Rules of engagement need a serious revisit

By Yasmeern Aftab Ali

The US has always repeated the mantra of “do more” to Pakistan in WoT since it invaded Afghanistan. A war that US and NATO has failed to win after over sixteen years of boots on ground.

Pakistan’s repeated narrative of being the biggest victim in terms of lives and impact on economy and the damage to the social fabric of the country has fallen on deaf ears. US should care. Reality is, it does not. It wants Pakistan to win the war for her to the exclusion of all elements and interests of other stakeholders involved.

Trump’s tweet on January 1st 2018 led to a strong reaction in Pakistan.“The United States has foolishly given Pakistan more than 33 billion dollars in aid over the last 15 years, and they have given us nothing but lies & deceit, thinking of our leaders as fools. They give safe haven to the terrorists we hunt in Afghanistan, with little help. No more!”

White House that very day was frantic to water down his tweet stating; “The United States does not plan to spend the $255 million in FY 2016 foreign military financing for Pakistan at this time.” Nonetheless, the FMF funds do not stop purchasing of US defense articles, services and training.

US needs to realise that in order to continue the war in Afghanistan (we are not talking of winning) it needs the routes in Pakistan leading into the land-locked Afghanistan

US needs to realise that in order to continue the war in Afghanistan (we are not talking of winning) it needs the routes in Pakistan leading into the land-locked Afghanistan. On previous occasions too Pakistan has blocked vehicles carrying US/NATO war supplies from its terrain. “If Trump wants to increase troop levels, I’m not sure he can engage in this back-and-forth with Pakistan,” said Shamila N. Chaudhary, who served as Pakistan director on the National Security Council during the Obama administration. “They’re going to need those routes.” (Los Angeles Times, Jan 5, 2018)

The Obama’s administration had made huge inroads diplomatically with Iran that stand virtually destroyed under Trump. His decision to decertify the Iran deal was a step backwards on the bridge erected. Trump’s interference in Iran’s internal domestic problem of riots by posting tweets like, “Oppressive regimes cannot endure forever. The world is watching,” are, frankly, out of line. To expect Iran to cooperate in offering Chahbahar port to be used for transferring goods into Afghanistan by India in light of Washington’s hostility is a non-starter.

On the northwest, Afghanistan shares a border with Turkmenistan and on north with Tajikistan. A thin piece of terrain joins it with China to the remote northeast. This route is too tedious, too high in attitude to be converted or used as a main supply route.

Also, Obama while president, had for a few years withheld payment of funds to Pakistan. This was done on grounds of US Congress passing a law that made it mandatory for Pakistan to take steps against the Haqqani network and the Lashkar-e-Taiba for release of funds.

These emotional outbursts from a person no less than the president of the United States on a social forum can only create problems for his foreign affairs team offering myriad explanations of such outbursts.

The changing geo-political nexus with US seen to be siding openly with India and literally abusing Pakistan publically has resulted finally in a reaction from Pakistan. First, clear and strong tweets from the foreign minister of Pakistan in retaliation. Diplomacy being played out on social media. (Or should one say lack of it?) Second, within 24 hours of the damaging tweet by Trump, Pakistan announced replacing dollar with yuan for the bilateral trade with China. (In 2017 China launched the ‘petro-yuan’. This allows crude oil futures contract to be priced in yuan convertible in gold. Not only does it allow trading countries to avoid US sanctions to trade oil in yuan, it also does not need conversion into US dollars or investing money in Chinese assets.) On heels of this decision came the news that China, after building its first overseas naval base in Djibouti, will be setting up a second naval base at Gwadar. (Sputnik News)

China’s commitment to BRI and by extension to CPEC designed not only to excel its outreach to the world but also to gain a stronger regional foothold is crystal clear. By the same token, China would want Pakistan and USA to have a positive note to their relationship. The last thing China would want is more instability at any level in Pakistan.

What Pakistan needs to do is be positively pro-active in her relationship with US, not reactive. Pakistan needs to draw up a complete finance sheet of what was paid by US, under what head and where spent. (Which was a pittance compared to the sacrifices made and gaining access to Afghanistan to get supplies there to fight the war at all) Further, in any respectable and equal relationship, the dos and don’ts should apply to all involved. In this case, it has been only Pakistan facing the brunt of increasing demands by US to the complete disregard of Pakistan’s concerns. This imbalance needs to change. Pakistan continues to engage with US as a country engaged in Afghanistan — however this must not signal that any step Pakistan thinks it should take for her national interests should not be taken. For example not engaging with Iran for a gas pipeline to keep US happy. This behaviour is toxic in any relationship.

This must change. The question is not if Pakistan should break away — the breakaway at many levels is happening. On some levels in backdrop of Afghanistan it needs to continue. The question is that therules of engagement need a serious revisit.

End Note: “Rudeness is the weak man’s imitation of strength.”Edmund Burke

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