Unrevised nosedive in US-Pak relations
The nosedive in US-Pak relations triggered by the announcement of new Policy on Afghanistan and South Asia by President Trump and the outright rejection of the US viewpoint by Pakistan has still not been reversed. Notwithstanding the engagement between the two countries at the diplomatic level and exchange of high-level visits including the visit to Pakistan by US Secretary of State Rex W Tillerson in the last week of October, the bilateral relations are yet to normalise. The US continues to put pressure on Pakistan, and there seems no change in its stance as enunciated in the new policy announced by Trump.
The top US General in Afghanistan John Nicholson reportedly told the press reporters in New York on 28 November that he had not seen a change in Pakistan’s support for the militants so far. He said, “We have been very direct with the Pakistanis. We have not seen those changes implemented yet. We are hoping to see those changes. We are hoping to work together with the Pakistanis going forward to eliminate terrorists who are crossing the border.”
When the US Secretary of state visited Pakistan, the civilian and military leadership collectively faced him, he was rightly told by Pakistan that military solution to the Afghan conundrum was not possible. He was further informed that the Afghan war could not be fought on Pakistani soil. And to expect Pakistan to deliver the Taliban to the US for engagement in dialogue with the US was no more possible given the unilateral actions taken by the US like the killing of Mullah Mansoor. Tillerson was updated on the progress and gains of the operation Zarb-e-Azb. The briefing on operation’s success informed him that no safe havens for terrorist existed in Pakistan and some of the elements who were hiding within the country were being dealt through operation Radul Fasad. Islamabad informed the US through Tillerson that it was not in favour of assigning India a more significant role in Afghanistan as it was inimical to strategic interests of Pakistan and that Pakistan expected reciprocity in regards to action against TTP operatives based in Afghanistan as well as border management to prevent cross-border movement of the terrorists.
The position taken by Pakistan in regards to the solution of the Afghan conflict is in conformity with the ground realities. Unilateral actions by Pakistan as expected by the US are not going to succeed. The real hurdle is the issue of border management for which honest and credible reciprocity by the US is needed. It is an irrefutable reality that more than 40% Afghan territory is under the occupation of the Afghan Taliban particularly the areas near Pakistan border. The TTP leadership is also based there and are sponsoring and carrying out acts of terrorism within Pakistan.
It is pertinent to point out that when Pakistan was contemplating to launch operation Zarb-e-Azb the US military commanders in Afghanistan and the Afghan government was notified about it with the request to make sure that the terrorist fleeing North Waziristan did not escape to Afghanistan. But unfortunately, the desired cooperation never came forth. Pakistan perforce had to initiate unilateral measures to manage the border, but it is simply not possible to monitor such a long porous border unless the US and the Afghan government also initiate matching and reciprocal actions.
Another point, which needs to be understood by the US, is that Haqqanis are Afghans and after the operation Zarb-e-Azb they have gone back to their territory. The terrorist attacks in Afghanistan are being executed from within the Afghan land and not by the Taliban allegedly living in safe havens in Pakistan. Until and unless the US duly acknowledges these realities no fruitful outcome could be expected in regards to ending the war in Afghanistan. The US also needs to revisit its approach for a military solution and the involvement of India in Afghanistan because it would neither be acceptable to the Afghan Taliban nor Pakistan. Another inescapable reality is that there can be no peace in Afghanistan without the cooperation of Pakistan. Nobody can change the geographical realities. Another thing that the US must understand is that Pakistan would be the actual beneficiary of peace in Afghanistan as peace in Pakistan is inextricably linked to it. Pakistan, therefore, would be the last country to wish continuation of strife in Afghanistan or support the Taliban for launching attacks within Afghanistan using its soil.
Pakistan has even asked the US to identify where, according to her, the alleged safe havens existed on its soil and it would take immediate action against them. While denying the existence of safe havens of the terrorist in Pakistan, the Pakistani leadership, according to reliable sources, also told the US Secretary of the State that if there were any remnants of the Taliban scattered around the country, Pakistan would push them out towards Afghanistan but not kill them. Pakistan and US can devise an efficient collective mechanism to deal with the situation and clearing the haze about the alleged existence of safe havens in Pakistan provided the US is sincere in the restoration of peace in Afghanistan.
I have however been persistently maintaining in my discourses on the issue that the US is hoodwinking the entire world about its intentions in Afghanistan. It wants the strife in Afghanistan to continue and foment instability in the region to realize its strategic interests as it has done in the Middle East. The emergence of IS in Afghanistan as ascribed to US patronage by none other than the former Afghan President Hamid Karzai cannot be dismissed lightly. Independent global sources also corroborate the US support for the Islamic State.
It is a known fact that the US was trying to prop up India as a counterbalance against the burgeoning Chinese influence in the region and beyond and sabotaging CPEC seems one of their objectives. The instability in Afghanistan and the continuation of terrorist acts within Pakistan can help in achieving that goal. The volatile situation in Afghanistan would also effectively prevent connectivity with the Central Asian States through the land as well as the implementation of TAPI and CASA-1000.
Under the circumstance, Pakistan must brace itself for the negative fallout from the US-Indian nexus. The best option available to Pakistan to neutralize and mitigate the impact of this unholy alliance is to reinforce its relations with the regional countries and seek their support in promoting peace in the region. The renewed effort to reach out to Iran and strengthen ties with her is a step in the right direction. China is already supportive of Pakistan efforts and a stakeholder in peace and implementation of CPEC, which makes them natural allies. SCO is yet another forum to be relied upon to enhance prospects of peace in the region and thwarting the conspiracies to destabilize it.