Amna Ejaz Rafi
THE Trump administration has questioned Islamabad’s role in the war on terror, and has warned of severe consequences if the country does not take effective action against the alleged terrorist sanctuaries along its borders. “Pakistan was playing a double game by accepting the US aid while giving safe haven to the ‘agents of chaos’, who kill Afghan and NATO troops,” said President Trump. The threat of terrorism in Afghanistan, and the region at large is a reality. The US/coalition troops (1,40000), remained stationed in Afghanistan and fought the Al-Qaeda, still around 8,400 US troops are there. Recently, the US has announced to send in more troops to Afghanistan. As stated by President Trump “a hasty exist from Afghanistan would create a vacuum that terrorists would instantly fill”. The plan to increase troops in Afghanistan indicates that the country is still vulnerable to the terrorist threat. It also is in line with the Washington’s past policy of coerciveness.
According to the US policy towards Afghanistan, “the US wins the war then they would bring the Taliban on the table.” The idea that the troops surge would boost the Afghan National Security Force (ANSF), but the point remains will it ensure the US victory or the new outfits would emerge (TTP, and Daesh)? Meanwhile, seeing the war on terror and its outcomes, the US/coalition coercive policy to dismantle Al-Qaeda did lead to marginalization of the terrorist organization but has the threat of terrorism been defeated, the Taliban influence diminished or Afghanistan stabilized? Therefore, what difference an additional 4000 troops would make. In the policy towards Afghanistan/the region, the US has also applauded India’s regional role; while Pakistan has been criticized for not doing enough.
The US policy to uplift India is not new, former President Obama said: “India is a leader in Asia and around the world. It’s a rising power and a responsible global power. That’s why I firmly believe that the relationship between the US and India will be a defining partnership in the 21st century.” Assigning India a larger regional role in Afghan affairs (with no mention of China, Iran and Russia – important stakeholders), set asides Islamabad’s concerns over New Delhi’s covert activities targeted against Pakistan. The arrest of Kulbhushan Yadav from Balochistan on account of espionage and sabotage is a proof of India’s subversive pursuits. Yadav was running a clandestine terror network in Balochistan. Yadav said: “he was also planning to infiltrate 30 to 40 trained agents of RAW for reviving Baloch nationalist movement and undermine the CPEC.”
Skepticism over Pakistan’s counter terrorist drive, the country which has fought back militancy (and is still fighting) cannot unravel the sacrifices incurred in the war. Nearly 70,000 Pakistanis, including security personnel lost their lives with economic losses worth US $120 billion in the war. The resilience on part of Pakistan’s armed forces backed by the people is a proof of the resolve against terrorism. The lack of recognition by regional and international quarters is due to a week narrative. Through diplomatic maneuvering and narrative building, Pakistan needs to build its stance, and allay the negativity.
The US-India strategic partnership carries a regional connotation. In the US pivot to Asia/or the re-balance strategy, the aim was to enhance ties with the ASEAN states and downplay the Chinese regional role (the ASEAN states looked at the US as a balancer). The US military ties with the Southeast Asian states were steps in this direction. Although South Asia is not an integrated region like ASEAN, neither the SAARC is an economic power house, however, with the emergence of CPEC, the China’s economic muscle is seen as an opportunity by the regional players.
The corridor will impact the South Asian politics, Pakistan’s regional positioning will be strengthened, China will be an active player in the region and will have alternate trade route (thus minimizing dependence on Malacca strait). In this backdrop, the political actors opposed to China’s growth will try to create impediments. India has been critical of the Belt and Road initiative, as India does not wish to see China expand its influence in South Asia, which could be a threat to its hegemony. India has raised objections to the planned corridor for passing through Gilgit-Baltistan.
— The writer is Researcher at Islamabad Policy Research Institute, a think tank based in Islamabad.
Amna Ejaz Rafi