Syed Qamar Afzal Rizvi
THE September 05 visit by the US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo accompanied by the US Military Chief Gen Joseph Dunford to Islamabad — amid plummeting and dejected relationship between Washington and Islamabad, expediently offers new vistas of pragmatic thinking and strategies: from confrontation to cooperation between the two states. While fighting the US-waged war against terror, Pakistan is confronted with multiple security challenges constantly knocking at our eastern and western borders. Obviously, despite Washington’s haranguing on doing more mantra led by intermittent cut in Coalition Support Fund(CSF), Pakistan upholds its resolve (albeit more cemented under the premiership of Imran Khan) that we cannot accept the US dictates since our national security interests warrant primacy vis-à-vis US South Asia policy narrative. Against this backdrop, the military and civil policy makers in the US and Pakistan have a daunting challenge to stoke the rapprochement-based approach in order to curtail the ongoing asymmetry of interests.
According to the US Defence Department, the Pentagon has terminated $300 million US Coalition Support Fund for Pakistan due to Islamabad’s lack of “decisive actions” in support of regional American strategy, the Pentagon said on Saturday. US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo revealed a new strategy for Taliban negotiations at a congressional hearing held recently, “The effort (is) to apply all elements of the United States’ government pressure, so that the Taliban will come to the negotiating table,” he told the House Foreign Affairs Committee. Arguably, a well-conceived foreign policy toward a region should always adjust to the realities of the situation in that area. The problem in giving substance to this truism lies in determining what forces drive a government’s perception of these realities or, as they are more often termed, national interests.
Truly, great powers have multiple interests, and not all interests are the same. That means a global power is prepared to initiate and withdraw from wars without victory, for tactical and political advantage. Over time, paying the cost of the war becomes irrational. Great powers can “lose” wars in this sense and still see their power surge. Therefore, the great power seems to encounter asymmetry of interest globally. In pursuit of defending its greater military loss, the great power withdraws from Syria. In this context, US new South Asia policy lacks pragmatic orientations regarding its regional objectives. Therefore, Washington must reorient it by realigning with the ground regional realities.
US policy makers must realise they are meeting with the Syria- like fate in Afghanistan. Washington knows that peace in Afghanistan could only be possible through Pakistan’s cooperation. Instead of accusing Pakistan of paranoia, it’s important for Washington to consider Pakistan’s position. Pakistan already shares one border with its archrival. Nevertheless, Pakistan has no viable option than to keep New Delhi from establishing a presence along the Afghan border, while working to forge friendly ties with the government in Kabul.
While India has been using development funding to buy influence with the Afghan administration, the United States is declining its partnership with Pakistan by trying to mull more serious measures to weaken Pakistan’s support for the Taliban. And undeniably, despite its security limitations, Pakistan armed forces have sacrificed a lot in this US-waged war on terror. But instead of backing the Pakistan role, US behaved mischievously. However, Islamabad’s policy stand is prompt that US demands beyond Pakistan’s security realism cannot be fulfilled. Pakistan is not accountable for the Afghan terrorist acts. Strategically, so long as the country’s survival is at stake in the war in Afghanistan, Pakistan is ready to bear the costs of the US policy of marginalization towards Pakistan, while seeking alternative sources of funding, namely China.
Americans must realise the real challenge to American interests lies in Pakistan, not Afghanistan, and the hard sell will not be troops in Afghanistan but sustained political, economic, and security engagement in Pakistan. The essential principle of all the propositions is the principle of mutual advantage. Armstrong the author of ‘Principles of Icebreaking’ suggests three areas: circumstances of rapprochement (timing of rapprochement); strategies (best policies) for rapprochement; formal negotiations (reaching an agreement on the conditions of peaceful relationships). Armstrong’s first assumption deals with costs and gains of maintaining hostile policies. The second assumption states that successful rapprochement initiative should be consistent with Graduated Reciprocation in Tension Reduction strategy (GRIT). GRIT: “an initial general announcement of conciliatory intent and a unilateral concession coupled with an invitation to reciprocate, the continuation of a planned series of conciliatory gestures until a pattern of mutually reciprocated concessions is established’’. Given the advocacy of Armstrong’s arguments, it appears logically clear that states must negotiate to prevent the conflicts. Islamabad and Washington must establish the link to re- activate mechanism of civil-military diplomacy to dispel the undercurrent of skepticism between them.
Avoiding confrontations by promoting mutual interests must be the US policy core in this region. If the U.S. maintained close ties to Pakistan, it could use Islamabad as a bridge to Beijing. Instead of jumping in with India and going hostile on both China and Pakistan, the U.S. could communicate with China via adopting a friend of friend’s strategy, to reach a compromise or even seek concessions on issues over the South China Sea. The bottom line is: the master key to unlock the South Asian peace and stability riddle lies in defying the centrifugal designs collectively via forging a resetting deal between US and Pakistan, which could be paving the way forward towards a constructive conflict management scenario between India- Pakistan-Afghanistan. The global order is constantly changing where the hostile nations’ soldiers are drilling under a common roof. Since today the nuclear hostile states (US, North Korea) seem pragmatically gravitated on fostering rapprochement trajectory over confrontation paradigm, should not the global policy thinkers be docile to notion that relations between the South Asian nuclear states and countries outside the region be consistent with the peace and independence of the region and the peace of the world?
— The writer, an independent ‘IR’ researcher-cum-analyst based in Karachi, is a member of European Consortium for Political Research Standing Group on IR, Critical Peace & Conflict Studies.