The long awaited US strategy for Afghanistan has nothing surprising for Pakistan. US Senator John McCain announced “graduated diplomatic, military, and economic costs on Pakistan” if it continues to provide support and sanctuary to terrorist and insurgent groups, including the Taliban and Haqqani Network.
The strategy revealed last week was part of an amendment to the next fiscal year’s defence bill. It also includes providing additional US troops for counter-terrorism missions. Furthermore, it allows US advisors and commanders to work closer to the frontlines and enhances broader authority to target insurgents and militias. A report, Enhancing Security and Stability in Afghanistan, issued by the US Department of Defense, recognises Pakistan as the “most influential external actor affecting Afghan stability” and suggests using both carrot and stick to achieve its cooperation.
In addition to getting tough on Pakistan, the proposed strategy outlines the benefits of a long-term US-Pakistan strategic partnership that is dependent on Pakistan withdrawing any support to all terrorist and insurgent groups. The plan suggests a regional dialogue including Afghanistan, Pakistan, China, India and others to promote Afghan political reconciliation.
US security interests as expected are above everything else. Having said that, should the US policy architects not be worried about the costs of occupying a country and continuation of flawed strategies such asallowing corruption in aid as well as letting the drug trade flourish, by looking the other way? The US wants to prevent Afghanistan from turning into a sanctuary for ‘terrorists’ to plot and execute attacks against America and its allies. How can this be ensured when the US refuses to pull out thereby keeping the Taliban narrative alive?
Pakistan needs to be prepared to deal with a fast changing US approach to Afghanistan. In the worldview espoused by Washington, Pakistan is seen as the main reason for US failures in Afghanistan. While sanctioning Pakistan, argued vociferously by some quarters, is becoming a real possibility — it is unlikely that such an approach will yield the desired results. There will be some impact on Pakistan’s defence needs but the country’s drift towards China and to some extent Russia is being viewed by Islamabad as a shock absorber.
We urge the Pakistan government to involve the relevant parliamentary bodies in the review of our US policy. This should not be limited to the formulaic anti-American outbursts but a realistic policy debate on the stakes for Pakistan. There is no reason why Pakistan should let a decades-old relationship with a superpower slide. The US remains a large trading partner and the Pakistanis in America are a major source of remittances for the country. We also need to an honest discussion on the net advantage of our support to factions of Afghan Taliban. Our national interest must not be limited to strategic gains against India but finding ways to maximise economic ones through effective regional and global relationships. *
Published in Daily Times, August 13th 2017.