A bi-partisan delegation of US Senate Armed Services Committee headed by its Chairman Senator John McCain visited Pakistan and held meetings with the Prime Minister, advisor to the Prime Minister on foreign affairs and the COAS. The visit coming in the backdrop of the US decision to ramp up military presence in Afghanistan supported by NATO countries and the US move to review its policy regarding Pakistan was very significant with regards to future ties between the two countries and how the US viewed Pakistan’s role in the emerging regional scenario.

The Pakistani leadership, both civilian as well as military, gave the delegation an exhaustive briefing on the measures that it had taken to curb terrorism, border management with Afghanistan while reiterating the importance of US-Pak partnership to deal with the challenges facing the region and beyond. The delegation was also flown over South Waziristan for an aerial view of the border area, newly constructed forts and posts and development work carried out in the area. Senator John McCain agreed that close cooperation between Pakistan and US was essential for securing peace and stability in the region saying US attached importance to its relations with Pakistan, which remained a close friend and an ally. The members of the delegation reportedly appreciated and acknowledged the contributions and sacrifices made by Pakistan and the successes achieved in the fight against terrorism

The Prime Minister in his interaction with the delegation referring to the gross human rights violations and brutal repression on unarmed Kashmiris also urged US to play a role in bringing an end to the miseries of the people of occupied Kashmir. Senator McCain did not make any statement regarding Indian atrocities in Kashmir except saying that the US Policy on Kashmir had not changed. Reading between the lines it meant that US would remain indifferent and oblivious to the situation in Kashmir.

Nevertheless, the appreciation of the efforts by Pakistan to deal with the scourge of terrorism and their reiteration of cooperation between Pakistan and Afghanistan in managing the border regions, which Pakistan has been urging time and again, seemed quite reassuring, particularly with regards to believability of indiscriminate action against terrorist outfits. However, that proved to be an ephemeral phenomenon. The moment the delegation landed in Kabul, the tone and tenor of their language changed. Senator John McCain in a statement said “We made it very clear that we expect Pakistan will cooperate with us, particularly against the Haqqani network and against terrorist organisations. If they do not change their behaviour, maybe we should change our behaviour towards Pakistan as a nation. We are counting on its support to eliminate militancy and in particular the Haqqani Network responsible for numerous attacks on Afghan territory.” It was kind of a warning to Pakistan which also indicated that despite best efforts and actions by Pakistan to sell its credentials as a sincere partner in the fight against terrorism and having taken indiscriminate action against all terrorist outfits, US still looked askance at her. It still does not believe in the veracity of the claims made by Pakistan in this regard.

For those who are well-acquainted with the US litany of betrayals and unreasonable attitude towards Pakistan over the decades, particularly after the US blitzkrieg in Afghanistan after 9/11, the convulsions of Senator John McCain are not surprising at all. It is a typical US ploy to keep Pakistan under pressure and use it as a fall guy for the failure of its military misadventure in Afghanistan.

Pakistan has suffered the most in the war against terrorism and continues to the bear the brunt of the ever deteriorating situation in Afghanistan. The US, instead of learning from its mistakes and looking for plausible solutions to the conflict in Afghanistan, seems poised to give the military solution another chance by announcing to send more troops to Afghanistan. This move is fraught with great dangers and does not augur well for peace in Afghanistan. The Taliban who have invariably demanded the withdrawal of all the US and NATO troops from Afghanistan before they engaged in a meaningful dialogue with the Afghan government to push the reconciliation process forward, would take this move as yet another hostile step by US and might step up their own attacks against the US and Afghan troops. It indicates that the US probably is not sincere in nudging the process of Afghan-led and Afghan-owned reconciliation in Afghanistan.

Some analysts believe that it was part of the US strategy to promote instability in this region like it has done in the Middle East designed to check the burgeoning influence of China in this part of the world and beyond. Some even talk of US-India nexus to thwart CPEC by keeping Pakistan embroiled in disputes with Afghanistan and letting it grapple the curse of terrorism on its own knowing that peace in Pakistan was not possible without peace in Afghanistan. It is indeed a very tricky situation for Pakistan.

The dilemma is that Pakistan cannot afford a complete rupture of ties with US and no matter how hard it tried it would not be possible for her to change the course US wanted to pursue in this region. The US and its allies have a definite plan for this region to serve their strategic interests. Therefore, while remaining engaged with the US in normal state to state relations, we must recalibrate our foreign policy, particularly the nature of future relations with the US. It is heartening to note that the government seems alive to the changing geo-political situation and the US designs to pursue its strategic objectives which are inimical to our strategic interests. The Prime Minister’s visit to the foreign office to review the latest developments and the decision to refashion the foreign policy indicate that realisation and the urgency.

To avoid any negative fallout from the situation in Afghanistan, Pakistan must first of all vigorously pursue fencing of border with Afghanistan and building watch-posts and forts that it has initiated so that cross-border movement of the terrorist could be checked. On the internal front, operation Radd-ul-Fasad should be pursued with more intensity and unruffled commitment. There is also an imperative need for national unity and political stability in the country to be able to confront the external dangers. The political leadership of the country needs to adopt a nationalist outlook instead of pursuing politics of self-aggrandisement.

The best way to counter the anti-Pakistan machinations of US and India is to further strengthen our relations with Russia, Central Asian States and of course with China which has the highest stakes in the completion of the CPEC and giving a new direction to the economic ties between the two countries. Pakistan’s security and economic well-being is inextricably linked to this region. Our foreign policy must lay more emphasis on this aspect.

n             The writer is a freelance columnist.

It is a typical US ploy to keep Pakistan under pressure and use it as a fall guy for the failure of its military misadventure in Afghanistan.