Walking a tightrope

The issue is not to react in a harsh manner to Trump’s humiliating tweet and subsequent US measures against Pakistan but how to retain self-esteem and respect of the country which has been repeatedly eroded since the last several years on total lack of American trust on Islamabad

Never in the post-1971 history of Pakistan, has the country encountered such a grave crisis as today. It is not only the humiliating and threatening tweet of the US President Donald Trump blaming Pakistan of sponsoring acts of terror against the US forces in Afghanistan and serious domestic political schism which tends to put Pakistan under severe pressure, the overall situation on the ground seems to be quite disturbing. Certainly, Trump’s tweet was a New Year gift for Pakistan but with far reaching ramifications.

Under the prevailing situation Pakistan is facing regional isolation following the hostile posture of Afghanistan, Bangladesh and India. Following the overt US threats of facing serious consequences if Islamabad fails to take action against what it calls ‘safe heavens’ of terrorist groups, Pakistan is walking on a tight rope. Suspending security ties and military aid to Pakistan by the United States is nothing new and has happened before several times since the September 1965 Indo-Pakistan war. But what is alarming is the manner in which Pakistan is being coerced by the US, India and Afghanistan.

How Pakistan can overcome its prevailing predicament following the January 1 act of the US President Donald Trump? How walking on a tight rope is a challenge and also an opportunity for Pakistan? What will be the implications of rupture in Pak-US ties and how Pakistan can cope with the prevailing crisis in its relations with Washington?

Only China and Turkey have supported Pakistan in the wake of steps taken by Trump administration since January 1. Whereas, there is utter silence and indifference on the part of Saudi Arabia, an American allay. The Afghan Foreign Ministry has welcomed Trump’s measures against Pakistan whereas Indian reaction is not difficult to gauge.

Only China and Turkey have supported Pakistan in the wake of steps taken by Trump administration since January 1. Whereas, there is utter silence and indifference on the part of Saudi Arabia, an American allay. The Afghan Foreign Ministry has welcomed Trump’s measures against Pakistan whereas Indian reaction is not difficult to gauge

Three major realities should be taken into account as far as Pakistan walking on a tight rope is concerned. First, it will not be easy for Pakistan to detach itself from the United States because of its age old economic and military dependence on Washington. It is not only the question of coalition support fund and 1.5 billion dollars of economic and military aid which has been suspended but American clout on major international lending agencies like the World Bank, Asian Development Bank and International Monetary Fund.

Since the end of the Second World War when these financial institutions were established till today, Washington possesses significant influence and its support to Pakistan for a bailout package and granting loans has been a fundamental reality. It is estimated that if there is total rupture in Pak-US relations, an amount of 10 $ billion dollars will be at stake which is around 25 percent of Pakistan’s federal budget. In case of US opposition, it will also be difficult for Pakistan to seek loans from international financial institutions and to request for defer payments of previous loans. Second, realistically speaking, the elites of Pakistan, who are a major beneficiary of American aid and assistance, are not capable of withstanding the US pressure. Interests of elites of Pakistan are entrenched in the US and in the West which they don’t want to jeopardise by pursuing a hostile relationship with America. There is a huge constituency of Pakistani origin people who are settled in the United States and hostile relations between the two country will bound to impact on the immigrant status; sending money back home and possible surveillance by the U.S homeland security along with the Federal Bureau of Investigations.

Between the lines, American officials and others who take a critical view of Pakistan on the issue of terrorism, mention the option of stopping the issuance of immigrant and non-immigrant Visas to Pakistan nationals and adding the country to the list of those countries whose travel to the United States has been banned by the Trump Administration last year. If Pakistan can show resilience like Iran which has been experiencing the wrath of the United States since the outbreak of Islamic revolution till today, in that case one can expect that the country will cope with threats and acts of coercion but such a policy would require will and determination on the part of the elites and the people to completely rid themselves from their dependence on the US and other foreign countries. Unfortunately, since its formative phase till, today, Pakistan despite its periodic standoffs with the United States (1965, 1979, 1990, 1999, 2011 and 2017) has been able to mend fences with its old ally. The ups and downs in Pak-US relations are well known. In 2004, the United States granted Pakistan the status of major Non-NATO Ally but the present impasse in their relations is worst. Certainly, the US knows where the under soft belly of Pakistan is and in case of non-compliance of its demands, it will go an extra mile in making things miserable for Islamabad. Is Pakistan ready to cope with the impending American steps or it will relegate?

Following the meetings of National Security Committee, Corps Commanders and with the leaders of parliamentary parties in Islamabad, the government in consultation with major stakeholders has decided not to adversely react to the steps of the US taken against Pakistan since January 1 this year. The issue is not to react in a harsh manner to Trump’s humiliating tweet and subsequent US measures against Pakistan but how to retain self-esteem and respect of the country which has been repeatedly eroded since the last several years on total lack of American trust on Islamabad.

Finally, the reality that neither China, nor Turkey or Saudi Arabia will come to support Pakistan if there is a collision with the United States makes sense. Particularly, the Chinese policy since the last four decades is of strict neutrality and non-involvement in any regional or international conflict. The possibility that China will compensate to Pakistan for its loss of American aid is yet to be judged as the two countries are already involved in 56 billion dollars of a mega project China-Pakistan Economic Corridor the liabilities of Pakistan vis-à-vis China continue to increase.

In the ultimate analysis, the only plausible way Pakistan can deal with its predicament emanating from crisis with the United States and on other pivotal issues is by focusing on six areas: self-reliance, balancing its trade by bridging gap in imports and exports, human and social development, rule of law, good governance, eradication of corruption and nepotism. If Pakistan is able to deal with its internal fault lines, it can certainly cope with multiple threats emanating from the United States, India and Afghanistan. More than that, what matters in prevailing situation is a leadership which is competent, intelligent, visionary, honest and imbued with clarity. Is Pakistan moving in a direction where it can have such a leadership?

The writer is Meritorious Professor of International Relations at the University of Karachi and can be reached at: amoonis@hotmail.com

Published in Daily Times, January 12th 2018.