Dr Zafar Nawaz Jaspal
THE divergence in Pakistan and the United States regional and global outlook has gradually been fading their strategic partnership. Indeed, Islamabad’s earnest desire is to keep cordial relations with Washington, but the trends are not favorable. It diplomatically failed to satisfy the Trump administration and thereby it has gradually been losing American’s military assistance including the opportunity of the US International Military Education and Training Program (IMET) grant. The Americans are frustrated due to the protracted asymmetrical warfare in Afghanistan. President Trump’s new plan for South Asia and Afghanistan announced on August 21, 2017, has not impeded the increasing influence of the Afghan Taliban in the country. There are various causes of the United States and NATO troops failure in Afghanistan, but they are scapegoating only Pakistan. Instead of understanding Islamabad’s limitation in influencing Afghan Taliban’s policies and appreciating its sincere support to Afghan-led Afghan-own peace process, the Trump administration is reprimanding Pakistan.
Pakistan’s military personnel were receiving the training in the American institutions since 2003. They were the recipients of the famous US IMET financial support, besides military equipment assistance. Earlier during the 1980s, Pakistani military personals received training and education in the American military institutions. The implementation of the Pressler Amendment after the withdrawal of Russian troops from Afghanistan ended IMET facility to Pakistan. What is IMET? What are its benefits? The IMET is a grant program established by the United States Congress as part of the Arms Export Control Act of 1976. Through the IMET, the Americans pursue three interlinked objectives, i.e. ‘encourage effective and mutually beneficial relations and increased understanding between the United States and foreign countries in furtherance of the goals of international peace and security.’ Second, ‘improve the ability to participate foreign countries to utilize their resources, including defense articles and defense services obtained by them from the Untied States, with maximum effectiveness, thereby contributing to greater self-reliance by such countries’. Third, ‘increase the awareness of nationals of foreign countries participating in such activities of basic issues involving internationally recognized human rights.’
Indeed, the IMET program was an important opportunity for Pakistan and the US to establish military-to-military relationships that may be useful in times of crises. It also develops an understanding of one another perspectives on the regional and global issues. Many American security analysts condemned Trump administration’s termination of IMET funding to the Pakistani forces because they believe that it was a good opportunity to develop rapport, understanding, and communication links with the Pakistani military personnel. Dan Feldman, a former US special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, called the move “very short-sighted and myopic.” He added: “This will have lasting negative impacts limiting the bilateral relationship well into the future.” Michael Kugelman, an expert of Pakistan affairs at Washington think tank ‘the Wilson Center’ opined: “This is an unfortunate and ultimately counterproductive decision. There are certainly ways to send a strong message to Pakistan, but this isn’t the way to do it.” Indeed, this move of the Trump administration is counterproductive because it further increases the mistrust between both states, which is inappropriate for combating the menace of terrorist groups residing in Afghanistan.
Admittedly, the Trump administration’s suspension of the IMET program is not a constructive development for either side. Nevertheless, it would not create a significant problem for Pakistan. Today, the international politics is different from the cold war or 1990s. Trump administration’s haughtiness and military-related sanctions will be having little impact on the foreign military exposure of Pakistani military personnel. It’s because the Russians and Chinese are ready to cooperate with Pakistan in the military sphere. Pakistan and Russia had already negotiated a few armed forces cooperation contracts. Last week, for instance, Pakistan and Russia signed an agreement that allows for training of Pakistani troops at Russian military training institutes, i.e. the Contract on Admission of Service Members of Pakistan in RF’s (Russian Federation) Training Institutes. Perhaps, the training contract with the Russians opens new avenues of military-to-military cooperation between the two countries and further deepens defense ties between Islamabad and Moscow. In a nutshell, suspension of IMET assistance revoked a key confidence-building measure between Islamabad and Washington. Thus, the Americans lost a powerful tool of influence and Pakistani military personnel’s are deprived of international military training and education program.
— The writer is Associate Professor, School of Politics and International Relations, Quaid-i-Azam University, Islamabad.