Dr Huma Baqai
PAKISTAN and US relations are a text book case of political realism. Since 1947, the construct of convergence between the two states is ambiguous. The engagement is compulsion driven. On more than one occasion, both the states have pursued divergent interest trajectories sabotaging each other’s interests at regional and international levels. The relationship has experienced a more obvious downward slide since President Bush’s second term, where perhaps for the first time an attempt was made to de-hyphenate India and Pakistan. Under Obama, US came up with the Af-Pak policy in 2008, a term popularized by Richard Holbrooke, who later became the first US special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan. Pakistan both resisted and resented this.
Since then, the relationship has only deteriorated and the trust deficit between the two countries has increased. US desire to replace Pakistan by New Delhi to achieve its larger objectives of curtailing China and maintaining its influence in the region has only worsened the situation. Pakistan today is more suspicious of American intentions than ever before. The new US position on CPEC will further strain already tense relations between the US and Pakistan, which also opposed the greater role Washington has assigned to India in Afghanistan in a strategy President Trump announced on Aug. 21, 2017. The entry of an assertive China into the conflict matrix of South Asia has had a direct impact on Pakistan’s relations with US, India and Afghanistan. Pakistan was blamed of using the China card by both India and US since the sixties. This just became very potent.
The American allegations of supporting terrorism by Pakistan in Afghanistan have continued since the times of Bush. Some damage control is done now and then to achieve short term objectives. However, largely the thrust of the policy is that Pakistan is the part of the problem and not a part of the solution. US refusal to connect the dots between violence in Afghanistan and conflict between Pakistan and India suits both India and Afghanistan. The three, conveniently blame Pakistan for regional conflict escalation. US is blinded by this view in its dealings with Pakistan. It is convinced that Pakistan is a lost cause. All US has done in terms of policy shift in Afghanistan in seventeen years is to constitute a more important role for India in the region. This will be resisted both by China and Pakistan for obvious reasons.
American policy is flawed to begin with because it continues to relay on military options, force and the cold war construct of pitching one state against another. Times have changed. China is very pragmatic responding to this change by keeping its doors open to both New Delhi and Washington, cultivating Kabul, Tehran and Moscow, courting Pakistan, like it has never been courted before. More importantly all of this is lubricated with economic incentives. Contemporary times are all about economic integration and globalization. The new buzz words are economic prosperity, sustainable development and resource exploration. Here China is playing on the front foot and America comes across confused and inward looking.
UK, France, Germany, the traditional US allies have all expressed interest in CPEC and are set to join it. India is the only country in South Asia that is not a part of CPEC. These emerging new realities of the region is that China is actually checkmating the US, in its strategy in Afghanistan. Russia and China are on the same side and both are skeptical of US intentions. Both Russia and Iran accuse the United States of supporting Islamic State’s rise in Afghanistan. Hamid Karzai, in his recent interview with Russia Today said that, “ISIS in Afghanistan was proliferating under the very nose of American Security apparatus. Speculations are that Americans may use ISIS elements against Taliban and against the interests of regional adversaries and their allies.” Washington vehemently rejects the charges as rumors.
By default, this has given Pakistan the foreign policy option of drawing new red lines in its relations with the US. Pakistan now openly appreciates Russian and Chinese diplomatic efforts to defend its legitimate security and sovereignty concerns. Moscow and Beijing’s role in Kabul to bring warring factions to the negotiating table is also supported by Islamabad and Washington’s preference for the kinetic approach over political settlement is criticized. Beijing has recently initiated a trilateral ministerial level dialogue involving Islamabad and Kabul to ease tensions and promote peace in Afghanistan.
Pakistan realises the importance of its relation with Washington, but at the same time has policy options now, that never existed in the past, allowing it to revisit its relations both with the US and India. 2018 will be rocky, but the exhaustion factor exits on both sides. Pakistan is doing its best and wants to move on with CPEC. In August, 2017, Chief of Army Staff Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa in his conversation with US Ambassador David Hale said, “Pakistan does not want material or financial assistance from US, but needs to be trusted and treated with respect.” More than that Pakistan is desirous of peace in Afghanistan, is ready to work towards it but can’t be held responsible for it.
— The writer is Associate Professor, Dept of Social Sciences & Liberal Arts at IBA Karachi.