Marred by continuing mistrust and mutual suspicion, the strategically dysfunctional and transactional-natured Pakistan-US relations are unfortunately driven by compulsions and forced compromises, thus rifting the public posturing and private dialogues besides undercutting the durability and maturity of the ties at this critical juncture.
While both sides are cognizant of the sharp downturn in their ties and acknowledge the need to smoothen the relationship but the new US administration does not seem to find a way to bring Pakistan to an even keel. Relations between both the countries have continued to fray since the new US administration came into power.
Cooperation coupled with some convergence of interests is bound to be overshadowed by the ever-growing complex divergences in other areas of the relationship, characteristically featured by the pay-for-performance criteria. One of the major points of contention at present is counter-terrorism and counter-insurgency in Afghanistan and how both countries differ in approach vis-à-vis the future of the war-ravaged country, especially over the question as for whose actors and players would be included in the ‘end game.’
Pakistan-US ties hit rock bottom after a new year by President Donald Trump that accused Pakistan of ‘lying and deceit’ and providing safe havens to terrorists despite taking over US $33 billion in aid. Consequently, the US placed Pakistan on ‘Special Watch List’ allegedly for violations of religious freedom and suspended at least US $900 million in security assistance to Pakistan. Suspension of the US assistance will not only impact bilateral security cooperation and regional peace efforts and but also may sour Pakistan’s ties with international financial intuitions and could throw a spanner into the much-needed foreign inflows. It seems the US may influence the various multilateral agencies involving the International Monetary Fund (IMF), World Bank and Asian Development Bank to close or limit their financial pledges to Pakistan.
It is also assumed that the Trump administration may approve more drastic measures to punish Islamabad as also witnessed in the former US ambassador to Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad’s suggestions urging Washington to end Pakistan’s double games by sanctioning the Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency, undertaking unilateral US military strikes in Pakistan’s territory, designating Pakistan as a state sponsoring terrorism, suspending US’s economic assistance to Pakistan, and together with Afghanistan and India, the US should hold Islamabad accountable to regional and international organizations. In this cloudy horizon a multimillion-dollar question continually remains unanswered: is Pakistan still struggling to cope up with the consequences of the US policies in the region? The latter’s policies are to be blamed for radicalization, the proliferation of weapons and drugs, terrorism, extremism, and poverty in the region.
In light of the foregoing, the political spectrum of Pakistan condemned the Trump administration. The government of Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi protested with the logical justification that the US payments had been reimbursed to Pakistan merely to meet up the expenses incurred in supporting the war against terrorism. Consequently, the National Security Committee (NSC) of Pakistan expressed ‘disappointment’ over the statement, but said the country would not act in haste and Pakistan’s permanent representative to the United Nations Maleeha Lodhi categorically responded by saying “the US should not shift the blame for its own mistakes and failures onto others.”
Besides, the reaction of Pakistan army is visible in its statement that “Pakistan would respond to any the US action in line with the aspirations of the people. It has taken action against the Haqqani network and the effects will be visible in due course of time.” Even friends of Pakistan like China, Russia, and Turkey, etc. have overtly defended the country. For instance, Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said “Pakistan has made enormous efforts, sacrifice and outstanding contribution to the global cause of counter-terrorism on the basis of mutual respect so as to contribute to regional peace and stability.
Nailing the malicious assertions of the US President, Pakistan explicitly argued that it never betrays the US and always insisted that its fight against terrorism is without any pick-and-choose. Profoundly, the US administration has been playing unfair with Pakistan. Whereas, General David Petraeus, former CIA director and commander of US troops in Afghanistan, has already cleared the dust while saying “there is no evidence of Pakistan playing a double game and supporting terrorists in Afghanistan.” Besides, the former US ambassador to Pakistan Cameron Munter had also acknowledged the fact that “Pakistan was even unaware that al Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden was residing in Abbottabad but the incident deepened mistrust between Islamabad and Washington.”
In truth, Trump has tried to give a negative angle to Coalition Support Fund (CSF) to divert the attention of the American people and particularly his opponents from Russian leaks and to advance his geopolitical agenda in South Asia. By discrediting Pakistan, it actually appears that the US wants to pave its way for some kind of adverse action against Pakistan to destabilise this region including China to push the world nearer to third world war. Such irresponsible statements are certainly neither in the favour of America and its people and nor will it strengthen allies’ efforts against terrorism.
In fact, relations of both countries are greatly affected by one reality and one myth. For Pakistan, the reality is that America uses Pakistan when it needs and abandons afterward. It remains a myth for the US that Pakistan would not be a reliable partner despite getting billions of dollars in aid, both military and civilian. With different objectives but common goals, both the US and Pakistan are fighting terrorism and militancy. Washington should realise that the misunderstandings between Pakistan and the US could negatively affect the security situation in the region, particularly in Afghanistan where the US cannot afford to walk away from Pakistan.
Certainly, it is imperative to maintain relations with the US. The breakthrough is possible only if the US genuinely own the responsibility of making Pakistan stable and prosperous not by the currently demonstrated dualistic yardstick of driving client-patron relationship on suspicions, doubts, and pay-for-performance basis, but by bona fide spirit aimed at enhancing the well-being of the terrorism-affected poverty-stricken multitudes of Pakistan, in particular, and the region, in general. Both the countries have expectations from each other and they should maintain good relations for achieving the common targets against terrorism. The way forward lies in how does the US make compromises in its South Asia policy and Pakistan show flexibility within that policy?
DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy and position of Regional Rapport.
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Muhammad Nawaz Khan is Research Officer at Islamabad Policy Research Institute (IPRI), Islamabad. His areas of research include Russian foreign and defense policy with special focus on Pakistan, Counter-Radicalization, and Afghanistan.