With India’s visibly anti-American membership of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) during the four decades Cold War era, its tilt towards Russia was well documented. Pakistan being allied with the US, India used NAM to subject us to scorn as a paid US lackey throughout the third world.
India is now enjoying the best of both worlds while Pakistan is suffering in both for its loyalty to the US, ironically even at the hands of the US. Our nuclear program was blissfully ignored by the US in the 80s because we were badly needed for the Afghan War against the Soviets. The collapse of the USSR in 1989 led to Pakistan being hit with the “Pressler Amendment” in 1990. The onset of the “War on Terror” in 2001 in Afghanistan found Pakistan back in favor, becoming a major “non-NATO ally” as a convenient staging platform. Afghanistan was seated at the NATO table in Warsaw, we can only listen from outside to Ashraf Ghani’s vitriolic diatribe against Pakistan.
The 35000 desertions annually and endemic corruption comprise only two of the many reasons why the Afghan Armed Forces cannot cope with the Taliban despite the US spending over a hundred billion US dollars to train, equip and pay them. Pakistan cannot be blamed for their failures. The winding down of US presence in Afghanistan by the end of 2016 was stopped by Obama because of the deteriorating situation. The 8,400 US personnel remaining will include about 1700 combat personnel for active support to the Afghan Forces. Citing lack of action against the Haqqani network and the incarceration of Dr. Shakil Afridi, the US Congress halted the financing of eight F-16 fighter jets to Pakistan, straining US-Pakistan relations. The US drone attack killing Mullah Mansour on Pakistani soil crossing from Iran to Afghanistan through a non-conflict zone in Nushki led to the collapse of peace talks with the Afghan Taliban. With such “trust deficit” Pakistan is expected to convince the next Taliban Chief to come to the negotiating table?
Unfortunately a rider was tagged onto the Senate Bill sanctioning US $800 million for Pakistan as reimbursement for the “war against terrorism” citing doubts about the Haqqani network and Dr Afridi. A US Congressional panel gathered last Tuesday to ask the outrageous question, whether Pakistan was “friend or foe”? Our many sacrifices and ready response to many US requirements over the years meant nothing. With Afghan-origin Zalmay Khalilzad counseling subjecting Pakistan to North Korea-type “isolation”, how could the Congressional panel avoid recommending stopping all aid to Pakistan? Barely escaping jail for tax evasion in 2014, US Ambassador (or Viceroy) is among those criminally responsible for most US woes during the Bush years in Iraq and Afghanistan, sponsoring frauds like the “Free Iraqis” led by former Gen Chalabi.
Despite India attempts to isolate Pakistan by infiltrating US policymaking circles, our relevance as a strategic pivot has not faded. A bipartisan US Congressional delegation led by Chairman Senate Armed Forces Chairman Senator John McCain recently made a potential game-changing visit to North Waziristan. According to the ISPR, “Having seen firsthand the erstwhile hideouts and communication infrastructure cleared of terrorists, the delegation was highly appreciative of Pak Army’s accomplishment of cleansing the entire area of North Waziristan right up to the Pak-Afghan border.” This visit will not give us a respite in our strained ties, US relations with Pakistan will continue to be need-based and transactional. Attempting to mend our stressed relationship, we must decrease dependance on the US.
The Chinese commercial presence in Gwadar and CPEC’s strategic alignment has been stoked up by India as a “military” threat to US interests in the Indian Ocean Region and the Persian Gulf. The CPEC force-multiplier potential will create a strong and economically vibrant Pakistan in an increasingly difficult geo-political environment. With India already having overwhelming conventional superiority, nuclear support for them would intensify the non-conventional arms race and lead to destabilization in South Asia as Pakistan’s strives to maintain both the conventional and nuclear balance.
The contract with “Locke Lord Strategies” having expired in 2013 Pakistan needs an effective lobbying firm in the US. Notwithstanding the outstanding Herculean efforts by our diplomats across the world, particularly in the US, without a full-time Foreign Minister Pakistan faces considerable diplomatic challenges. Special envoys (former senior diplomats) must be despatched around the world to support those engaging with in-country contacts. Our tremendous military successes, particularly against the Talibaan in North Waziristan, uprooting the base of the Haqqani network into Afghanistan, is glossed over. Pakistan is still blamed for not doing enough to target the terrorists. Hosting 3 million refugees, what recognition do we get for our sacrifice and effort? The Afghans’ blatant support for brutal terrorists like Mullah Fazlullah launching cross-border attacks must be taken note of by the US. The recent US drone strike taking out APS atrocity mastermind Umar Naray within Afghanistan must be commended, why not Mullah Fazlullah next? And what about the NDSI bigwigs involved?
Building of a gate at Torkham border to control the flow of people was strongly opposed by Afghanistan, duly supported by the PML (N) govt’s favourite ally, Mahmood Khan Achakzai. We have wasted time and our goodwill hoping Ashraf Ghani would be different, increasingly he has become a puppet on an Indian string. It is time we treat Afghanistan in the same manner that they treat us. We do not need them, they need us. We must welcome shifting of the Afghan transit trade to Chahbahar, starting now. Speeding up the return of refugees, Pakistan must imitate the EU in restricting access across its borders while engaging in capacity-building of our law enforcement agencies to confront the criminals embedded among Afghan refugees. Energy must not be at the cost of our self-respect, it is time to scrap TAPI.
The widespread indigenous uprising against Indian brutality in Kashmir, graphically documented in a recent Indian Supreme Court Judgment, must be treated with caution beyond moral support and condemnation at international forums. Incidentally, what message is the PML (N) govt sending by continuing to have Maulana Fazlur Rahman as Head of Parliament’s Kashmir Committee? There are other ways of keeping him happy than at the cost of Kashmiri blood!
Self-interest motivates most friendships and partnerships, particularly between nations. Failing to take pro-active foreign policy initiatives, what can one expect from a political leadership who are mostly in London and Dubai for Umrah, Eid or for other reasons at a time when the country is undergoing serious domestic and external challenges?
The writer is a defense and security analyst