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Out of the frying pan into the fire!

The US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s South Asia tour has created as many confusions as it might have resolved. Fate of Islamabad talks was sealed by Tillerson himself who conveyed a threatening and dictating message to Pakistan during his media interaction in Kabul. The US assurances to Pakistan are hollow, not being matched by actions. It is strange as to why the United States is bent upon assigning India greater role in Afghanistan when it has no boundaries or much stakes there. There is clear divergence of objectives that the two sides want to pursue.

When a journalist asked Tillerson if it would be accurate to say that he received a message of defiance from the Pakistanis who told him, “We will not be coerced”. “That would be a complete mischaracterisation of the meeting,” replied Tillerson, alongside affirming that he told Pakistan that Washington would implement its new strategy with or without Islamabad because “this is what we think is necessary. And if you don’t want to do that, don’t feel you can do it, we’ll adjust our tactics and our strategies to achieve the same objective a different way”. So, even though the Pka-US relationship may have receded a bit from the brink, it is likely to remain troublesome.

Secretary Tillerson described the US-Pakistan ties as “a respectful relationship” but, “we have some very legitimate tasks, some very legitimate concerns that we need their help addressing”. “Pakistan is a key partner for the stability of the region. We have a long history of positive partnership with Pakistan, but Pakistan must do more to eradicate militants and terrorists operating within its country…This was my principal message to the Pakistani leadership,” Tillerson added.

Here is a case in point, Tillerson had offered to help Pakistan resolve its disputes with India. On the eve of commemoration of Black Day by Kashmiris, Pakistan Army shot down an Indian spy drone on October 27, hovering over Pakistani side of the Line of Control. Pakistani troops seized the wreckage of the drone. India has long been using drone in Indian Occupied Kashmir. And the US is likely to sell more drones to India in violations of Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) guidelines. Is this how America tends to help Pakistan resolve its issues with India?

During the tour of South Asia, Tillerson’s operating procedures were erratic, devoid of diplomatic norms, they smelled of majestic arrogance. Though Tillerson was visiting Pakistan soon after, he chose Afghan soil to radiate negative vibes about Pakistan by stating what all he was to tell Islamabad. While in Afghanistan, he could not dare to step out of American air base at Bagram, even Afghan leadership had to go there to meet with Tillerson. This speaks of success level of over sixteen yearlong American effort to bring peace and stability to Afghanistan. And, while in India, he expressed concerns that extremist groups pose a threat to the “stability and security” of the Pakistan government. “Quite frankly my view — and I expressed this to the leadership of Pakistan — is we also are concerned about the stability and security of Pakistan’s government as well…This could lead to a threat to Pakistan’s own stability. It is not in anyone’s interests that the government of Pakistan be destabilized.”

As if his summoning to Bagram air base to meet with Tillerson wasn’t good enough, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani had rushed to India to be in close proximity of Modi-Tillerson. During his speech at the Vivekananda International Foundation think tank in New Delhi, Ghani said Afghanistan was fully capable of concluding a peace process on its own. “Our approach to internal peace is to own it through Afghan government-led processes,” Ghani said. “We would like a push factor from Pakistan vis-a-vis the Taliban, not a Pakistan-managed peace process,” he added. This summersault came just a week after the recent four-nation Quadrilateral Coordination Group (QGC), comprising Afghanistan, China, Pakistan and the United States, talks in Oman, aimed at getting the Taliban to the peace talks.

Point is home to everyone that the new US policy for South Asia, with India being asked to play a larger role in Afghanistan, cannot succeed without Pakistan. And Pakistan is not ready to accept India’s lead role. So, the US has to make its choice. Pakistan has clearly told Tillerson that it would not become a US proxy, yet extend every possible help in its endeavour to bring some semblance of normalcy in Afghanistan.  The overriding issue is that the US is not ready to accept its failure in Afghanistan, and wants to pass the buck on Pakistan. And Pakistan is not doing scapegoats and it must not be held responsible for international community’s collective failures in Afghanistan.

The US side keeps demanding ad nauseum that Pakistan must increase its efforts to eradicate militants and terrorists operating within the country. Such rants need to be seen in sync with rampant Line of Control ceasefire violations by India. Pakistan presented its stance to Tillerson on ceasefire violations by Indian troops and highlighted the atrocities committed in Indian-occupied Kashmir, and while in India Tillerson failed to accrue any assurance from Modi.

Pakistan wants to expand relation with United States on the basis of equality and self-respect. It understands that durable peace in Pakistan is linked with peace in Afghanistan. And use of force is not the solution of Afghan issue, which should be resolved politically. At the same time, Afghanistan’s role as a facilitator for India is not acceptable to Pakistan. American rants to “Do More” against terrorists is only a face saving slogan. Over 45 per cent of Afghanistan’s territory is under the Taliban/Daesh control, hence terrorists would not need Pakistan for their hideouts as they have ample space available on  Afghan territories.

Pakistan has unmatched experience in the war against terror and it has made its country safe and secure after great sacrifices of security forces and people of the country.  Pakistan has also exchanged a list of terrorists with US and Afghanistan: “they have given us a list of about seventy-five terrorists while Pakistan has provided them a list of around hundred terrorists”, said a Pakistani official. This could be a starting point for a new era of cooperation. It is, somewhat, satisfying that the two countries have agreed to continue full scale high level engagement in future to sort out irritants.

At tactical level Trumps administration has unleashed the CIA on Afghanistan, in the form of “hunt and kill” missions. The US has, at least overtly, abandoned efforts for any negotiated solution in Afghanistan; and it is more determined than ever to wage a more ruthless war.

Current America thinking is that through a reinforced military option, it could subdue the Taliban, and the Taliban also think that their war is winnable through more and more application of military power. Hence, at least for now, there is no desire from either side to take a route of political process leading to peace. Earlier this month, CIA Director Mike Pompeo speaking at a security conference at the University of Texas vowed to make the CIA more vicious and unleash it against the Taliban. Reports on the kill and hunt programme approved by the Trump administration, and Pompeo’s comments, reveal true US strategy for Afghanistan.  Likes of Tillerson are just side kick in this affair. Both combatants are following the strategy of military victory, rest is eyewash, be it QCG or else. Like in other foreign policy domains, Trump has been a disappointment in Afghanistan as well. The US foreign policy is increasingly becoming victim of its historic prejudices.

 

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