Growing strategic divergence between Pak, US: seminar

ISLAMABAD: The Pakistan-US relationship is a terrible marriage where divorce should not be considered because the costs of breaking up are too high.

This was stated by Asia Centre at the United States Institute of Peace Associate Vice President Dr Moeed Yousuf at his public talk on ‘The Pakistan-US Relationship in Jeopardy-Way Forward’, organised by the Institute of Strategic Studies Islamabad (ISSI) under its Distinguished Lecture Series.

Dr Yusuf stated that the strategic divergence between US and Pakistan was very real. “Not only are both sides accusing each other of undermining their respective security interests, each side is also desperately trying to convince the other to agree with their point of view. The global alliance structure has become fairly complex – the more India and the US work together, the more Pakistan and China relationship is converging. Growing belief in Islamabad that the US has no significance because of Pakistan’s relationship with China is particularly worrisome,” he said.

Speaking about peace in Afghanistan, Dr Yusuf stated that though both Pakistan and US wanted peace in Afghanistan, the peace that suited the US in Afghanistan might not neatly overlap with the kind of peace that suited Pakistan. “The US has a new strategy and the view from Washington is that the Pakistani part of the puzzle must be fixed in order for Afghanistan strategy to go through. Simultaneously, it is improbable that Pakistan will agree to do anything that brings the war in Afghanistan onto Pakistani soil. Added to this is the increasing presence of Daesh in Afghanistan – a non-state actor, which benefits from problems in Pakistan-US relationship,” he said.

Dr Yusuf said that even though neither side wanted a rupture, there were chances of things becoming worse. “The Trump phenomenon – whether good or bad – is real. Hence, the chances of things going to the brink and pulling back cannot be guaranteed anymore. The champions of US-Pakistan relationship – people within US government who used to argue that Pakistan is crucial for the US – no longer exist,” he said.

For the way forward, he said that probably the best that could be done was to avoid a rupture. “Mistrust must be overcome. Every decision that is taken in terms of tactical cooperation should be verified, both sides should agree not to keep changing goal posts, and benchmarks should be disconnected from the security situation in Afghanistan. It is highly crucial for both sides to keep their expectations realistic and limited,” he said.

Earlier, Ambassador Khalid Mahmood, the ISSI chairman, talked about the Trump administration’s South Asia policy, which was followed by the Security Strategy in December 2017, the infamous tweet and most recently the National Defense Strategy. He said that whereas Pakistan and the United States were the most allied of nations, their relationship had now hit an all-time low. “Currently, terrorism has taken a secondary position and inter-state strategic competition has taken precedence – primarily the competition with China and Russia – in the Trump administration’s policy towards South Asia,” he said.

Later, in his concluding remarks, Ambassador Khalid Mahmood stated that it was the overall geostrategic alignments which are more important. “Pakistan should try to avoid rupture and try to find common ground and overcome the deep mistrust that exists between the two countries. There is a lack of interlocutors between the two countries, and the relationship cannot move forward unless there are people who are willing to talk on either side. This needs to rectify,” he said.

Published in Daily Times, January 30th 2018.