A large section of the American media, a number of important American senators, politicians, senior defence officer’s civilian Government officials and public at large have started demanding that USA must put a stop to the double game being played out by the Pakistan Government and the Pakistan Army. There is rising criticism of Pakistani actions and there is growing demand for a tougher policy to be framed by the Trump Administration.
So Pakistan and its supporters in Arabaia and America are trying to shore up their value by talking about their country’s indispensability for the US. The objective is to influence the new administration’s on-going policy review in favour of Pakistan to the extent possible and prevent major damage. Though many articles in Pakistani media are already saying openly that now alinging with China is the best bet for Pakistan. No wonder, they must have read the writing on the wall, after the recent statement by national security adviser Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster, to shut down sanctuaries for terrorists if Pakistan wants to remain relevant for USA. It’s a softer version of “either you are with us or against us,” call given after 9/11 by the American President Bush which compelled Pakistan to cooperate in the war against terrorism.
Things seem to be changing for Pakistan when commander of US forces in Afghanistan, General Nicholson has publicly accused Pakistan for all the problems in the war against the Talbans. McMaster advised Pakistan to secure its interests in Afghanistan through diplomacy and not through the use of proxies that engage in violence. Zalmay Khalilzad, a former US ambassador to Afghanistan, Iraq and the UN, called the Taliban sanctuaries in Pakistan the REAL PROBLEM.
Last week, Pakistani Groups organised a conference to highlight the country’s importance but their star offering was a discredited MUSHARRAF who had subverted democracy, led a coup, started a war against India and is charged with treason and declared an absconder by a special court in Pakistan itself. True to his self, he spent more time as keynote speaker talking about himself and his greatness than his country’s relevance. It seems that Pakis aim to counter the high levels of anti-Pakistan sentiment among US opinion makers, politicians and strategic experts, fell flat.
Pakistan’s US supporters in the think tank circuit have visibly thinned in number. Islamabad is clearly worried about the Trump administration’s rumoured plans to get tough on terrorism and those who support it.
A few blocks away, Khalilzad, speaking on Afghanistan, painted a picture of Musharraf as a lying, deceiving interlocutor who pretended Afghan Taliban leaders were not living in Pakistan. “Give me their phone numbers, give me their addresses,” Khalilzad recalled Musharraf asking in a meeting. “Mr. President, the leadership is called the Quetta Shura, and Quetta, I understand is in Balochistan,” the former US ambassador recounted. “As all of us have hoped for many, many years, we have hoped that Pakistani leaders will understand that it is in their interest to go after these groups,” he added. It was a tough message delivered gently.
Military and civilian aid to Pakistan has declined over the past five years, although the Trump administration has requested a modest increase for 2017 in security-related assistance. However earlier this year, congressman Ted Poe of Texas reintroduced his bill to designate Pakistan a state sponsor of terrorism, an idea supported by sections of the US military and a surprising number of former US ambassadors. Col. Robert Cassidy, who served four tours in Afghanistan, wrote “the fact that America has paid Pakistan in excess of $33 billion for Pakistan’s malice and treachery since 9/11 is repugnant and ridiculous”. Col. Cassidy recommends breaking the stalemate and Pakistan’s “pathologies”. The US should stop “paying for malice,” state its intention to make the Line of Control “permanent,” declare Pakistan “the state sponsor of terrorism that it is,” issue one last ultimatum to end sanctuaries for insurgents and invite Indian armed forces into Afghanistan.
Pakistan earlier had deep reach in the US Administration and therefore the Obama administration was busy telling everyone about the change of heart of the Pakistan army based on airy promises only without change in the ground situation. Though it seems now the American patience has finally burst. No wonder Pakistan’s new ambassador began his tenure last month, making a fervent plea for a return to old times, offering his country’s services as Pakistanis have done for decades. He appeared at Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies where Dean Vali Nasr, once an adviser to the Obama administration and a Pakistan believer, hosted a conference to launch a study: ‘Pakistan Today: The Case for U.S.-Pakistan Relations’. The study argues that the US can’t afford to ignore Pakistan because of its geographic location – it borders with Afghanistan, China, India and Iran, four countries that will figure in US relations with the world. Besides, Pakistan is a large Muslim country and given the state of “exceptional turmoil” in the world today, engaging with the “world of Islam in productive interactions” is necessary.
The report blames the “Indian and Afghan lobbies” for cultivating anti-Pakistan sentiment in the US Congress, implying that the reality of US soldiers dying at the hands Pakistan-supported proxies and Pakistan’s own double games are somehow not discernable to the Americans. But former US officials were there to provide a reality check. Joshua White, an NSC director in the Obama administration, pointed out that Pakistan’s failure to act against Lashkar-e-Tayyaba, Jaish-e-Mohammad and other groups, and to allow continued fundraising, recruiting and public -activities had raised international concerns. This could have ripple effects in financial markets and in Pakistan’s ability to raise funds, according to White. Pakistan is once again in the eyes of the Financial Action Task Force, an international body that looks into terrorist financing, for non-compliance. Pakistan also had not been constructive in stabilising Afghanistan, the former official added.
At the Hudson Institute, there were no understatements as Khalilzad, who was born in Afghanistan, unleashed a volley against Pakistan, saying the military balance must change in favour of the Afghan government. The US should exercise its right to self-defence and attack the sanctuaries in Pakistan. “We are there at the invitation of the Afghan government”.
“We ought to make that very, very clear,” said Khalilzad, who was once rumoured to be Trump’s secretary of state and reportedly stays in touch with the administration. Husain Haqqani, Pakistan’s former ambassador to the US who hosted the Hudson event, said the resilience of the Taliban was “primarily because of Pakistan’s support.”
Haqqani and Curtis, the NSC official currently touring with McMaster but formerly with the Heritage Foundation, co-authored, ‘A New U.S. Approach to Pakistan: Enforcing Aid Conditions Without Cutting Ties,’ which argued for making it more and more costly for Pakistan to use terrorist proxies.
In addition, no fewer than 19 former US ambassadors, military commanders and experts published a piece, arguing the US put the issue of Taliban safe havens as the top priority and “oppose Pakistan’s role in these dynamics at every turn”.
They called for further reductions in military aid and targeted sanctions against specific Pakistani organisations and individuals while encouraging other countries to take similar steps. They also recommended designating Pakistan a state sponsor of terrorism, a finding that “would not only be embarrassing to the country but also harmful to its economic prospects”.At the same time, Washington might also “sketch out a vision of an improved relationship with Pakistan” if it shows “consistent support” for NATO goals in Afghanistan.
Whether US will finally try something different with Pakistan this time remains to be seen. A former US official said that in the past, the US government, after careful review, had assessed again and again that a relationship with Pakistan provided value to US security and shied away from actions that would rupture it.Will bureaucratic caution and inertia win again?
India is watching closely.