The new Great Game, and what it means for Pakistan

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Caution: men at work

President Trump welcomed further Indian contributions to promote Afghanistan’s democracy, stability, prosperity, and security. Recognising the importance of their respective strategic partnerships with Afghanistan, the leaders committed to continue close consultations and cooperation in support of Afghanistan’s future.”

 

In their recent parlays the US President and the Indian PM reached an understanding on two matters that concern Pakistan. First, the Kashmiri leader Syed Salahuddin was designated as a global terrorist under Executive Order (EO) 13224 on 23 2001. Second, and in an unprecedented move, the Joint Statement specifically mentioned Pakistan, saying they expect that it would not allow its territory for launching of terrorist attacks in other countries. There are potential implications of (EO) on Pakistan as well, as Syed Salahuddin frequently visits Pakistan, but US may not be looking to use it for now.

Curiously, however, the US was all praise for Indian role in Afghanistan: “President Trump welcomed further Indian contributions to promote Afghanistan’s democracy, stability, prosperity, and security. Recognising the importance of their respective strategic partnerships with Afghanistan, the leaders committed to continue close consultations and cooperation in support of Afghanistan’s future.” The US, on the other hand, showed neither a concern for the flagrant violation of human rights by Indian Security Forces nor on Pakistan’s concerns regarding India’s use of Afghanistan to foment unrest in Baluchistan and Karachi.

No less intriguing was Modi next stop in Israel, the maiden visit of an Indian PM. He broke seven decades old Indian policy of not meeting with any Palestinian official or mentioning of two-nation solution: the joint statement only mentioned of ‘Israel-Palestine peace process. Analysts note that besides being the top most defence supplier to India, Israel’s importance is also seen in the context of its experience in dealing with Palestinian uprising, which would be handy to supress Kashmiri uprising. Not surprisingly, this major change was not lost on Iran as the supreme leader Khamenei issued yet another statement, within weeks, highlighting Indian atrocities on hapless Kashmiris.

US’s proximity to India is well established but mentioning Pakistan in a joint statement is inconsistent with diplomatic norms. Clearly, there is a signal that US gives more credence to Indian narrative on both Kashmir and its role in Afghanistan and not to Kashmiris regardless of Indian atrocities and Pakistan’s sacrifices in bringing peace and stability in Afghanistan or the fact that it provides the exclusive logistical rout for US access to the war theatre and has significantly reconfigured its force deployment to meet the new challenges ensued by Afghan war.

It will also be useful to note that US President has already authorised defence secretary to deploy troops to the extent of 4500; military wares have begun to flow; two high level visits, one by General McMaster, NSA, and other a group of Senators led by John McCain, have taken place (both issuing one kind of statement in Islamabad and another in Kabul); US has rejected Russian sponsored Moscow Talks while accusing it of arming Taliban, the Middle Eastern quagmire is deepening; US is not pleased with increasing Chinese presence and its desire to play a role in the region; and, a border clash between India and China near Nagaland is continuing to fester for some time now. These developments are connected with the evolving scenario in the region.

Much of it is related to impending policy review under the Trump administration. Washington-based Think Tanks are jockeying to influence the minds of policy makers. While a group of sensible and highly experienced voices are advocating a policy aimed at ending the conflict through negotiations, the other group, comprising elements known for holding warped views, are recommending a very hard approach toward Pakistan to achieve the goals that have alluded US for more than 15 years.

“Much of it is related to impending policy review under the Trump administration. Washington-based Think Tanks are jockeying to influence the minds of policy makers.”

Even though there are voices counselling US to aim for a political solution, there are those who feel that a military victory is not only possible but the ‘greatest power on the Earth’ should triumph in the battlefield. A number of myths have contributed to this thinking: Pakistan plays a double game by supporting the Haqqani Network (HT) while wearing the badge of a non-Nato ally; $30 billion in aid has not changed Pakistan’s support of Taliban; and, Pakistan has imaginary fears of India leveraging its presence in Afghanistan against it.

In this backdrop, Pakistan also needs a comprehensive review of its policy. Without sounding alarm bells, we should realise that the world around us is reshaping and that there are propositions on the table that contemplate reconfiguration of the balance of power in the region. On a broader scale – involving US, Russia, China, Iran, India, Pakistan and Afghanistan – this would be a complex exercise but concerning Pakistan there could be moves that may be more immediate and perhaps not to our liking.

Pakistan has to be steadfast in its stance to fight terrorism in the manner it sees fit. In its policy review, it should assume a worse-case scenario, where others may not find its efforts good enough. This should not push it to do something that is not in its interest. Pakistan has rendered great sacrifices in war on terror: 7000 martyred and 30,000 wounded. This requires no foreign certification. The amount of $30 billion in aid is unfortunately exaggerated. But whatever is that amount, it was partly to share the cost of war, and pales in comparison to more than $100 billion losses Pakistan has suffered. A large part was in the form of reimbursement of agreed expenditures, each of which was minutely audited and certified at different layers of Defence Department bureaucracy before approval by the Defence Secretary. Yet Pakistan has looked at no outside help to bear nearly $3 billion of costs to reclaim nearly 50,000 sq.km of land that was occupied by insurgents since 2001; and to bear the cost of displacement, hosting and subsequent relocation of displaced population, their rehabilitation and reconstruction of destroyed and damaged infrastructure of roads, markets, housing, schools and hospitals.

Pakistan has seen crises in 2011 in its relations with US on the occasions of Raymond Davis, Abbottabad incursion and Salala clash with US forces. We showed the deftness in handling these crises without severing our relations. Some repair work in damaged relations was done but ambivalence had persisted in the final months of Obama administration. Despite the clamour of Pakistan’s detractors in Washington, it is not a bad assumption that the US authorities would make sagacious choices while formulating the new Afghan policy. There would be the realisation that Pakistan has a pivotal role in bringing about stability in Afghanistan. Pakistan’s concerns on Indian presence in Afghanistan its use to destabilise Pakistan are not imaginary and deserve due consideration.

Many experts believe US will not be able to achieve a military victory in Afghanistan. Its best option is to bring this conflict to an end through direct negotiations with Taliban and draw Pakistan, China, Russia and Iran to secure requisite guarantees against use of Afghanistan for re-emergence of Al-Qaeda and to establish a counter force against the threat of ISIS that is reportedly gathering momentum.

Notwithstanding unusual US proximity to India, Pakistan should let US and other European nations know that it stands ready to hold dialogue to normalise its relations with India but that the issue of Kashmir and the violence unleashed by Indian security forces is not acceptable. Pakistan would continue to support Kashmiris freedom struggle in accordance in accordance with UN Resolutions.

Simultaneously, Pakistan should redouble its efforts to broaden its relations with all those having a stake in Afghanistan and encourage and support alternative forums, such as the process initiated by Moscow, to bring peace in Afghanistan. CPEC has already lifted the economy of Pakistan as the growth rate has picked up. Pak-Iran gas pipeline project should be revived and China should be invited to become a partner with the line extending to Chinese provinces along the CPEC. This would spur economic growth in the region and promote peace and stability.

Pakistan’s economy has stabilised in recent years, but in recent days vulnerabilities are resurfacing. If the country is pushed to seek another IMF program, it would be unfortunate. It is within the reach of economic managers to reinforce the economic agenda that was diligently pursued and implemented under the 3 year IMF program. But that would require restoring fiscal discipline, avoid major slippages in tax collections and allow market forces to determine the variables affecting the external account, most notably the exchange rate.

By Waqar Masood Khan

www.pakistantoday.com.pk

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