The US decision to withhold $50 million remaining in military reimbursements to Pakistan for fiscal year 2016 for not doing “enough to blunt the Islamist militant Haqqani network,” should not surprise any body. It conveys a plain fact; neither the on going nearly daily losses of the army and the police nor the counter-terrorism drive that has seen marked reduction in violence nor the battering the Pakistani economy has taken since the onset of the counter-terror war have convinced the US establishment of the intent. Nor does the June 2014 Operation Zarbe Azb, very much aligned with a longstanding US demand for action in North Waziristan, seem to have impacted Washington’s narrative on Pakistan.
The do-more-mantra has continued relentlessly and now narrowed down on the Haqqani Network and thus the latest decision to withhold the $50 million funds from 2016.
Based on the incessant and at times acrimonious pressure and disagreements on Afghanistan and India – and the alignment of these three countries’ position on Pakistan – one would tend to conclude that the partnership that began with the Operation Enduring Freedom in October 2001, eventually covered under the US Coalition Support Funds program has nearly run its course. Neither did major non-NATO ally status for Pakistan help change the primary US narrative on Pakistan’s efforts against terrorism.
While the US security establishment sticks to its old narrative, new factors also appear to have come into play that are making this narrative politically superfluous. It has outlived its utility for various reasons.
Firstly, the new regional realignment that separates the geopolitical Indo-Afghan-US alliance from that the one comprising China, Pakistan, Russia, Turkey and to a certain extent Iran. Both alliances still disagree on how to deal with the Taliban/Haqqani Network in the quest for peace talks in Afghanistan. For the former, the Taliban remain close to a terrorist outfit that doesn’t deserve any political consideration. For the latter i.e. China and others, Taliban represent a bulwark against the encroaching Daesh/ISIS, which they all consider as the instruments of destabilization.
Secondly, the Chinese strategic embrace of Pakistan is cementing into an undeniable reality. The fact that as many as 35 cargo ships have docked at Gwadar in the last year or so – albeit with cargo for construction in the free zone – underscore how the CPEC related initiatives are maturing – undeterred by the occasional violence in Balochistan.
Thirdly, no country foregoes its core strategic interests. Turkish Kurds, for instance, serve as the extension of the US interests in that region. But for the Turkish president Erdogan, the same Kurds are no less than terrorists out to destabilize Turkey.
Similarly, ISIS initially reportedly received unusual support from the US, Saudi Arabia and Turkey itself because they appeared to be the right force – tools – to oust the Syrian president Basharal Assad. Today, most countries loath the IS for its brutalities. But none has expressed any remorse for their initial support to them. Obviously, these countries did so in their own national interest. Can they expect other nations such as Pakistan – which has been embattled also because of the Soviet misadventure in Afghanistan and the US response thereof – to forego their strategic interests?
Fourth, the growing synergy of thought and action between China, Russia and Turkey has provided Pakistan with unusual confidence because they empathize with Islamabad’s current geo-political predicament.
Of course, Pakistan’s civil and military rulers have to fix internal challenges and address Russo-Chinese reservations on Islamist militant groups hiding here in and outside the border regions. This area is a soft belly and both Rawalpindi and Islamabad shall have to own this project and pursue it jointly to weed out terrorists and their extremist supporters within the society.
Lastly, the injection of several billion dollars into the Pakistani economy between 2014-2018 is likely to make a big difference to the socio-economic conditions here. Regardless of the controversies around this aid and irrespective of many western complaints on the Chinese way of doing business abroad, the China factors amounts to a big bail-out for Pakistan to the context of a) continued travel advisories by major western countries to their citizens, and b) reluctance and or refusal to invest in Pakistan.
In the medium to long term, the China factor will play a decisive role in determining Pakistan’s geo-political direction. It is likely to create jobs and add not only to the infrastructure but also increase productivity and build capacities.
That is why the annual security assistance will likely gradually lose its significance to Pakistan. It is about time, therefore, for Islamabad and Rawalpindi to thank Washington for this critical assistance since 2002 and also say goodbye to the Coalition Support Funds, which have occasionally been subject of controversy and accounting disagreements between the two military establishments, particularly since the Raymond Davis and Salala incidents in January and November 2011 respectively. It’s also about time to act like a self-respecting and confident nation which is ready to correct its own course as well as poised to address others’ concerns on issues such as terrorism, regional peace and cooperation.
The writer is Editor, Strategic Affairs, and also heads the independent Centre for Research and Security Studies, Islamabad and author of Pakistan: Pivot of Hizbu Tahrir’s Global Caliphate. Can be reached at Imtiaz@crss.pk