Future of U.S. – Pakistan relations

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The Trump Administration formulated its Afghanistan policy after six months of careful deliberation. Apparently, Pakistan was either not consulted during this process or her views were not taken into account before she was asked to make an indefinite commitment to what portends to be an unending war.

To make matters worse the administration chose to not only involve India beforehand in the policy making but also designated her as an important partner in Afghanistan. Considering  the demands that have been made Pakistanis feel they are being asked is to sacrifice their interest and risk the lives of  their soldiers to give India greater influence over Afghanistan. It is hard to imagine if there was anything worse that could be done to make it more difficult for Pakistan to help the U.S.

Given past experience, it gives rise to many suspicions. For instance, when Musharraf had laid down the country for the U.S without a moment’s thought after 9/11, President George Bush was telephoning British Prime Minister Tony Blair that he ‘wanted to go beyond Iraq in dealing with WMD proliferation, mentioning in particular Saudi Arabia, Iran, North Korea and Pakistan’ (see Douglas Jehl in The New York Times of 14thOctober 2005).

It may be naïve to think that things can be smoothed over by claiming that what has happened was in the past and things will be different in the future or that the deal can be sweetened in some way. Pakistan surely must know that promises made in war time are seldom for keeping.

U.S Objective

There are many issues that are not clear at all. Foremost among these is the U.S objective in Afghanistan. The talk about fighting terrorism using military force makes no sense. Since President George W. Bush declared war against terrorism there has been a five-fold increase in terrorist incidents worldwide. According to the Global Terrorism Index only seven per cent of terrorism cases worldwide have been brought to an end through military action. (http://economicsandpeace.org/research/iep-indices-data/global-terrorism-index)

There is no peace in Afghanistan after using military force for sixteen years. It has caused horrendous avoidable civilian casualties (upwards of three million since 2001, including 900,000 infants under five according to Professor Gideon Polya in his book, ‘Body Count: Global Avoidable Mortality Since 1950’). It didn’t work for the Soviets either when they tried to pacify Afghanistan for ten years using military force.

Nor did it work for the U.S earlier in Vietnam. So why are we going down the same beaten path again? In many ways it seems like déjà vu —- eerily similar to the way Secretary Robert McNamara and General Westmoreland kept misleading the American people about the situation in Vietnam. Pakistanis rightly fear they will be made the scapegoat when the end comes as it did in Vietnam and they will be left to deal with the aftermath in Afghanistan once more.

It is quite possible that the objective may not be peace but something quite different —- to maintain permanent U.S military presence as admitted by the former House Speaker Newt Gingrich in the Washington Post that the strategy was to minimize American casualties in Afghanistan to the point where few Americans would care. ‘The fact is, if you slow down the casualty rate and you’re not losing young Americans, the American people will support gradually growing allies for a long time’ that will make long-term troop presence in Afghanistan acceptable to the American people as happened in the case of Germany, Japan and Korea (David Rhode in The New Yorker of 22nd August 2017).

This will have widespread implications for the entire region, including Pakistan. The latter cannot be expected to go along with it for any support she provides to the U.S in this instance is likely to adversely impact her relations with China, Russia and Iran in particular. Apart from this after what has been done to the Muslims in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Lebanon, Syria and other places no government of a Muslim country can afford to be seen aiding and abetting the West.

Pakistan’s Position

The threats and bullying by President Trump after all she has done for U.S has made the situation particularly difficult for Pakistan. It is insensitive in the extreme not to acknowledge that she may have vital interests of her own that must take precedence for her.

Terrorism is not simply a concern for the U.S. Terrorist outfits, including TTP and BLA have been operating against Pakistan with impunity out of Afghanistan under the U.S nose for years with help and support from Afghan and Indian authorities. It is an issue that is seldom mentioned, let aside addressed by the U.S. Does it mean that the only terrorists that are of concern are those that act against the U.S interests and not those of her allies?

Afghan Taliban may be considered enemies by the U.S but they have never done Pakistan any harm. More than this, they are fellow Muslims. Most of them also happen to be Pashtoons as are nearly 40 per cent of Pakistani troops. Pakistan will risk a strong reaction within the army and the country if she were to take on Afghan Taliban just because the U.S labels them as enemies.

Accusing Pakistan of providing sanctuaries to Afghan insurgents is meaningless. The latter control half of Afghanistan, if not more. This would not be possible if they did not enjoy popular support within the country. There is no need and it makes no sense for them to seek protection and operate over long distances from bases in Pakistan.

It is unrealistic to expect Pakistan to stop the movement of people across the open border with Afghanistan. There is no way she can prevent Pashtoon tribesmen on her side of the border from interacting with and going to the aid of their brothers in Afghanistan nor could NATO while it had 130,000 troops in the country. The U.S was unable to block the Ho Chi Min trail with three quarters of a million American plus more than a million South Vietnamese troops and untold number of aircraft. This was just one trail as against hundreds that exist between Pakistan and Afghanistan.

The U.S Dilemma

The U.S need Pakistan to have access to Central Asia particularly since Iran is no longer an option. Given this, making all kinds of accusations and threats to Pakistan when she is needed the most makes little sense. It is also gives rise to suspicion that there may perhaps be more to it than meets the eye.

As things stand, if Pakistan is unable to meet her demands, what option is there left for the U.S? Pakistan’s  non-NATO ally status can be revoked which has never been of significance in any real terms. Imposing economic sanctions will have only a limited effect on the economy because not all the countries will go along with it. There may be other, more insidious ways to make it harder for Pakistan but none of these is likely to make her a willing or useful partner. The U.S needs a strong and stable Pakistan for more than one reason.

Any aggressive military acts by the U.S against Pakistan will only lead to total breakdown and possibly unexpected and unwelcome consequences. The ill will that such actions will create will render any future cooperation next to impossible. Just how this will be good for the U.S is impossible to visualise.


A difficult situation has been created due to unrealistic demands by the U.S and by the way it has been handled. It has heightened suspicion and mistrust in Pakistan. There is no quick solution in sight. The best that can be done is to limit the damage and take the time to jointly reconsider and re-evaluate the various options.

The proposed military option is definitely not the way to proceed. There is every likelihood that Pakistan will not agree to be a part of it nor will she accept an increased Indian footprint in Afghanistan. The latter is a totally unnecessary and unproductive aggravation.

There is urgent need to de-escalate the situation. For the U.S to have a presence in Afghanistan she needs to think in terms of winning hearts and minds of the people. Indiscriminate killing is not the way to go. It just creates more enemies.

In the meantime we need to look for areas of common interest with Pakistan and work on these. Confrontation is counterproductive and can only make things worse for everyone.

By Khan Zia

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