Likely future trajectory of Pakistan-US relations

The Year 2018 commenced with a tweet of President Trump accusing Pakistan of giving them nothing but lies and deceit

Since its creation in 1947, Pakistan has been an ally of the US throughout important phases in modern history. First, in the cold war, then against the former USSR’s military intervention in Afghanistan in 1990s and finally in the war on terror in Afghanistan since 9/11, 2001. But Pakistan has experienced that the US uses it as an ally to its advantage, but does not care much about protecting Pakistan’s interests. For example, the US did not provide the required support to Pakistan during the 1965 and 71 wars with India and after the former Soviet Union’s withdrawal from Afghanistan in 1989.

In the war on terror in Afghanistan since 9/11, 2001, as an ally, Pakistan fully supported the US due to which the US was able to eradicate the Al-Qaeda from Afghanistan. In the process Pakistan suffered heavy losses due to the spill over of terrorism from Afghanistan into its tribal areas. But since 2008,the US administrations has started blaming that as a non National Alliance Treaty Organization(NATO) ally Pakistan was providing safe havens to the Afghani Taliban without taking any actions against them. As a result, the US started has squeezing Pakistan’s military assistance and it has declined to sell the previously promised F-16s to Pakistan.

This blame game by the US officials still continues despite the fact that Pakistan has bravely fought the War on Terror and compeletely eliminated the hideouts of terrorists in Swat, South and North Waziristan by rendering sacrifices of more than 70,000 soldiers and civilians and suffering economic losses of above 107 billion US dollars.

President Trump’s policies are even tougher with Pakistan with a clear tilt towards India. In 2017, Rex Tillerson and James Mattis, visited Pakistan and repeated the “do more” demand. The US administration also criticizes Pakistan for not bringing the Afghan Taliban to the negotiating table. The Year 2018 commenced with a tweet of President Trump accusing Pakistan of giving them nothing but lies and deceit.

This blame game by the US officials still continues despite the fact that Pakistan has bravely fought the War on Terror and compeletely eliminated the hideouts of terrorists in Swat, South and North Waziristan by rendering sacrifices of more than 70,000 soldiers and civilians and suffering economic losses of above $107 billion

On January 5 2018, the US suspended about $2 billion in security aid to Pakistan. Recently the U.S. Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo warned that any potential International Monetary Fund (IMF) bailout for Pakistan’s new government should not provide funds to pay off Chinese lenders. The Trump administration has also stopped Pakistani military officers from training in the US, a practice that had been prevalent for decades. Very recently, Ambassador Alice Wells said that, “Pakistan is on notice; that we expect its unequivocal cooperation, ending the sanctuaries that Afghan Taliban are enjoying in Pakistan”.

The aforementioned blame game and punitive measures clearly indicate that the US is not ready to recognize Pakistan’s sacrifices in its operations against terrorists. The US is also not bothered about taking action against Pakistani terrorists such as the TPP enjoying sanctuaries in Afghanistan and being sponsored by India’s Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) operatives to carry out terrorist attacks in Pakistan.

The above discussed US policies indicate that the US is pursuing its geopolitical objectives in this region, where it is giving priority to its newest allies like India and Afghanistan. The US has already declared India as its close defence ally. In fact the US wants to use India and Afghanistan to contain China. The US does not trust Pakistan being China’s ally and being a partner in the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), which US considers as an obstacle in containing China.

Currently the US is obsessed with India’s partnership not realizing that ultimately India will not accept the US dictate to block out China. In this context, the US is committing a major strategic mistake of ignoring Pakistan in this region not realizing that it is much more important than India for peace and stability in South Asia, especially Afghanistan, the Middle East and Central Asia.

Pakistan should also maintain peaceful relations with Afghanistan and India and try to resolve the Kashmir issue and other disputes with India through negotiations. At the same time Pakistan should focus on its economic development by enhancing its CPEC related trade exports and advancing its human resources, agriculture and industries to become an economically self reliant and stronger country

Hence, the future trajectory of Pakistan-US relations will likely remain quite bumpy. Pakistan should expect that the US will continue to pressurize it to accept India as a regional power, by compromising on the Kashmir issue and water disputes, and that it should do more against the alleged safe havens of the Afghan Taliban and should pressurize them to accept US terms in Afghanistan. The US will not provide military hardware and assistance to Pakistan, itmightonly provide limited or conditional financial assistance, and will continue to place conditions on the IMF financial assistance to us. The upcoming visit of Mike Pompeoto Pakistan is also not likely to yield positive results.

In view of the above scenario, while endeavouring to maintain good working relations with the US, Pakistan should continue to deepen its strategic partnership with China, and it should also further strengthen its relations with other major powers, especially Russia, and also the European Union and fellow Muslim countries. Pakistan should also maintain peaceful relations with Afghanistan and India and try to resolve the Kashmir issue and other disputes with India through negotiations. At the same time Pakistan should focus on its economic development by enhancing its CPEC related trade exports and advancing its human resources, agriculture and industries to become an economically self reliant and stronger country.

The writer is an ex Army Colonel, and a former Research Fellow of Islamabad Policy Research Institute (IPRI), Islamabad and Senior Research Fellow, Strategic Vision Institute, Islamabad

Published in Daily Times, August 30th 2018.