TURBULENCE in Pak-US relationship caused by Trump bluster seems to have receded partially amid clear and robust Pakistan’s national response. Pakistan cannot be made a scapegoat for failures of others. Pakistan has done enough. It is time for others to do more. Besides, India cannot be allowed to stab Pakistan unrestrained. The world particularly, US need to see reason. Luckily soon reason started replacing imbecility in US circles. First to come was expression of US concern over Indian involvement with TTP. Trump did not charge sheet Pakistan at UNGA as he did at unveiling US policy. It was a breather for dwindling Pak US relationship. The remarks of US Secretary of Defence, Jim Mattis at New Delhi also helped to calm anger and anguish of Pakistan. Without directly referring to Pakistan, he spoke of intolerance for safe havens for terrorist groups.
Invitation for our FM’s visit to USA to communicate at top level was another gesture to bring mutual relationship back on the rails. Admittedly, all this constitutes a good omen but possibly for time being only because fulcrum of US’s interests in region lies elsewhere. Given conditions, they could pause for a while. Even now, one could easily infer what is up their mind. Mattis has said while visiting Afghanistan; US would watch Pakistan’s choices on its South Asia policy to combat terrorism in its tracks. His another pronouncement at a hearing is another pointer of what US is amassing in store for Pakistan. It read “we need to try one more time to make this strategy work with them, by, with and through Pakistanis, and if our best efforts fail, the President is prepared to take whatever steps are necessary” It is India with whom US has found strategic convergence for pursuance of its long term interests. India is also a huge attraction for its defence and commercial deals. In return, US is ready to accord whatever India needs to make its own strategic bidding in region. Main power contest in Asia is between China and US. To some extent between Russia and US. This will largely revolve around Chinese One Belt and One Road initiative. CPEC is its major component. This makes Pakistan and Afghanistan world’s hot spots. India is a country which does not hesitate to fish in trouble waters. In case of Pakistan, it is more avid. US considers a greater Indian role in Afghanistan a net positive. It would enable India more to use Afghanistan as a base to destabilize Pakistan and undermine CPEC.
Trump has delegated South Asia policy to his Secretary of Defence. It implies a greater reliance on military means. Potentially it only leaves room for gun point negotiations which are unacceptable to Afghan Taliban. It makes situation complex and dangerous. Geo Strategic location could be an asset as well as liability for a country. Present Geo Strategic position of Pakistan could open new and broad vitas of security and economic development if we could weld together a strength by pooling our internal energies and external leverages judiciously. It needs to exceed whole of problems/their implications. Failure could spawn inescapable piles of uncertainty, instability and disaster.
Pakistan is in hands of a government which sees wisdom and direction in US announced policy. A handful of pseudo intellectuals, liberals and ruling elite support this line. Rest of the nation considers it an insult to our colossal sacrifices in blood and treasure against terrorism, common sense and logic. Grudgingly or ungrudgingly, world listened this view nevertheless, it mirrors a bad image of country. Its real implications are even greater. A government is a linchpin of state affair because of its inbuilt authority and acumen. In our case, it is mired with own compulsions and preferences. Besides, nation and ruling elite are at colliding paths. Nation is vying for change.
Ruling elite is obstructionist. This tug and pull is not only causing disunity, distraction and incoherence in national pursuits but also swallowing national energy, time and scarce resources. Above would have left country in a huge vacuum if our Armed Forces would have not taken over responsibility far beyond their designation. This is nothing unusual. In developing countries, military acts as a stabilization force. Pakistan is fortunate to have such force which successfully compensated absence of a dynamic and responsible government however, there is a limit to human contrivance. Prolonged involvement of Army other than its actual engagements may be a trap laid by our nemesis. Our economy is in dire straits. Threat of insolvency is hanging just around the corner. Institutions are warp and weft of a nation. Our institutional decay is at advanced stage. Critical infrastructure is also in disarray.
On one hand, if above makes a forbidding proposition. On other, sanguine possibilities also exist. Truth in Pakistan is on march. Justice has already made significant strides. A political force has emerged which could upset apple cart of ruling elite in next general elections. Armed Forces are fully alive to challenges at hand and the way these could be met. We have time before great game around us grows in gravity. Though tasks are numerous and enormous however, two tasks take precedence. One is for government and other is for nation. Instead of putting house in order as ordained in US policy, Government needs to put its act together as a responsible government. Nation should not relent in its struggle for justice, rule of law and merit. It is the only panacea to all our ills and keep dangers at bay.
— The writer, retired Lt Col, is freelance columnist based in Islamabad.