The interaction of the visiting US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and US chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Joseph Dunford with civil and military leaders of Pakistan is significant from the perspective of ending a stalemate in the relations between the two countries. It was a second high level contact between the two sides after the visit of the former US Secretary of State Tillerson to Pakistan last October. In the words of foreign minister of Pakistan Shah Mahmood the talks were held in a cordial atmosphere and the positive outcome was that the two sides had agreed to reset their ties.
They gave patient hearing to view points of each other on contentious issues. The US secretary of state reportedly urged Pakistan to take sustained and decisive measures against terrorists and militants threatening regional peace and stability also acknowledging Pakistan’s role in resolving the Afghan conundrum by bringing the Taliban to the negotiating table. Both sides agreed that it was time for them to begin to deliver on all joint commitments so as to build confidence and trust. However the US acknowledged that Afghan conflict needs a political solution; the stance Pakistan has been reiterating since the announcement of new US Policy on Afghanistan and South Asia. Secretary of state Mike Pompeo also hinted about resetting the relations between the two countries when before leaving for New Delhi he told the American media “I am hopeful that the foundation that we laid today will set the conditions for continued success as we start to move forward.” It is indeed a positive development. Foreign minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi has been invited to visit US to take the process forward. Will this new beginning help in removing the US suspicion regarding sanctuaries of terrorists on Pakistani soil or not remains to be seen. But the fact is that future of Pak-US relations will depend on this very crucial issue.
The decision by the civilian and the military leadership to interact with the visiting dignitaries was a well thought out and commendable strategy aimed to send a loud and clear message to their interlocutors that they were on the same page in regards to the position taken by Pakistan on the new US Policy, though it was fully committed to cooperate in the efforts to deal with the phenomenon of terrorism and bringing peace to Afghanistan in its own interest. It was explicitly conveyed to the visiting dignitaries that Pakistan would continue to play its role in bringing peace to Afghanistan and to rebuild its ties with US on the basis of equal sovereignty.
The US needs to understand that peace and security in the region is not only contingent upon resolving the conflict in Afghanistan and eliminating terrorist outfits there but it was also dependent to a large extent on resolution of the Kashmir issue and stopping India from fomenting and supporting insurgency and acts of terrorism in Pakistan. If US needs Pakistan’s partnership in establishing peace and security in the region it will have to pay due consideration to its strategic interests in the region as well as its security imperatives.
Partnerships are built on the basis of commonality and mutuality of interests and by creating space for the other partner to do its part of the partnership role. The US will have to trust its partner and believe in the Pakistani position that it had taken indiscriminate actions against the terrorist outfits including the Haqqanis, destroyed the terrorist infrastructure in North Waziristan and no safe havens for terrorists existed on its soil. Pakistan’s armed forces, intelligence outfits and law enforcing agencies have rendered unparalleled sacrifices in fighting the terrorists. Pakistan has also offered US to pin point the places where it thought those alleged safe havens existed so that it could take action against them. There could not be a more honest commitment than this to vindicate her position.
Peace and security in the region cannot be ensured the American way. The new US policy on Afghanistan and South Asia is a perfect recipe to aggravate the security situation in the region, particularly in Afghanistan. The US drone attacks in Afghanistan and border region between Pakistan and Afghanistan and the enhanced retaliatory attacks by IS and the Taliban on a military bases as well as on civilian targets provide ranting testimonies to this fact. The US needs to recognize the ground realities in Afghanistan. It has not been able to beat back the Taliban with all the military might at the disposal of the US-NATO troops in the last sixteen years. The Taliban still control 40% of the territory of the country and their ability to strike against Afghan security forces and US installations at will remains intact. Einstein has said that doing the same thing again and again and expecting different results is insanity. The new US military offensive is insanity and would not produce different results.
Assigning a greater role to India in Afghanistan is also a big mistake. India might be friendly to the sitting Afghan government but it is not acceptable to the Taliban against whom it has been siding with the Northern Alliance. They would not at any cost accept the new equation. So by envisaging a role for India, the US has added another irritant to the on-going conflict.
Indian role in Afghanistan is also inimical to strategic interests of Pakistan. Indian RAW and Afghan intelligence NDS have a proven nexus to back the TTP in carrying out terrorist acts in Pakistan; a fact unravelled by Latifullah Mehsud the TTP leader who was captured by the NATO forces in Afghanistan in September 2013. India is also involved in supporting insurgency in Balochistan and orchestrating acts of terrorism in other parts of Pakistan, particularly Karachi as revealed and confessed by Kalbhushan Yadav, the Indian naval officer captured in Balochistan. Pakistan has already handed over dossiers on this to the UN Secretary General and the US leadership. Under the circumstances, how can Pakistan accept Indian involvement and presence in Afghanistan, which it rightly believes would afford greater opportunities to India to undermine strategic interests of Pakistan? During the talks between Shah Mahmood Qureshi and Secretary Pompeo the former emphasized the fact that for Pakistan to be able to contribute to political settlement of the Afghan conflict it was imperative for Pakistan to have peaceful eastern border, a reference to continued Indian violation of the LOC. US would also need to create a balance in her relations with the regional countries to enhance the prospects of peace.
Unilateral actions on the part of US and the high-handed tactics to impose its will on the countries of the region is bound to have boomerang effect and consign the region to an unending instability and conflict. It is hoped that the US would stick to its newfound realization of political solution in Afghanistan and also pay due attention to strategic interests of Pakistan and cooperate and assist her in playing its due role in creating conditions for political settlement of Afghan conundrum.
n The writer is a freelance columnist.
If US needs Pakistan’s partnership in establishing peace and security in the region it will have to pay due consideration to its strategic interests in the region as well as its security imperatives.