It may sound strange but a lot has been happening in the last 10 days in Pakistan as well as in the region. There was a time when the USA played a major role in the politics in this region especially Pakistan. All that has changed and most of the states are now seeking new allies as the USA continues to lose influence.
With the new government taking charge in Islamabad there has been hectic political activity. The country is poised to adopt a new foreign policy. For the first time since 2008 the country’s civil and military leadership are on the same page. Prime Minister Imran Khan and his team were given an unprecedented eight hours long briefing. The security issues were discussed in detail and the need to strengthen the country both economically as well as militarily. There is an old saying that if you are internally strong and united you can pursue an independent foreign policy.
The country is facing financial crunch and there is talk seeking IMF’s help. If the USA pressure continues Pakistan may be forced to seek help from China in the similar way that Turkey (even though being a NATO ally) had to seek financial help from China.
The news that Jalaluddin Haqqani the head of Haqqani Network, who had been ill for some time, is dead coming ahead of the US Secretary of State Michael Pompeois striking. Haqqani Network terror group was at the heart of Pakistan-US tensions. This news may not make much difference but there is a feeling both in Pentagon and in Islamabad that the 71-year-old relationship should not abruptly end. Pak-US relations are already at their lowest ebb and the trust deficit continues to grow between both countries. Pakistan has already moved closer to China while the USA for the last two decades has been making hectic efforts to make inroads into Indian politics. The USA, however, has not been able to get the same place in India as it once enjoyed in Pakistan. It has already stopped the training programme for Pakistani officers in the USA meaning Pentagon will be losing contact with the future military leadership.
A few days ago Iran successfully tested a cruise missile. Iran’s growing and effective missile system is a headache and serious challenge to the USA, Israel and Saudi Arabia. It means that if at any time in the near future it opts for manufacturing of nuclear weapons it will already have an effective delivery system. Already Iran supplied missiles are being fired from war torn Yemen into Saudi Arabia. Although they are being fired in the air before they hit targets due to good anti-missile system the USA has provided to Saudi Arabia.
Iran has assumed characteristic of being a regional power. Its growing relations with China and Russia are of concern to the USA. Turkey, Iran and Pakistan have become great stakeholders in the Afghan crisis and grown closer and cooperating for establishing peace in Afghanistan, which continues to suffer even after 17 years of US led efforts to control the situation.
The US efforts to isolate Pakistan and bring in India to meddle in the affairs of Afghanistan have not borne fruit. Russia (formerly the USSR) has lately shown a lot of interest in the Afghan crisis and has held US responsible for using one pretext after another to ensure longer stay of its troops in Afghanistan to use it as satellite to monitor Iran, China and Russia. It was in this context that US opposed Pak-Iran gas pipeline project and instead forced us to join TAPI, which is scheduled to be commissioned in 2024. The project will only start when there is peace in Afghanistan because unsafe passage may jeopardize the whole project.
Imran Khan government’s gestures to Iran for improving existing ties may have caused discomfort in Pentagon. During the recent Iranian Foreign Minister Zarif’s visit and talks of strengthening relations and standing by each other in the time of need must have rung alarm bells in Washington.
Couple of years ago India’s interest in Iran was enormous and it offered billions of dollars to upgrade Chabahar port, which is located close to Gawadar. Of late Iran’s enthusiasm for enhanced cooperation with India has subsided. The British think tanks whom this scribe met a couple of months ago thought that Chabahar would be the next main route and Gawadar would not be able to deliver. Iran needs Pakistan support more than it ever did before and has no plans to accept Indian help in upgrading Chabahar.
The US Secretary of State is due to visit Islamabad today. His visit comes in the backdrop of controversy over a phone call between him and our new premier Imran Khan. Also the visit comes in the heels of the US government decision to cancel Coalition Support Fund to Pakistan. It is surprising since this fund is being termed as economic aid whereas it is not. It is no aid package and it is given as compensation for the amount we spend in the international war on terror.
Both the USA and Pakistan cannot afford strained bilateral relations. Pompeo’s visit to Pakistan could be a turning point in the relations for the better. The US must lessen India’s influence in Afghanistan if it wants peace in the region. China’s growing influence in the region has given birth to new chapters of friendship. Myanmar is completely a Chinese ally. Chinese influence and investment in Bangladesh is growing. Both Sri Lanka and Maldives have each given a port to China. India cannot play the role of US policeman in the region. The times have changed and the US will have to accept new realities. New Delhi is not ready to sign any security pact with America during Pompeo’s visit as the Indian media reports suggest. The USA should stop alienating its old allies instead of trying to find new ones. Our friendship and closeness with China never came in our way of good relations with US and the same can continue again.
The writer is a member of staff.