Our dear Trump, “the most genius and most stable”, may be trying to cut the trunk of the tree on which successive American administration have been investing heavily. Richard G. Olson, former US ambassador to Pakistan and former special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan in his opinion piece, “How Not to Engage with Pakistan”, for the New York Times on January 09, aptly commented: “While perhaps it is emotionally satisfying to penalize a country that has supported American enemies in Afghanistan for the past 16 years, the administration’s approach is unlikely to work…The harsh truth is that American leverage over Rawalpindi and Islamabad has been declining… Thus, the Trump administration’s attempt at humiliating and penalizing Pakistan is unlikely to work. Pakistan, like most countries, reacts very badly to public attempts to force its hand. It is likely to respond by showing how it can truly undercut our position in Afghanistan….” Any listeners in the US? Probably none, at least for the time being. It will be interesting to see the course Pakistan-US relations take after jumpy tweets of bumpy Trump.
Paradoxically, each previous rupture in Pakistan-US relations made the bilateral relationship more stronger and ironically more brittle and fragile—for years it is perpetually on a tenterhook, ready to unhinge on slightest pretext and then restore back to status quo ante.
Of now, both sides are well aware of indispensability of each other at-least until Afghanistan issue is settled. America has compelling influence in Pakistan, it has invested heavily in all decision-making echelons. All notables vie for American patronage for reaching top positions in respective spheres. Those who publicly name and shame the US are also covertly in league with the US. Prestige attached to American educational degrees and green card etc has worked like an opiate for the influential lot of Pakistan. These like privileges give them undue advantage to maintain their hold over the lesser sons of Pakistan, who cannot otherwise buyout such power multipliers. Over decades, this pro-America constituency has taken upon themselves to keep Pakistan linked to American dependency, no matter whatever the terms and conditions be. Similarly, there is equally strong constituency within the influence circles of the US, like the Pentagon and Military Industrial complex. Militaries of the two counties have been partnering well since the Korean War era, and American involvement in Asia is far from over. American military industry views Pakistan as useful friend whose influence in the Middle East helps American weapon makers win hefty contracts. And Middle East is not going to be a war free country any time soon.
Trump is poised to lose; Pakistan’s pro-America constituency and America’s pro-Pakistan constituency are destined to win. Hence, pendulum of Pakistan-US relations would sooner and later resume its ‘normal’ harmonics. However, this is not to undermine the constituencies in both counties which wish for disengagement between the two counties on various counts, these schools of thought in Pakistan think that most of Pakistan’s failures are due to its association with the US. Pakistan’s military also comes under criticism for doing dirty rental work for Americans. There is also a perception that the kind of war Pakistan has gotten into since 9/11 in not Pakistan’s war. Anti-Pakistan element in the US, now being led by the US President holds the view that all that has and could go wrong in Afghanistan is because of Pakistan’s failings on various counts, America’s China phobia and India’s mixed signals to do heavy lifting for American “Contain China” misadventure has also tilted America’s strategic leaning towards India. Nonetheless, these lobbies in both the countries rely on emotive arguments rather than pragmatic evaluations, also, these are not as influential, hence their effort is not likely to go beyond periodic noises and spoiler role.
Trump’s current unease stems from the post-cold war American strategic plan of reconstituting an Israel pliant Middle East and India pliant South Asia. While work on Middle East plan is in the final stages—slowly some embassies would start shifting to Jerusalem, Americans have not been able to make any headway in South Asia. And Trumps’ equally erratic brother Modi is demanding immediate delivery on this count, without which he not moving an inch in anti-China direction. This accounts for rapid American adoptions of Indian phraseology with regard to Pakistan’s sensitivities. Yet, Modi won’t be happy unless Trumps starts bombing Pakistan’s urban centres on the pretext of knocking out terrorist hideouts, and invites him to join America in this effort.
Now the immediate issues for Pakistan during Trump triggered intermission in smooth relations would be to look for alternative sources for direct budgetary support of around 20 percent which comes from the US. Furthermore, American nod to multilateral lenders may not come-by so easily. Another pressure point would be critical dependence of Pakistan’s military on the US with regard to provisioning of high-tech munitions. Dry patch is likely to last for 2-3 years, then on CPEC would be on ground generating revenue for Pakistan. And Pentagon and American Weapon makers would be able to prevail on the administration to mellow down on its anti-Pakistan rhetoric before it meaningfully switches its military procurement to other supplies—French, Russia and China. America is also likely to embark on unleashing multidimensional pressures to demonise Pakistan, placing on watchlist for ‘severe violation of religious freedom’ is just the first step; the nonsense would continue and accentuate. Pakistan would need to tread its path cautiously, avoiding rocking the boat, it should, while buying time, proliferate the positives of its counterterrorism effort and its synergic impact of the US national security, hoping that someday this ranting could fall on some attentive American ears, and yield result.
With nearly 16,000 US troops in Afghanistan, several thousand of whom Trump himself has sent, the course of the war could have a bearing on the American leader’s presidency. Reportedly the US is managing an activity nearing the boundary of war crimes by unannounced employment of Afghan private militias to engage Taliban insurgents. CIA is paying private militias like Khost Protection Force, Afghan Security Guards and Kandhar Strike Force etc to hunt and kill Taliban. These militias are known for perpetrating crimes and Human Rights violations against civilians and detainees. Though most of such gangs comprise of Afghan nationals, they enjoy impunity against war crimes due to their intricate links with CIA, they are above the law in Afghanistan. Reportedly, NATO forces are also using them to avoid the direct blame of HR violations in Afghanistan; this methodology has the added advantage of getting around the baggage entailed by erstwhile foreign mercenaries like notorious Black Water.
Pakistan’s civilian and military leadership echelons aptly rejected “incomprehensible” US comments and summoned American Ambassador David Hale to explain Trump’s tweet. Pakistan’s permanent representative to the UN has responded in kind, she outlined the official Pakistani position: “We can review our cooperation if it is not appreciated. We have contributed and sacrificed the most in fighting international terrorism and carried out the largest counter terrorism operation anywhere in the world”. Foreign Minister Khawaja Asif has dismissed Trump’s outburst as a political stunt, borne out of frustration over American failures in Afghanistan, “He is again and again displacing his frustrations on Pakistan over failures in Afghanistan as they are trapped in dead-end street in Afghanistan”, Asif added.
Through a series of major counter-terrorism operations, Pakistan has cleared all these areas resulting in elimination of organized terrorist presence leading to significant improvement in security situation in Pakistan. Pakistan’s peace efforts are awaiting reciprocal actions from the Afghan side in terms of clearance of vast stretches of ungoverned spaces on the Afghan side, bilateral border management, repatriation of Afghan refugees, controlling poppy cultivation, drug trafficking and initiating Afghan led and owned political reconciliation in Afghanistan.