lack of appreciation of the legitimate concerns of each other. To deny any one state the right to look after her interests amounts to relegating her to the status of a ‘lesser ally’. Giving alms to Pakistan has convinced the US that Pakistan must be at her beck and call like a tea-boy. On the flip side, Pakistan must deal with likes of Hafiz Saeed and Masood Azhar. Since Pakistan is the ‘lesser ally’, the decision to review her policy lies with the present US political dispensation. US needs to review her policy on a positive note not one based on brandishing the stick. Every action has a reaction. US policy must reflect taking in consideration Pakistan’s security concerns to expect her to cooperate fully. Viewing Pakistan through the prism of India is self-defeating, hugs between Trump and Modi notwithstanding. With a continued Obama policy to use India to contain China should not have negative cascading effect on how US views the Afghan terrain.
Trump’s priority must be to stay positively engaged with Pakistan not belligerently engaged. The communication must be increased not cut off. US must show her cards and ask Pakistan then only, to show hers. A transparent exchange, probably several will be needed to develop a practical solution for Afghanistan. One sided demands will only lead to frustration and more ‘experts’ advising a divorce.