TRUMP may be trying to cut the trunk of the tree on which successive American Administrations have been investing heavily, but he or his successors will have to sooner or later come back to Pakistan, for one reason or the other. For now, Pakistan government should consider the option of making-up the cash-flow shortfall by levying transit fee on American usage of Pakistan’s land routs and air corridors, which have so far been a free offer by Pakistan—indeed a strategic contribution towards international counter terrorism effort. It should also demand upfront payment of Coalition Support Fund to circumvent American habit of defaulting in post-paid mode . Needless to remind the Americans that militarily Pakistan is fielding largest counter-terrorism effort, the World over. Paradoxically, each previous rupture in Pakistan-US relations made the bilateral relationship more stronger and ironically more brittle and fragile—for years it is perpetually on a tenterhook, ready to unhinge on slightest pretext and then restore back to status quo ante. Of now, both sides are well aware of indispensability of each other at-least until Afghanistan issue is settled.
America has compelling influence in Pakistan, it has invested heavily in all decision-making echelons. All notables vie for American patronage for reaching top positions in respective spheres. Those who publicly name and shame the US are also covertly in league with the US. Prestige attached to American educational degrees and green card etc has worked like an opiate for the influential lot of Pakistan. These like privileges give them undue advantage to maintain their hold over the lesser sons of Pakistan, who cannot otherwise buyout such power multipliers. Over decades, this pro-America constituency has taken upon themselves to keep Pakistan linked to American dependency, no matter whatever the terms and conditions be. Similarly, there is equally strong constituency within the influence circles of the US, like the Pentagon and Military Industrial complex. Militaries of the two counties have been partnering well since Korean War era, and American involvement in Asia is far from over. American military industry views Pakistan as useful friend whose influence in Middle East helps American weapon makers win hefty contracts. And ME is not going to be a war free country any time soon.
Trump is poised to lose; Pakistan’s pro-America constituency and America’s pro-Pakistan constituency are destined to win. Hence, pendulum of Pakistan-US relations would sooner and later resume its ‘normal’ harmonics. However, this is not to undermine the constituencies in both counties which wish for disengagement between the two counties on various counts, these schools of thought in Pakistan think that most of Pakistan’s failures are due to its association with the US. Pakistan’s military also comes under criticism for doing dirty rental work for Americans. There is also a perception that the kind of war Pakistan has gotten into since 9/11 in not Pakistan’s war. Anti-Pakistan element in the US, now being led by the US President holds the view that all that has and could go wrong in Afghanistan is because of Pakistan’s failings on various counts, America’s China phobia and India’s mixed signals to do heavy lifting for American “Contain China” misadventure has also tilted America’s strategic leaning towards India.
With nearly 16,000 US troops in Afghanistan, several thousand of whom Trump himself has sent, the course of the war could have a bearing on the American leader’s presidency. Reportedly the US is managing an activity nearing the boundary of war crimes by unannounced employment of Afghan private militias to engage Taliban insurgents. CIA is paying private militias like Khost Protection Force, Afghan Security Gaurds and Kandhar Strike Force etc to hunt and kill Taliban. These militias are known for perpetrating crimes and Human Rights violations against civilians and detainees. Though most of such gangs comprise of Afghan nationals, they enjoy impunity against war crimes due to their intricate links with CIA, they are above the law in Afghanistan. Reportedly, NATO forces are also using them to avoid the direct blame of HR violations in Afghanistan; this methodology has the added advantage of getting around the baggage entailed by erstwhile foreign mercenaries like notorious Black Water.
Pakistan’s civilian and military leadership echelons aptly rejected “incomprehensible” US comments and summoned American Ambassador David Hale to explain Trump’s tweet. Pakistan’s permanent representative to the UN has responded in kind, she outlined the official Pakistani position: “We can review our cooperation if it is not appreciated. We have contributed and sacrificed the most in fighting international terrorism and carried out the largest counter terrorism operation anywhere in the world”. Foreign Minister Khawaja Asif has dismissed Trump’s outburst as a political stunt, borne out of frustration over American failures in Afghanistan, “He is again and again displacing his frustrations on Pakistan over failures in Afghanistan as they are trapped in dead-end street in Afghanistan”, Asif added.
Through a series of major counter-terrorism operations, Pakistan has cleared all these areas resulting in elimination of organized terrorist presence leading to significant improvement in security situation in Pakistan. Pakistan’s peace efforts are awaiting reciprocal actions from the Afghan side in terms of clearance of vast stretches of ungoverned spaces on the Afghan side, bilateral border management, repatriation of Afghan refugees, controlling poppy cultivation, drug trafficking and initiating Afghan led and owned political reconciliation in Afghanistan. Working towards enduring peace requires mutual respect and trust along with patience and persistence. Emergence of new and more deadly groups such as IS (Daesh) in Afghanistan call for enhancing international cooperation. Arbitrary deadlines, unilateral pronouncements and shifting goalposts are counterproductive in addressing these common threats.
—The writer is a freelance columnist based in Islamabad.