The growing rift between Pakistan and the US cannot be explained by Islamabad’s Afghan policy or Trump’s unrealistic push for a swift victory in Afghanistan. The stabilisation of Afghanistan may be America’s tactical priority, rather than a strategic concern that lies in the Pacific region.
To find out the underlying causes of the strained Pak-US ties, Washington’s antagonistic approach towards Pakistan needs to be seen from a broader perspective of the tectonic shifts in the world order.
The global order is in transition, engendering new alliances and alignments at the regional and global level. The architecture of international relations has been going through slow but steady changes, suggestive of the growing multipolarity symbolised by the economic rise of China and the resurgence of Russia as a historical balancer.
The centre of economic gravity has been drifting away from the West to the East, resulting in new economic and strategic partnerships. Riding high on its economic power, China continues to expand its economic and strategic footprint that is being viewed as the greatest challenge to America’s global dominance.
It is this overriding strategic concern of the US that provides a more logical explanation for its hostile posture towards Pakistan. America’s policy to checkmate Beijing and Islamabad’s deepening strategic and geo-economic alignment put Pakistan and the US on divergent paths. It is India that is emerging as a natural partner for the US in the latter’s quest to counter China. India’s nexus with the US has also come to influence America’s policy towards Pakistan.
The divergence between Pakistan and the US was long overdue, and is not the by-product of Trump’s impulsive behaviour. Pakistan’s alleged support of the Afghan Taliban or Haqqanis is also peripheral to America’s grand strategy. Islamabad was unable to foresee the fallout of US strategic measures in response to China and their implications for Pakistan in the long run.
Back in 2011, Hillary Clinton authored a policy paper, titled ‘America’s Pacific Century’, in which she unveiled America’s diplomatic and military ‘pivot’, or ‘rebalance’, towards Asia. The paper, containing America’s future policy and priorities, should have served as a wake-up call for Pakistan’s policy planners.
The following lines from the seminal paper make it crystal clear that Pakistan’s strategic value was bound to decrease over a period of time, whereas India was destined to be taken on board by the US: “The future of politics will be decided in Asia, not Afghanistan or Iraq, and the United States will be right at the center of the action.”
The US considers India to be a key prong in its Asia Pivot Strategy. Its appeasement of India through the nuclear deal and other offers of providing cutting-edge military technology are not developments that occurred in a vacuum. They are driven by America’s desire to enhance India’s military and diplomatic profile, bringing it at par with China.
Seen in this perspective, the Indo-US ties are directly and indirectly turning out to be detrimental for Pakistan’s interests in the region and beyond. The evolving Indo-US strategic romance is changing the security architecture of South Asia, putting Pakistan at greater strategic disadvantage and multiplying its security concerns.
Further, America’s newly-unveiled Indo-Pacific Strategy leaves nothing to the imagination. The doctrine places India at the heart of the strategy devised to counter China. The US seeks a greater role for India in Afghanistan and the Indo-Pacific region is all part of the American grand strategy for self-preservation as the sole superpower in the face of an increasingly assertive China that seeks to carve its niche by reshaping the US-dominated world order.
Recently, Islamabad started feeling the heat generated by the operationalisation of this containment policy, as illustrated by India’s deepening alignment with the US under the Indo-Pacific framework. Washington wants to prop India up as the regional counterweight to China.
From America’s perspective, India cannot shift its strategic focus on China unless Pakistan is subdued. The mounting US pressure in conjunction with the Indo-Afghan hostile behaviour, is aimed at paving the way for absolute Indian hegemony, relentlessly resisted by Pakistan in the South Asian region.
The new generation of American citizens of Indian origin has risen to the higher echelons of America’s state apparatus. Unlike Pakistan, the Indian diaspora in the US, of around two million people, is highly organised and mobilised to further India’s interests by influencing America’s approach towards Islamabad.
For instance, the Trump government is packed with officials of Indian origin in the top non-cabinet and advisory positions. Nikki Haley, Krishna R Urs, Manisha Singh, Neil Chatterjee, Raj Shah, Vishal Amin, Neomi Rao, Ajit V Pai and Seema Verma hold very important official positions.
Moreover, two of the world’s leading American technology behemoths, namely Google and Microsoft, are led by Indian-origin CEOs. Arguably, American citizens of Indian origin serve India as a source of its soft power and leverage in the power corridors of Washington.
Being a superpower, the US can afford to antagonise Pakistan, but the latter cannot afford to bear the brunt of a total breakdown of bilateral ties due to perennial economic fragility and its location in a hostile neighbourhood. Thus, Pakistan ought to continue to seek constructive engagement with the US by exploring points of convergence.
A proactive foreign policy, economic self-reliance, synergy between civil-military leadership, and diversification of foreign policy options will go a long way in helping Pakistan navigate safely through the pitfalls of the changing world order.
The writer is a PhD scholar ininternational relations at theNational University of Modern Languages, Islamabad.