The Pakistani foreign office spokesperson has correctly pointed out the consistent failures of the Afghan government to meet internal challenges
Using threats and intimidation as an instrument for pursuing its strategic and foreign policy goals is nothing new for the US. It is not for the first time that the sole global power has bullied Pakistan in the harshest of terms. But to be put on notice by a superpower perhaps militarily stronger than the rest of the world put together, cannot be simply brushed aside.
In the immediate aftermath of 9/11 the US threatened to bomb Pakistan “back to the stone age” unless it cooperated in the US led war on terror. The threat came from the then US deputy secretary of state Richard Armitage in a phone call to the president General Pervez Musharraf and earlier more explicitly to his intelligence chief Lt. Gen. Mehmood who happened to be visiting Washington at the time.
Musharraf termed it as a rude remark. Nonetheless in return of promise of US largesse in the form of billions of dollars of military and economic aid, to buttress his regime, he decided to cooperate.
But the dictator played a double game. On the one side Pakistan became a quasi-ally of the US in the so-called war on terror. On the other, Musharraf kept on providing Pakistani territory not only as a safe haven but also as a training ground for terrorists of all hue and colours.
Of course, Pakistan paid a heavy price in the form of rampant terrorism within the country. It is only the successive post Musharraf regimes and military leaderships that made serious and concerted attempts to combat terrorism.
But the country still grappling with consequences of a flawed policy being pursued since General Zia-ul-Haq in the wake of the ostensible ‘Afghan Jihad’. Overlooking the disastrous consequences for Pakistan, Washington wants immediate results from Pakistan.
Our policy makers are quite familiar with US’s bullying tactics. However, the mercurial and unpredictable US president Donald Trump with virtually no foreign policy experience, has to be taken seriously.
Earlier while enunciating his South Asia and Afghan policy the US president had jarringly threatened Pakistan. The US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis have been singing the same tune.
Now it is Vice President Mike Pence who while on a surprise Christmas visit to meet US troops at Bagram air base found it opportune to fire yet another salvo at Islamabad. According to him Pakistan has for too long provided safe havens to terrorists but these days were over, as president Trump had “put Pakistan on notice.”
Since 9/11 perhaps this is the most serious warning to Pakistan by any US regime. The question is, how to deal with it? Predictably both the foreign office and military spokesmen have dismissed Pence’s remarks as a crude attempt to shift failures of the Afghan war on Islamabad’s doorstep.
The Pakistani foreign office spokesperson has correctly pointed out the consistent failures of the Afghan government to meet internal challenges. These include exponential increase in poppy production, rampant corruption, breakdown of governance and the rise of ISIS within Afghanistan.
Interestingly while engaging the Pakistani civilian and military leadership personally or over lengthy telephone conversations the US leadership does not employ such a threatening posture. Perhaps their public statements are both for the internal consumption of the American public wary of the longest war in their history and also to intimidate both its allies and foes.
Obviously, all this is music to the ears of the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his cohorts. India in recent years under successive US regimes has emerged as a strategic partner and economic ally of the US.
But more so under Trump in the past year or so relations between New Delhi and Washington have perceptibly warmed. Both have made a common cause of the “existential threat of terrorism” emerging from Pakistan.
Another complicating factor is the emergence of China as a major economic partner of Pakistan under Beijing’s OBOR (one belt one road initiative). Over 60 billion US dollars’ worth of CPEC (China Pakistan Economic Corridor) investment in Pakistan is seen as a threat by New Delhi.
The economic and strategic dimensions of CPEC are too much for the Indians to swallow. As for the US, China considerably lessens Washington’s economic leverage over Pakistan.
That is why various Pakistani spokesmen contend that Islamabad does not want US economic aid but its respect and due appreciation of its efforts to root out terrorism. US Vice President Pence’s latest warning that Pakistan will lose much for harbouring terrorists, as American troops are now authorized to target terrorists anywhere, will not cut much ice with our policymakers.
Pakistan on one hand feels that at least in the past decade or so it has done much to root out terrorism. At least in the past five years the policy of using Jihadists as an instrument of state policy has been for all practical purposes abandoned.
The present military leadership has demonstrated a better capacity to manage Pakistan’s eastern and western borders. However, to control the putsch of the Taliban now buttressed by the ISIS is much beyond its control and domain.
Similarly, notwithstanding Indian allegations against Islamabad of fueling the struggle of the Kashmiris to get rid of the Indian yoke, it is essentially an Indian problem. Nevertheless, Pakistan has continued its moral and diplomatic support of the Kashmiri cause.
Recently President Trump expressed his concern about a real possibility of India Pakistan nuclear conflagration. But despite considering New Delhi its strategic ally the US administration has been unable to nudge New Delhi to start a dialogue with Islamabad on all outstanding issues including the Kashmir dispute.
As for Pakistan’s 2,430 km western border with Afghanistan it is being fenced precisely to stop infiltration of terrorists from Afghanistan and vice versa. Owing to limited resources even the Punjab government has provided assistance for this project, which is a key to its own security.
According to the information of our security agencies the Indian backed Mullah Fazlullah based in Afghanistan is using this route to wreak havoc in Pakistan. That is why fencing is being done at a fast pace of five kilometres a day to virtually seal the porous Pak-Afghan border.
Nonetheless despite ostensibly an increasingly hostile relationship between Washington and Islamabad, both need each other. Pakistan is the sole conduit to Afghanistan for the US military and other supplies for its troops based in Afghanistan. On the other hand, Islamabad in dire economic straits is heavily dependent upon bilateral as well as multilateral western economic assistance.
Pakistan simply cannot afford – both in the economic and diplomatic sense – to become a hermit pariah state like North Korea. Hence engagement is the only viable option. But for that to happen Washington will have to abandon its gunboat diplomacy.