Look out, danger ahead

Interestingly, while the US considers it to be a worthwhile goal – it doubts being able to convince Pakistan to turn its back on proxy warfare

Look out, danger ahead


In Monday’s meeting with the visiting US National Security Adviser – the COAS, Gen Bajwa, strongly rejected allegations of employing proxies from inside Pakistan.

At least, so said the ISPR press release issued the following day.

There is, however, no official mention as to why the topic of proxies had been raised in the first place. Yet when it comes to top-level military or civilian exchanges of this kind – often only the salient points are made public while provided context is left unsaid.

Not that the US needs to spell out what it means by ‘Pakistani proxies’.

For its part, Pakistan has been relentless in denying the above. And the US has been equally relentless in refusing to believe us. It is all part of the ongoing saga that juxtaposes the national interests of each side.

Ask any American think tanker and they would likely come up with something along these lines: ‘the activities and operations of diverse terror groups on and from Pakistani soil, and the government’s failure to rein them in, threaten vital US national security interests which include stabilising Afghanistan, keeping the country from again turning into a global terrorist safe haven, and preventing the outbreak of an India-Pakistan military conflict that could potentially go nuclear.’

By contrast, asking any Pakistani foreign or defence official would elicit a response somewhat like this: ‘the blame for cross-border infiltration lies in the porous and unmanaged border from across the Durand Line, as well as in the perpetual pressure from India along the Line of Control – both of which makes it impossible for Pakistan to stabilise its Eastern and North Western borders.’

In the past some of our strategic miscalculations have brought us immense damage, globally, regionally and domestically. In order not to repeat these, it is imperative that our strategic thinkers and policymakers assess the efficacy of our current trajectory before pondering any definitive U-turns.

A good place to start would be to recognise the underlying threats issued, however well couched in diplomatic parlance, by the top American emissary for security, Lt Gen HR McMaster.

The long and short of which may be thus summarised as follows:

Firstly, the Trump administration’s primary policy objective is to make it increasingly costly for the Pakistani leadership to pursue a strategy of supporting proxies to achieve regional strategic goals.

Secondly, both US military and economic aid would be ‘reviewed’ unless Pakistan shows forward movement on ending covert support to the Afghan Taliban, the Haqqani network and the myriad India-focused militant groups, most notably Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Muhammad, which Pakistan describes as “freedom fighters”.

And in the event of no change to the status quo – Pakistan could expect several steps from the American side. First might well be the revoking of our Major Non-NATO ally status. Second, while working with its regional partners, most notably India, the US would have Pakistan isolated at the international level. Third, the US would manoeuvre to have Pakistan designated a state-sponsor of terrorism. All of this could quite easily take place against the possible backdrop of a US drone programme expanded to hit urban centres – or ‘safe havens’ – such as Quetta.

Linked to the above, the urgency of ending once and all support for the Afghan Taliban – in terms of letting the group’s leaders hold meetings on Pakistani soil as well as exporting arms and ammunition to the outfit’s field commanders in Afghanistan – was likely impressed upon Islamabad. In addition, it was also, perhaps, directed to invalidate all Pakistani documentation (including CNICs, passports and special passes) already issued to the Taliban to enable their safe passing through military check posts. And lastly, the US might have instructed Pakistan to seize all financial assets real estate holdings belonging to the Afghan Taliban, as well as those of the home-grown militant groups supporting them. And then would have come the question of a timeframe for Pakistani action.

The above appraisal is not based on official leaks from this latest round of dialogue exchange. Rather, it is based on extensive US media coverage, including think tank analyses, especially the briefing paper prepared by Lisa Curtis, formerly of The Heritage Foundation (A New US Approach to Pakistan: Enforcing aid conditions without cutting ties) published this February. An old hand at all things Indo-Pak related Curtis is now Senior Director for South Asia at the National Security Council. It was in this capacity that she attended Monday’s moot.

The US, according to the Curtis, is seemingly aware that decreased US military aid to Pakistan would prompt the country’s leadership to strengthen ties with traditional allies like China and Saudi Arabia, while also exploring a new partnership with Russia. Washington believes that these countries, nevertheless, share its objective of containing regional terrorism as well as de-escalating Indo-Pak hostilities. Meaning that all would ultimately choose co-operation with Washington. Curtis concludes that US policy should not be impacted by fears of being displaced from its traditional role vis-à-vis Pakistan. Interestingly, while the US considers it to be a worthwhile goal – it doubts being able to convince Pakistan to turn its back on proxy warfare. We have been warned.


The author is a senior journalist based in Islamabad. He served as the Executive Editor of Express Tribune until 2014