Two very ominous developments have taken place this week. Reportedly the US , has decided to send 4000 more troops to Afghanistan and though not formally announced yet, the media reports suggest that the Trump administration is poised to harden its approach towards Pakistan and the likely options in this regard are expanding US drone strikes within Pakistan, redirecting or withholding some aid to Pakistan and eventually downgrading Pakistan’s status as a major non-NATO ally.

What these developments imply is that prospects of peace in Afghanistan will remain elusive for an indefinite period because the induction of more troops instead of pulling out of Afghanistan as decided by the Obama administration, would surely intensify the already volatile situation in Afghanistan. The Taliban have all along remained firm in their demand of complete US and NATO pull-out before they could even think in terms of reconciliation within Afghanistan. They will surely feel further offended and might bring more ferocity in their armed struggle against the Afghan government and the US forces. The continuation of armed conflict in Afghanistan will surely have negative fallout on Pakistan as far as peace and the fight against terrorism are concerned. Downgrading relations with Pakistan and withholding aid to Pakistan can be construed as a punishment for doing their bidding in the war against terrorism. US has been doing this to Pakistan ever since the latter opted to be its ally in the early fifties, throughout the cold war and in the aftermath Afghan war. The Trump administration has done it yet again.

In my columns on Pak-US relations I have invariably contended that our relationship with our so-called ally has always been of a tactical nature contrary to its description as a strategic partnership which our successive governments have been trying to sell to the unsuspecting people of Pakistan. It was only in the backdrop of killing of Mullah Mansoor in a drone attack on Pakistan soil that Sartaj Aziz, Advisor to the Prime Minister on Foreign Affairs, for the first time, admitted that the US was a selfish friend which invariably curried favour with Pakistan when its self-interest pressed it and left it in the lurch after having its interests served. I suppose in his admission of the fragility of the relationship and it serving only US interests, the advisor had been very moderate in defining the nature of the ties between the two countries. The true characterisation of Pak-US relations is that the US has used Pakistan as a pawn on the chessboard of its global and regional policies and self-defined strategic interests, putting its security at peril and undermining its strategic interests; quintessential of an inexcusable betrayal.

I have also maintained that US was never going to leave Pakistan. In one of my columns last July I had said “ I am not a clairvoyant but considering the ominous developments around us , my prognosis about the future of our region is that the US , contrary to its claims of leaving Afghanistan is going to stay there forever to foment instability in that country as well as Pakistan. Encouraging greater Indian role in Afghanistan is surely designed to achieve that objective. There are visible moves to isolate Pakistan in the region. US and India have forged a clandestine alliance to sabotage CPEC, as instability in the region could help US in scuttling Chinese plans to re-invent the silk route and to implement CPEC. A weaker and unstable Pakistan also suits India with regards to its desire to establish its hegemony in the region. These developments surely mark the beginning of yet another great game in our region.”

The US , it seems, is deliberately fomenting instability in the region to achieve its strategic objectives like it has done in the Middle East and other parts of the world to redraw the world map in conformity with its own contrived world view. It is using both Afghanistan and India for the purpose, who have their own reasons to be part of the US power-game in the region, remaining oblivious to the long term consequences for them as well as the entire region.

India is willingly supporting the US anti-China policy in the South China Sea and the Indian Ocean. The civil nuclear deal with India by US and its allies like UK and France, support for UNSC seat for India, designating India as major defence partner and the likely production of F-16 and F-18 fighter planes in India as proposed by their manufacturers and cleared by the Pentagon, are the rewards for India for doing the US’ bidding in the region. These measures also not only put India at an advantageous position vis-a-vis Pakistan but also encourage her to adopt a hostile posture towards her. The US tilt and support for India also fits well into the Indian designs to establish its hegemony in the region. That also explains US indifference to the tragedy unfolding in Kashmir, continued acts of aggression along LOC and Indian sponsored acts of terrorism in Pakistan.

The dilemma is that we cannot risk a military response to such indiscretions. However the most regrettable thing is that we have remained criminally oblivious to the developments happening in the region, and have failed to recalibrate our foreign policy in the light of the emerging realities. We need a serious rethinking about our relations with the US and recalibrate them as normal relations between the two states, rather than act as a pawn to serve the US interests. It has harmed us in the past and will continue to do so.

Pakistan now needs to focus more on its relations with the regional states because its security and economic interest are inextricably linked with this region. The policy of building regional linkages and connectivity being pursued by the present government is a very pragmatic and visionary initiative. The improvement of relations with Russia, strengthening of ties with the Central Asian states and joining the SCO are very positive developments which will act as an effective counter-weight to the debilitating effects of the US-India-Afghanistan collusion.

Notwithstanding the existence of a hostile environment around us , Pakistan must not lose its focus on encouraging and supporting the process of reconciliation in Afghanistan and also to lower the level of animosity with India and eventually a negotiated settlement of the Kashmir dispute. We need a well calculated and visionary approach in this regard.

More than anything else, greater emphasis needs to be given to orchestrating political stability in the country, strengthening democracy and democratic institutions, building a strong economic edifice and an impregnable defence. These are the elements which determine the worth of a nation at the global level and its ability to use its soft power for managing international relations. In other words we need to first put our own house in order. That indeed is a big challenge for our political leaders and political parties.

 

n             The writer is a freelance columnist.

The Taliban have all along remained firm in their demand of complete US and NATO pull-out before they could even think in terms of reconciliation within Afghanistan.