Published in Pakistan Observer:

Pakistan-US relations, no exit

The title of Daniel S. Markey’s book “No exit from Pakistan, America’s tortured relationship with Islamabad”, was published in 2004. It holds more true today than ever before. Pakistan in its 70 years’ relation with US has swung from being the most sanctioned ally to a non-NATO ally. Pak-US relations are hinged upon perpetual crisis management. Pakistan is now an anti US state, convinced by how fickle the engagement is, and also that it may get scuttled at any time.

The recently concluded visit by US congress men, led by Republican Senator John McCain also happened because of the realization in US, that the engagement must be consolidated, because Washington is gearing up to send more troops to neighboring Afghanistan.

Thus as per past practice, Senator McCain said all the right things including how peace in Afghanistan is not possible without Islamabad’s assistance. Pakistan is an important ally of the US, and last but not the least, acknowledged Pakistan army’s contribution and sacrifices in the War on Terror. To further appease public opinion in Pakistan a soft statement on Kashmir was also made, where McCain repeated words that mean nothing on the ground. Talking to the state run media, he said that US wants a solution of Kashmir issue through dialogue and that US policy on Kashmir remains unchanged, stressing the need for an end to the current unrest in disputed Himalayan region.

US itself is uncertain of its commitment to Pakistan. Trump’s phone calls to PM Nawaz Sharif when he was President elect, was very different from what he had tweeted post Osama Bin Laden’s episode. In that phone call, Pakistan was both amazing and fantastic. A course reversal happened in 2017, where Reuters reported that US administration is considering toughening its approach to Pakistan, which would translate into expanding drone attacks, with holding aid and with drawing the status of non-NATO ally, in an effort to make Islamabad do more. Drone attacks are back, so far on the Afghan side. Pakistan at best is unsure of its relations with the US. There is no one view coming out. Public diplomacy to berate Pakistan is extensively used and then statements to do damage control are also seen.

The recent convergence between New Delhi and Washington has further raised Pakistan’s strategic anxieties. The Indo-US alliance are promoting cold war like dynamics in the region including arms race, pitching one state against another and working to curtail Chinese influence in the region. The recent statement by Indian Defence Minister Arun Jaitley in response to Chinese anger on intrusions by India on the Sikkim border, is self-explanatory, where he said that India was better prepared than it was in 1962, when it suffered a defeat in a short war with its neighbor.

The attempt by the US to once again de-hyphenate Pakistan-India relations by saying, nature of US ties with India and Pakistan are different and not a zero-sum game, does not have any impact in Pakistan.

Pakistan is for good reason and now in the light of tangible evidence is convinced of India, using its strategic influence in Afghanistan against Pakistan. The fact that US is mum on India’s role in mitigating problems for Pakistan from Afghanistan does not help the situation.

US refusal to connect the dots between violence in Afghanistan and conflict between Pakistan and India suits both India and Afghanistan. The three conveniently blame Pakistan for regional conflict escalation. US is blinded by this view in its dealings with Pakistan. It is convinced that Pakistan is a lost cause. It’s a part of the problem and not a solution and chooses to engage out of sheer compulsion. This is further endorsed by a very active Indian lobby in Washington DC, which leaves no stone unturned to endorse this view.

Pakistan can see through the need-based engagement that US seeks from Pakistan time and again, it also engages now more out of compulsion than choice and responded by looking for alternatives and options. China and Russia emerged as the obvious choice.

Pakistan is a country to reckon with, it’s a pivotal state. Pakistan’s geo-strategic location, emerging geo-economic significance, gives it multi-lateral significance making it a country that has direct stakes in peace. By mid-century, Pakistan will become the world’s fourth largest state in terms of population and the largest Muslim country. There is a transformation that is going on in Pakistan. The transition from being a geo-political state to a geo-economic one is very real. The rising convergence between Pakistan and China is bringing about profound changes in Pakistan’s foreign policy. Pakistan’s commitment to CPEC is complete, the mindset of 1990 has ceased to exist. The strategic assets of the past are now viewed as a liability and a hindrance to achieving larger economic growth and connectivity.

Pakistan is actually looking for functional relations and peaceful borders with all its neighbors so that CPEC becomes operational. The doctrine of strategic depth in Afghanistan for Pakistan is dead. However, Pakistan remain anxious of the strategic vulnerability ensuing out of Afghanistan because of rising Indian influence, especially now that its proven that it is being used to mitigate trouble in Pakistan.

US engagement with Pakistan can only be constructive if US chooses to play a proactive role to address Pakistan’s anxieties which are real, also a balancing act with its relations with India and Pakistan, not de-hyphenate them. Peace in Afghanistan is intrinsically linked to better relations between Pakistan and India and a fair resolution of the Kashmir issue.