There are significant reasons for the maintenance of close and cooperative relations between Pakistan and the US.
Unfortunately, Washington has almost always conducted its relations with Pakistan as a function of America’s other strategic or tactical priorities of the moment. Since US goals and priorities change periodically, at times rapidly, Pakistan-US ties have often resembled a roller-coaster ride. One day Pakistan is America’s ‘most-allied ally’, the next its ‘most-sanctioned’ ally.
After being proclaimed a non-Nato ally in the post-9/11 ‘war on terror’, during the Obama years, Pakistan became the object of suspicion and hostility, and eventually the target of hundreds of US drone strikes, the Abbottabad intervention and the ‘accidental’ Salala attack, as Washington increasingly viewed Pakistan through the prism of Afghanistan and India.
In Islamabad, hope was generated by the early effusive call between Donald Trump and Nawaz Sharif. That hope has not been discarded yet; but some recent signals indicate that the US may again determine its posture towards Pakistan in the context of its goals in Afghanistan and its ties with India, Iran and China.
During his recent visit to the region, US National Security Adviser Gen H.R. McMaster reverted to assertions about Pakistani ‘safe havens’ for the Afghan Taliban as a convenient explanation for the military ‘impasse’ in Afghanistan.
Even if a few thousand additional US-Nato troops are sent back to Afghanistan, a foreign force of under 20,000, operating in support of a demoralised, untrained Afghan army, won’t be able to simultaneously arrest the current momentum of the 30-80,000 Taliban and defeat the growing numbers of the militant Islamic State group and its associated terrorists, like the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan.
There’s now an international consensus, to which Islamabad, Beijing and Moscow subscribe: peace will be restored in Afghanistan only through a negotiated settlement between Kabul and the Afghan Taliban, whose objectives are limited to Afghanistan, and that the focus of military operations in Afghanistan should be to eliminate the growing presence of IS and affiliated terrorist groups. Hopefully, the US will join this consensus. It would help greatly to align Pakistan-US postures on Afghanistan and counterterrorism. From reports of McMaster’s visit to New Delhi, it appears the US will continue Obama’s endeavour to co-opt India as a strategic partner to contain China. Yet, unlike Obama, Trump may well be more sensitive to the impact of his India policies on China and Pakistan. The new administration may seek difficult quid pro quos from India, eg termination of its ties to Tehran.
Trump may accord priority to economic goals, such as restricting immigration from India and opening India’s protected market for US goods, services and investment. Or, India may have its own reservations about entering into a junior partnership with the US, particularly the implications for its ties with Russia and Iran.
For Pakistan, the litmus test will be to see how far US defence and technology supplies to India are sensitive to Pakistan’s security interests, since 70 per cent of India’s conventional and non-conventional capabilities are deployed against Pakistan. Open-ended US military and political support under Obama emboldened the Modi government to adopt an intransigent and belligerent position towards Pakistan.
India’s ongoing brutal repression of the popular pro-freedom Kashmiri protests, the daily violations of the LoC ceasefire, its ‘Cold Start’ forward military deployments, Pakistan’s ‘full spectrum’ nuclear and missile response, and the absence of dialogue between Pakistan and India, have combined to create an environment where the danger of another Pakistan-India conflict is real and present. Such a conflict could escalate to the nuclear level.
The emerging Pakistan-US relationship may also be impacted by the growing US-Iran tensions. Although Washington is unlikely to scrap the nuclear agreement with Iran, Trump and his generals seem determined to arrest and reverse Iran’s rising power in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Syria, and curb the capacity of the Iran-backed Hezbollah to threaten Israel from Lebanon or Syria’s southern borders.
The writer is a former Pakistan ambassador to the UN.
Source : Dawn