The Pakistan-US relationship is unique in many aspects. This unfortunate relationship has always been an interesting subject due to a complex nature of it, i.e. mostly crises-driven. In the past, major world crises brought the two states, one a sole superpower and other a state from the global South, together. The result is in front of us all, i.e. deep mistrust.
The sacrifices Pakistan has made in recent years against terrorism and extremism to go under-appreciated in the US. So, President Trump’s August 21, 2017 speech and social media tirade against Pakistan should not be seen in isolation as bilateral relations between the two has often spun around engagement and estrangement, resulting into lack of strategic symphony.
The only constant one would find is the blame game and fluctuation in the mutual relationship. The dilemma for Pakistan gets multiplied day by day as “do more” shadow is not prepared to leave the country even under Trump. How could a sole superpower expect Pakistan to do all as per its long wish list? Under Trump, Afghanistan has become the dominant determinant of Pak-US relations. The US’ desire of getting Afghan imbroglio fixed by Pakistan seems unrealistic as Pakistan and America possess different state capabilities and the onus should be on the US. Inter-state relationships are neither a zero-sum game nor dictated from one side for its exclusive gains. Never is influence over policy, or policies, one-way traffic.
In retrospect, Trumps’ August 2017 speech was more on US soldiers’ contributions and sacrifices than South Asia in fact. Right from the beginning, the Trump administration believes in burden sharing and money bill so Indian economy suits the US to be used in Afghanistan. In the speech, Trump had said: “India makes billions of dollars in trade with the United States, and we want them to help us more with Afghanistan, especially in the area of economic assistance and development.” Trump’s hardline approach has implications for not only Pakistan-India future relationship but also it would further determine Indo-China equation. There is an already misplaced and untrue apprehension in the US circles that China would move in to fill the gap if Trump administration cuts all channels with Pakistan. The fact is and the history is witness to it that Pak-China relationship is so deep-rooted that it does not need any ventilator to survive. There is hardly any gap between Pakistan and China that could be filled if the US says the complete goodbye to Pakistan.
The US cannot afford to lose Pakistan due to many reasons, especially the Afghan crisis. At present, the main source of irritant between the US and Pakistan is the Afghan conundrum. Though both states believe in peaceful Afghanistan they differ on the operational side, i.e. modus operandi of the conflict. Also, as far as South Asia is concerned, it is still characterized by a variety of security challenges ranging from territorial disputes, religious terrorisms to left-wing extremism and the threat of a major war that might turn into accidental nuclear warfare, etc.
The regional security is still fragile, as agreed by many analysts, especially with regard to relations between the two nuclear powers i.e., Pakistan and India. And according to some policy analysts, the US has a vital interest in the regional stability only if the US handles the affairs pragmatically. So, any new US approach to South Asian regional security should not ignore this paradigm. But in the recent years, it has been witnessed that America’s tilt towards India and efforts to re-design the Asia Pacific security order (especially to check China) would hardly serve its interests in particular and the interests of other regional states in general.
There is no denying the fact that Pakistan values its relationship with the US. Pakistan still expects to see greater US understanding of Pakistan’s security and strategic concerns. Today, of much more prominent concern is the vital quadrilateral relationship or equation in South Asia including China, India, the US, and Pakistan. Since it has both regional and wider ramifications, Pakistan should not lose hold of strategic patience and try to diversify its approach in dealing with the US. Also, Pakistan needs to ponder more on why its counter-terror efforts, successes, and sacrifices have not been able to impact the US discourse.
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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Khalid Chandio is Research Fellow at Islamabad Policy Research Institute (IPRI), Pakistan. His areas of research include (i) US foreign and defence policy and (ii) internal dynamics of the US/domestic politics (Lobbies in the US). Khalid regularly contributes articles on current strategic issues in English dailies of Pakistan. He achieved award/certificate of “NESA ALUMNUS” by Near East South Asia (NESA) Center for Strategic Studies, National Defense University (NDU), Washington, D.C., US.