History repeats itself so rapidly as after 90’s behavior of threats, allegations, and pressure, One and a half decade long Pakistan – US romance again becomes nearly obsolete. India got the slot as a strategic ally and regional partner including a player in Afghan issue while Afghanistan turns out to be benefited on the case to case basis – this is the US President Donald Trump’s Afghan-South Asia policy, unveils on August 21st, 2017 – a security based initiative by ignoring majority of diplomatic options.
The US has invaded Afghanistan on October 7th, 2001 soon after 9/11 attacks. After nearly 17 years of the military campaign, Washington received nothing but a clear defeat. The US campaign badly botched as a triumph in Afghanistan is nearly impossible for several warriors, the only war was evidently victorious at the land of war lords.
According to initial outcomes of policy outlines, without the victory, President Trump looks more frustrated than the American people at large, announced sending nearly 4,000 new troops, supplementing the total of 8,400 in Afghanistan now. Trump has given direct threats to Pakistan, despite huge sacrifices of 70 thousand valuable innocent citizens including thousands of military men and more than $120 billion of economic losses.
Anatomy of Trump Speech:
President Trump [unfortunately] made Pakistan the escape goat “the past” and associated Islamabad, with “safe heavens”, “foreign terrorists and criminals”, “agents of chaos”, “dangers of its nuclear weapons”, “dollar hungry”, threaten with expressions “attack we will”, shown US strength with more investments “nuclear arsenal and missile defense” while“appreciated” Indian role in Afghanistan with having “shared goal” during remarks on policy for Afghanistan and South Asia at Fort Myer, Arlington, Virginia.
Some of the key facts of Trump speech are, [he said]:
  1. “Today, 20 U.S.-designated and the highest number of foreign terrorist organizations are active in Afghanistan and Pakistan”.
  2. “Pakistan often gives safe haven to agents of chaos, violence, and terror”.
  3. “We must stop the resurgence of safe havens that enable terrorists to threaten America, and we must prevent nuclear weapons and materials from coming into the hands of terrorists and being used against us, or anywhere in the world for that matter”.
  4. “We can no longer be silent about Pakistan’s safe havens for terrorist organizations”.
  5. “It [Pakistan] has much to lose by continuing to harbor criminals and terrorists”.
  6. “In the “past”, Pakistan has been a valued partner.  Our militaries have worked together against common enemies”.
  7. “We have been paying Pakistan billions and billions of dollars at the same time they are housing the very terrorists that we are fighting. But that will have to change, and that will change immediately”.
  8. “[In the context of Afghanistan, he said] we are not nation-building again.  We are killing terrorists.
  9. “Afghans will secure and build their own nation and define their own future”.
  10. “Our commitment is not unlimited, and our support is not a blank check.  The government of Afghanistan must carry their share of the military, political, and economic burden”.
  11. “Preventing the Taliban from taking over Afghanistan”.
  12. “We appreciate India’s important contributions to stability in Afghanistan. We are committed to pursuing our shared objectives for peace and security in South Asia and the broader Indo-Pacific region”.
  13. “Under my administration, many billions of dollars more is being spent on our military.  And this includes vast amounts being spent on our nuclear arsenal and missile defense”.
  14. “These killers need to know they have nowhere to hide; that no place is beyond the reach of American might and Americans arms.  Retribution will be fast and powerful”.
US Threats to Pakistan:
Though the US has not unveiled the full spectrum of her regional policy even through Trump’s speech, it seems regional situation is heading towards ultimate danger as the US is also going to keep the secrecy of military options and attack at will, [where ever and whenever required] policy. Although, entire Trump’s speech was full of threatening remarks particularly against Pakistan some specific parts are more imperative for immediate attention.
President Trump threatens Pakistan by saying, “It’s counterproductive for the United States to announce in advance the dates we intend to begin, or end, military options”. He further elaborated, “America’s enemies must never know our plans or believe they can wait us out. I will not say when we are going to attack, but attack we will”. On August 22nd, during a press briefing at state department, US Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson’s comment was very suspicious and notable, in which he said, “We stand ready to help Pakistan address terrorist organizations inside of their country”and asserts, “but they [Pakistan] must – they must adopt a different approach themselves”.
Analysts translate Rex statement in Indian historical context of blaming Pakistan on “terrorist training camps” [in the backdrop of indigenous Kashmir movement] or again pointing-out to the same US allegations of the presence of “Haqqani Network”, “Peshawar” or “Quetta Shura” at Pakistani soil.
Rex agreed on severe crevices in Pak-US bilateral relations, and cautioned Pakistan about “conditions-based diplomacy” and said, “There’s been erosion in trust [between Pakistan and US]” while on conditions he reiterated that “We are going to be conditioning our support for Pakistan and our relationship with delivering results”. Means, US warned Pakistan in between the lines that it could attack [inside or at border areas] anywhere – an alarming situation, what it could represent, whether initiation of drone strikes without prior intimation or clandestine operations at Pakistani soil, there might be some other aspects of economic sanctions or dropping of non-NATO ally status etc. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson warned [Pakistan that], “We are going to attack terrorists wherever they live, and we have put people on notice that if you are harboring and providing safe haven to terrorists, be warned”.
Now the question is if the US attacks inside Pakistan in search of safe heavens, could it also be possible that Pakistan would do the same inside Afghanistan to destroy terrorist’s hideouts and safe heavens there – possibly a dangerous precedent to set if executed by the US. In continuation of the US allegations, one after the other – General John Nicholson, the top United States commander in Afghanistan, claimed on Saturday 26th, 2017 – that the US was mindful of Afghan Taliban leadership’s existence in Pakistan, adding that the military would continue to put pressure on Taliban sanctuaries inside and outside Afghanistan.
In an interview with Afghan Channel Tolo News, the US commander said “The Quetta shura, Peshawar shura — these shuras are identified by cities inside Pakistan; we know Afghan Taliban leaders are in these areas,” said Gen Nicholson. “Support for terrorists and insurgents have to be reduced — [it] has to be stopped.” Washington in less than a week’s time put severe allegations on Pakistan and made it very clear that new blocks or alliances are in making and India is a new US partner in South Asia rather Pakistan, so Islamabad made up her mind, how to bear pressure from White House, Pentagon, and State Department.
Intra-Extra-Regional Reaction:
There was a mixed reaction from the region including Afghanistan, Russia, India, UK, and others welcomed Trump’s move while China, Iran openly rejected the US policy and supported Pakistan’s stance. According to Al-Jazeera, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani welcomed Trump’s move to commit thousands of more troops to the war as Taliban militants vowed to make the country a “graveyard” for US forces.
Ghani, speaking to troops in southern Kandahar, the birthplace of the Taliban, said Trump’s first formal address as commander-in-chief showed that America was “with us, without any time limit”. “You cannot win this war,” Ghani told the Taliban, calling on them to join talks and saying his country wants peace with Pakistan.
Interestingly, former Afghan President Hamid Karzai termed it against peace and core national interest of Afghanistan while it was obvious that Afghan Taliban completely rejected Trump’s policy and called it “wastage” of US soldier’s lives. Afghanistan’s chief executive, Abdullah Abdullah said in a news conference that the U.S. strategy marks a unique opportunity to ultimately achieve peaceful objectives in the region. “The regional aspect of this strategy is very clear,” he said. “It shows that the problem was very well identified.”
US-Allies including North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), United Kingdom (UK) and India welcomed “condition-based approach” and pledge to increase its presence in the troubled region. India was one step forward in blaming Pakistan for her rhetoric regarding “offering safe havens” to armed groups and “sending insurgents” to Indian occupied Kashmir (IoK). In a statement issued by India’s Ministry of External Affairs said, “We welcome President Trump’s determination to enhance efforts to overcome the challenges facing Afghanistan and confronting issues of safe havens and other forms of cross-border support enjoyed by terrorists” and without mentioning Pakistan, the ministry added, “India shares these concerns and objectives [with the US].”
China State Councillor Yang Jiechi told Tillerson Wednesday that “we should attach importance to the important role that Pakistan plays in the Afghanistan issue, respect (Pakistan’s) sovereignty and legitimate security concerns,” according to a foreign ministry statement. Beijing has defended its South Asian neighbor this week, with foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying praising Pakistan on Tuesday for making “great sacrifices and contributions to fighting terrorism”.
Soon after Trump’s remarks, China again steps forward and came for Pakistan’s real time support. Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying’s in her press conference criticized US policy and asked the world to acknowledge Pakistan’s efforts in countering terrorism. She said, “Pakistan is at the forefront of the counter-terrorism efforts, made positive efforts and great sacrifices for combating terrorism and made important contributions to upholding world peace and regional stability”, she stressed upon international community, “We believe that the international community should fully recognize the efforts made by Pakistan in fighting terrorism”.
On recent policy, US Secretary of state’s was not limited to Pakistan, India, and Afghanistan as Trump did in his remarks but Rex Reservations on Russian role in re-arming Afghan Taliban was also evident. “Russian supply of arms to Afghan Taliban is a violation, of international norms and it’s a violation of UN Security Council norms. We certainly would object to that and call Russia’s attention to that. If anyone is going to supply arms, it needs to be through the Afghan Government”.
On the other hand, Russia thinks Trump’s strategy will not be beneficial. Russian Presidential Envoy to Afghanistan Zamir Kabulov derided Trump’s Pakistan strategy and insisted that Islamabad is “a key regional player to negotiate with.” “Putting pressure [on Pakistan] may seriously destabilize the region-wide security situation and result in negative consequences for Afghanistan,” the Russian presidential envoy to Kabul said.
Recent history suggests that during Obama administration, Afghan strategy was to clear, hold, and build, now Trump’s [completely opposite] policy, means – you clear, you hold, and we would never build and compelled India to invest more in Afghanistan. It literally means free-hand to India, war lords, Afghan [along with Indian] intelligence in the region especially towards Pakistan etc. It looks that after Washington’s initiative, no one finds [in Afghanistan] real time good governance efforts, counter-narcotics determinations, the compulsory education program and peaceful settlement Afghan issue, which ultimately create more chaos in the region.
Pakistan’s Response:
Following Trump’s speech, US statements and briefings since August 21st, 2017 – relations between Islamabad and Washington have become abruptly tense. Foreign Minister Khawaja Asif postponed his visit to the US while Pakistan also refused to accept visit of Acting US Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan Alice Wells scheduled trip [on 28th August] to Pakistan.
According to US Embassy spokesman, Rick Sinelsire, “The trip was postponed at the request of the Government of Pakistan”. US Ambassador to Pakistan, David Hale held separate meetings with Foreign Minister Khawaja Asif and Chief of Army Staff General Qamar Javed Bajwa to brief them on the new policy.
Pakistan’s foreign office was initially mum and then responded on August 22nd, 2017 – but in a traditional way and termed the US policy statement as“disappointing” – the only word, which has some sense while Army was the first institution to have a stringent response. During a meeting with Ambassador Hale, Pakistan’s Army Chief General Bajwa was prompt and clear, as he said: “We are not looking for any material or financial assistance from the US, but trust, understanding and [an] acknowledgment of our contributions”. There was no Premier level statement at Trump’s malicious remarks, instead, Khaqan Abbasi flew to the Saudi Kingdom to perform Umra but afterward in a cabinet meeting, it was decided to convene National Security Committee (NSC) on August 24th, 2017.
NSC out rightly rejected the US “specific” allegations, “scapegoating Pakistan” and also “rejected claims of billions of dollars of aid”, “US used Pakistan’s ground facilities and air corridors [without extending any penny]”, “stresses recognition of sacrifices”, cautioned that “no Afghan war on Pakistan’s soil”, demanded “destruction of terrorists hideouts and safe havens on Afghan soil”, stresses that there is “no military solution to Afghan crises but to have dialogues”, also indicated “return of Afghan refugees” and stated clearly “India cannot be a net security provider in South Asia” while rebuffing all allegations on nuclear program and said “Pakistan has in place a robust and credible command and control system”.
Senate, the upper house of the parliament, also rejected US targeting Pakistan, in its policy guidelines and in its immediate steps suggested, summoning of US Ambassador and informing him Pakistan concerns [about Washington’s policy towards the region]. Foreign Minister’s postponement of US visit appreciated, suggested in terms of national narrative, a national policy paper be designed, formulate media coordination committee and the establishment of the permanent inter-ministerial task force. Through Ministry of foreign affairs a regional diplomatic initiative and initiation of parliamentary diplomacy and a strong voice in United Nations General Assembly session 2017, formulation of South Asian policy, supported border fencing with Afghanistan.
Senate says no to India as net security provider in South Asia, urged of presenting dossiers of Indian state sponsored terrorism in Pakistan and Kashmir, cautioned the US on using military might as it would be a source of destabilization for Pakistan and in the region, stressed resolving Afghan refugee issue and suggested to minimize trust deficit with Afghanistan, end blame game, handing over of terrorists taken refuge at Afghan territory and a similar, reciprocal initiative by Pakistan while welcomed formation of Pak-Afghan Army Working Group.
Regarding immediate measures, upper house suggested calling an urgent meeting of the parliamentary committee on National Security, a joint session of the Parliament for a national strategy, an immediate meeting of Pakistan envoys abroad and a comprehensive briefing to all foreign diplomat stationed in Islamabad. Other than the suggestions formulated by the upper house, the national assembly also unanimously passed a resolution condemning the US policy and out rightly rejected allegations leveled against Pakistan. Resolution compels the government to consider suspension [or blockade] of cooperation with the US [including NATO] particularly the provision of Ground/Air Lines of Communication (GLOCs/ALOCs) through Pakistan.
It also asserts concerns on growing influence of ISIS (Dae’sh) in Afghanistan and stressed upon Afghanistan, the US and its allies to close their borders to leaders of terrorists/militant groups carrying out acts of terrorism against Pakistan and deny India the use of Afghan soil for terrorism against Pakistan.
Though, aforementioned measures will be supplemented by annual envoys conference [5-7 September 2017] in Islamabad and visits of Foreign Minister Khawaja Asif to China, Turkey, Russia and possibly Iran. After these deliberations, Pakistan’s final policy towards the US and Afghanistan will be finally unveiled but Islamabad’s general reaction was somehow better than the past.
Way forward for Pakistan and region:
Pakistan after long cooperation, economic meltdown, destruction of the social fabric and political uncertainty, nearly 70 thousand human sacrifices including military men and material losses, facing the same decade old accusations and finally, the US has again taken 90’s U-turn.
Trump has given no indication of Afghan refugee’s repatriation from Pakistan and Iran. The policy is completely silent on targeting Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and Jammat-ul-Ahrar (JuA) terrorists hiding in safe havens on Afghan soil, the main factor behind terrorism in Pakistan. No sign of settling the Afghan issue politically and serious negotiations with [Afghan] Taliban and revival of Pakistan-Afghanistan-US-China based Quadrilateral Coordination Group (QCG). US has totally ignored Indian involvement in back stabbing Pakistan from Afghan soil i.e. Indian clandestine plans, Research and Analysis Wing (RAW)’s covert terrorist activities from Afghanistan, Khulbhushan network and the nexus between Afghan National Directorate of Security (NDS) and RAW etc. The US never took it seriously in its regional policy either, primarily because of Indo-US strategic partnership or Washington intend to blackmail Pakistan through such tactics or it’s a part of China containment policy.
Pakistan pertaining to the natural instinct of being a most resilient nation in the world, somewhat considerable military capabilities, nuclear power, missile technology, though a fragile economy but not entirely or exclusively dependent on US markets, strong bonds with Beijing, and increasing engagement with Russia, could mean a lot but still.
The US possible economic sanctions on Pakistan will not be much helpful; stripping off the ceremonial status of being non-NATO ally would also be not worth selling. Translating Trump’s statement give us an overview that the US bringing Afghan war closer to or inside Pakistani borders and that could be disastrous, any covert operation or pre-emptive drone strikes would lead Pakistan-US direct confrontation. In that case, Afghan issue would vanish from the scene or situation get more worst inside Afghanistan, as aforementioned circumstances would spread already initiated regional proxy wars and that will not be acceptable for China and Russia, in a situation, where both Asian giants intend a fully stabilize region and make One-Belt, One-Road (OBOR) and Eurasian Economic Union (EEU) aspect would be at stake. Pakistan has the options of partially or completely block the NATO/US supply route to Afghanistan and it will cost a lot to Washington as they will have to send their 4000 troops to Afghanistan, using the same route for their supplies.
In reality, US has dynamic diplomats and think tanks, who might suggest refraining from using aforementioned options against Pakistan but a man like Trump could do anything. Right now, US warning means, Pakistan has to prepare for the worst – diplomatically, politically, economically and militarily. But besides the military, Pakistan’s political, diplomatic leadership, and economic condition tells otherwise, which should be taken into consideration on war footings, Islamabad has to think, what should be their priority in the international political arena and how, to grow the economy, with considerable priorities at the diplomatic level.
After US administration back to back interventions on policy aspects, now it’s very much clear that red-lines drawn regarding bilateral relations and Pakistan will no more be able to enjoy post 9/11 status as US interests are now India centric. Strained relations or confrontations with the US, is not entirely in favor of Pakistan, its high time to deal things diplomatically and try to openly convey limits, reservations and policy decisions to save core national interests. Here again, Islamabad’s regional engagement with Beijing, Moscow, and Tehran will ultimately pave the way forward and apparently, it seems that India’s hopes to isolate Pakistan, is now reversing, and India itself is nearly going to be isolated in the region.
Trump’s policy has also paved the way for regional players to contribute towards Afghan issue and set short term targets to achieve peace and eradicate terrorism as a mutual concern. Pakistan’s foreign secretary Tehmina Janjua’s recent visit to Beijing was imperative in a sense that Pakistan and China emphasized on the trilateral mechanism for Afghan reconciliation rather solely focusing only on QCG.
Just recently [Pakistan, China, Afghanistan and Tajikistan] signed cooperative mechanism at the Quadrilateral Counter-terrorism Coordination Mechanism (QCCM) in meeting in Dushanbe, an agreement of forming Pak-Afghan bilateral joint working group of the two armies while Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) and other forums will help to resolve Afghan crises at earliest and help in getting a regional solution to a regional problem and Pakistan is an imperative player in resolving the Afghan issue.
DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy and position of Regional Rapport.
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Faisal Raza Khan, a senior journalist, famous for his research based innovative work, while Foreign policy, defence, strategic issues and climate change are his main areas of interest.