Pak-US divergences need not be a zero-sum game

Air Marshal Shahid Alvi (Retd)

THE recently introduced legislation ‘Afghanistan Counterterrorism, Oversight and Accountability Act’ by 22 Republican Senators, seeking to investigate and possibly implicate Pakistan for its alleged support to the Taliban during the 20-year foreign occupation of Afghanistan, even if approved, might follow the route of yearly waivers from the US President.

The whole move of perpetual pressure is a carbon copy of similar methods in the past – something all too familiar to the people of Pakistan.

Nevertheless, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken was correct in his assessment when he told the Congressional Committee that Pakistan had “multiplicity of interests, some that are in conflict with ours”.

Over the years, scores of American commentators have consistently concluded their arguments by the one-liner that Pakistan has divergent interests.

It is, therefore, time to judge the rationality of this argument from a neutral perspective and evaluate where it comes from.

Pakistan’s nuclear capability has always been one of the major issues where both countries don’t see eye to eye, especially the issue of short range ballistic missiles or tactical nuclear weapons.

Similarly, the US desire to regulate certain aspects of Pakistan’s foreign policy meets disappointment as the country and its leadership continues to forge her age-old relationship with China and refuses to accept India’s role as South Asia’s ‘policeman.’

Islamabad also considers Tehran an important neighboring country and shares common interests in the domain of trade and regional security.

Over the years, Pakistan has also remained steadfast in its support for the just Palestinian cause and unequivocally disapproves the apartheid policies of Israel’s government.

Besides these major areas of divergences, the US has shown reservations (selectively) on human rights, minorities’ issues and religious freedom in Pakistan Pakistan’s leadership, through various engagements with the US, has shared and explained its inherited vulnerabilities, e.g. the conflictual neighborhood and mass poverty.

What US lawmakers fail to realize is that Pakistan’s strategic inclination towards some friendly countries in the region is a comprehensively deliberated policy which has support from all major segments of society, and any attempt to change it by any sitting government would be seen as a compromise on national security.

Similarly, at no cost would Pakistan accept India’s hegemonic designs and will never be part of an alliance that aims to encircle or ‘contain’ China.

USA’s gradual distancing from the UN Security Council resolutions on Kashmir and ignoring the plight of Kashmiris is seen with suspicion in Pakistan.

Finally, the contours of Pakistan’s nuclear policy are shaped given the scale and nature of threat from its eastern border and hence, it’s unilateral scaling down is not an option to be considered.

Therefore, in the present circumstances, expecting a major policy shift in the above-mentioned areas without an even handed approach is a distant possibility.

Safeguarding national interests without impinging on others is a recognized international norm with Pakistan being no exception.

Looking beyond these direct bilateral divergences, it is evident that USA has simply refused to accept a reality that the world has transformed since the time she formed coalitions of the willing to unleash destabilizing wars across various regions.

Its image as the sole mighty force has received a serious dent, courtesy of the pervasive non-western media that shows how the Chinese are exercising their financial muscle by establishing ‘economic beachheads’ from Europe to the Middle East.

China has even surpassed the US in published S&T research, besides becoming one of the top suppliers of components, critical to the operation of national defense systems in many parts of the world, including the US.

Notwithstanding, the new world order as displayed by China’s resolve in Leh and Taiwan, the Western world continues to smokescreen reality by forming pacts like QUAD and AUKUS, with the prospects of South Asia and the Asia Pacific becoming unstable.

Pakistan has never believed in a zero-sum game with respect to her relations with the US and China, and the level of cooperation extended to both these super powers is well documented and publically acknowledged.

To date, Pakistan remains a major non-NATO ally. At the same time, successive Chinese Presidents have assured, time and again, that Pak-China friendship is ironclad.

Given the fact that the US showered public praise on Pakistan for facilitating the Doha Talks with the Taliban and helping the smooth exit of Americans left behind given the hasty and chaotic withdrawal, the recent cold shouldering rekindle bitter memories of the US leaving partners after a job ’well done.’

Therefore, clubbing a nascent Afghan government with terrorists and drug barons by American state functionaries arouses suspicion that a plan is in the making to stall the likely emergence of this region as a hub of trade and resultant peace and prosperity.

What the forces inimical to regional stability do not understand is that regional countries in close proximity to Afghanistan have a different stature in the world than what they had in the 90s, whether in terms of economic power, technology or resolve.

While it is true that states compete over strategic interests, but when this turns into a zero-sum game with a winner and a loser, the level of confidence on mutual areas of cooperation starts to erode and the relationship ends up in a gray zone.

There are numerous areas of mutual interest where USA and Pakistan have consensus and extend support to each other.

It is, therefore, not a far-fetched conclusion that irrationality of Indian stance and Modi’s fascist policies, which are condemned worldwide, would not be ignored by the USA administration, for too long.

That would perhaps be the time when rationality of Pakistan’s military defensive posture and its alliances would be better understood by the USA, like the rest of the world.

This is also the time to remind President Biden that India encouraged Coalition to remain engaged in Afghanistan despite widespread ramifications, to USA, in particular.

When regional disputes were set aside, Europe as well as South East Asia, as a region rose to prosperity and peace.

Hence for Pakistan, a regional approach is, thus, the most pragmatic to ensure internal and external stability and to meet that the country’s leadership should be entirely determined to pursue the strategic course towards completion of all regional trade and connectivity projects in sync with China and other friendly countries.

Alliances like the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) are likely to be broadened in scope, and in view of the US’ increasing military posture in South China Sea, the forum might consider limiting the role of those countries that do not truly abide by its founding vision.

The declaration by President Xi Jinping, during his last visit to Pakistan, that we will not leave Pakistan alone irrespective of the conditions speaks volumes about mutual respect. However, this does not mean that USA and Pakistan cannot forge closer relations in the times to come.

—The writer is a deputy president of CASS (Centre for aerospace & security studies, Lahore)

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