Post Tillerson’s visit strategy

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Muhammad Usman
Visit of US Secretary of State, Tillerson failed to break ice fallen and accumulated fast between Pakistan and US since announcement of South Asia policy by Trump. It commenced with cool welcome and ended unceremoniously with tough talk in between. Pakistan remained stuck to its guns with poise and dignity. No more do more. No one way traffic. Reciprocity and equity make the basis for future relationship. Pakistan could only act on actionable intelligence provided it is also reciprocated equally on other side of the border. The conferment of role to India in Afghanistan is red line. Though US was attentive but remained intransigent because of conflicting compulsions of its real interests in region.
US wants to stay in Afghanistan to use it a base to contain China, restrict Russia and rein Iran. No trade from Central Asian States. It wants a weak, unstable and subservient Pakistan. India is its subsidiary to achieve end. It also wants Pakistan to squeese Afghan Taliban to make its stay in Afghanistan comfortable. Post visit’s remarks of Tillerson signal what lies ahead “US is determined to eradicate terrorism from region with support of Pakistan or in a different way”. Our National leadership deserves kudos not to succumb to pressure. They had courage, conviction and clarity. In international relations, words are good to start with but needs to be backed by force to make them sink in. It is time for action. Pakistan ought to synergize its internal strength and external leverages. Given conditions, both are within grasp.
US wants Pakistan, not only as a transit route but also for intelligence sharing and an olive branch to Afghan Taliban. In realpolitik, nothing is free among sovereign nations. Its shared border with Afghanistan has implications of its own. More or less, both countries have to suffer or prosper equally. Constrained by compulsions of its survival, Afghan government could turn against Pakistan however, people to people contact remains strong because of ethnic, kinship and trade links. Mist of time could blur but possibly not obliterate role played by Pakistan in their struggle against Soviet occupation. Behavior of a government could change with change in circumstances. Attitude of people is long lasting. During 1965 and 1971 wars, even a hostile Afghan government had to show consideration towards Pakistan. It was no altruism. It was fear of public backlash. Reservoir of mutual fellow feelings among people is an asset. It needs to be strengthened. No shortsightedness be allowed to play with it. In case of Afghan refugees, it often makes round. They have to live or return in dignity.
Main plank of US policy is India. It is more avid for a role which could leverage to hit Pakistan. Courtesy US, India has found foothold in Afghanistan to harm Pakistan in more ways than one. On west, it has permissive environments to intimidate Pakistan even to extent of threating Pakistan by an attack on its nuclear installations. Tit for tat response could only drill a good sense in its pampered head. Pakistan needs to keep plans ready for each contingency to deter India not to err. Iran may be our tactical foe but a friend strategically. Probably this is the reason that our relationship with them oscillates steeply. Pushed by US particularly, on nuclear deal, Iran may be more amenable to listen Pakistan. Iran is again under threat of sanctions. Neighborhood becomes important for a country under sanctions. Other reasons are also many. Mutual interest lies in securing shared borders. Iran also wants an access through Afghanistan. Stability in Afghanistan is its prerequisite. Iran also has links with Afghan Taliban. Opening of dialogue for peace in Afghanistan is another point of convergence. Revival of stalled gas pipeline may be a perfect appetizer. Visit of COAS General Bajwa to Iran is a right timely move.
In wake of US policy, region will get primed for a global conflict. Key players are China and US. Main contention is naval access to China through Gwadar. Land route to Gwadar is CPEC which passes through length and breadth of Pakistan. It makes Pakistan a world hot spot. No country could coup with challenges of a global conflict alone. China is greatest stakeholder of CPEC. Consequently, it owes a corresponding or even greater responsibility to counter ensuing dangers to Pakistan and beyond. Main source is India. Besides inflaming threat of terrorism on its western borders, India may try to outstretch Pakistan by amassing troops on eastern border. China has to undertake appropriate mobilisation on its borders with India as it did in 1965 war to equalise the equation. India is very sensitive to such eventuality. In 1971, India deferred war until commencement of winter which could make Chinese’s build up difficult. Chinese’s support could assume other forms too but none inside Pakistan. It is a sovereign principle. Diplomatic, political and material support of China and Russia also carry great significance for Pakistan. So far reaction of China is passive however, now it is signaling to flex its military arm too. Recent statement of Chinese PM is a clear pointer “China did not seek global hegemony but no one should expect China to swallow anything that undermine its interests”. Last on the list is internal strength which otherwise is the foremost because diplomacy begins at home. Except Armed Forces, largely country is in mess however, hope for change is on horizon. Dire requirement is of credible leadership. In its search, fair ballot in 2018 would be a giant step in right direction.
— The writer, retired Lt Col, is freelance columnist based in Islamabad.
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