Pak-US relations at a crossroad

2018-08-20T23:13:00+05:00 Dr. Ashraf Ali

The US decision on barring Pakistani military officials from a training and educational program and slashing security funding to Pakistan by almost two-thirds under an amended defence budget has come as a major blow to the trust-building measures in the backdrop of a flimsy Pak-US relations since President Trump assumed the office in January 2017. Pakistan has also been removed from programs at the US Naval War College, Naval Staff College and courses including cyber security studies.

Meanwhile the joint congressional bill, urged the Trump administration to strengthen and enhance its major defence partnership with India, emphasising that such a partnership should enable strategic, operational and tactical coordination between the two strategic partners.

The moves aimed at compelling Pakistani authorities to crackdown on militants following criticism of its coalition partner’s failure to tackle terror groups thriving in its long porous border region with Afghanistan are dubbed as short sighted, myopic and uncalled for.

The gape was further widened by the US move to place Pakistan on the grey list of the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) in Paris moot in June this year.

More shocking, however; was US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s statement to warn the International Monetary Fund (IMF) saying the Trump administration will not allow it to lend US dollars to Pakistan for repaying China.

“There’s no rationale for IMF tax dollars — and associated with that, American dollars that are part of the IMF funding — for those to go to bail out Chinese bondholders or China itself,” said Pompeo in an interview with CNBC.

The statement came in the backdrop of Pakistan’s efforts to seek an IMF bailout package of up to $12 billion to strengthen its fragile economy.

Pakistan’s current account deficit stands at $14 billion, over 5 per cent of the GDP, while its foreign exchange reserves have dwindled to $9.6 billion. The country desperately needs 10-12 billion dollars for the fiscal year 2018-19. The proposed $12 billion package — double the $5.3bn the fund lent to the country in 2013, would be Pakistan’s largest bailout from the IMF.

The statement is seen as Washington’s apparent response to Beijing’s “One Belt, One Road” initiative, which includes the $62 billion CPEC package for rebuilding Pakistan’s decaying infrastructure and reviving its economy.

The bad taste between the two countries was created earlier with President Trumps January 1, tweet slamming Pakistan that, he said, rewarded US with nothing but ‘lies and deceit’ against billions of dollars that was paid to Pakistan in the past.

The US increasing inclination towards India at the cost of isolating Pakistan is seen by many as an irrational approach on the part of US political managers.

Annoying an important ally at a time when the US government is directly reaching out to the Afghan based Taliban in an effort to seek a negotiated settlement to the 17 years long war and have a graceful exit, really makes no good sense. The US-Taliban first face-to-face meeting made headway when the head of US state department’s South Asia Bureau; Ms. Alice Wells met with the Doha based Taliban officials on 23rd of July. The next round of talks is likely to be held sometime next month.

In short term, the US has increased its efforts to negotiate a permanent truce with the Taliban following a short-lived but successful cease-fire agreement between the Afghan government and Taliban on the eve of Eid Ul Fitr in June this year.

Pakistan, being a US ally in the war on terror, suffered a lot both in terms of men and material. As against the 33 billion dollars, the country’s material damages have gone over 120 billion dollars. During this period, the country saw one of the huge mass displacements in its 70 years long political history due to the militancy and subsequent military operations. After flushing out militants from the troubled area, the region was finally merged with Khyber Pakhtunkhwa to bring it into the mainstream. Beside socio-economic, judicial and political reforms in the erstwhile FATA, the government took concrete steps for border management. Pakistan has, so far, completed fencing over 300 kilometers of the long 2500-kilometer porous border besides establishing 1,126 posts along the border compared to only 145 by Afghanistan.

The new political leadership in Pakistan is committed to making peace in Afghanistan. The Prime Minister Imran Khan in a telephone conversation with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani said he was looking forward to working together with Afghanistan on how to build peace in the troubled region.

Caught between the devil and the deep sea – the Afghan Taliban and the Islamic State group, the Afghan forces are fighting on multiple fronts. The Taliban’s recent assault for control of Ghazni left over hundred Afghan forces beside scores of civilians dead and injured. The rising militant attacks by IS on government installation is another challenge.

A recent report by UN sanctions monitors estimate that beside 20,000 – 30,000 fighters of the militant Islamic State group in Iraq and Syria, some 3000 -4000 jihadists were still based in Libya. The report adds some of the key operatives in the extremist group were being relocated to Afghanistan after the jihadist group’s defeat and a halt to the flow of fighters joining its ranks in Iraq and Syria. The group’s bloody activities in eastern and northern Afghanistan in the recent past have been a great challenge for the Ashraf Ghani led unity government.

To defeat our common enemy – terrorism, all the stakeholders and regional actors including US need to put an end to the years long blame game. Instead, they should join their forces to launch coordinated efforts for curbing the menace of terrorism to provide the war-hit people of the region a chance to live in peace.

 

The writer is a freelance journalist.

khan45@gmail.com

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