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November 1, 2017

Setting the rules of engagement


November 1, 2017

Henry Kissinger once remarked that: “America has no permanent friends or enemies, only interests”. Though most American political and economic institutions stress on liberal democratic values, Washington has continued to vigorously pursue a realistic policy to maximise its burgeoning economic interests and ensure its security against any potential competitor in the world.

Since the 1950s, all the US administrations have cultivated amicable relations with Pakistan so as to acquire their security objectives in the South Asian region. While the US achieved its major hegemonic objective by defeating the USSR in the late 1980s, it still seems militarily unable to carry the day against the resurgent Taliban in Afghanistan. This has provided Washington an opportunity to bank on Afghan soil as a base to contain China, resist Russia, monitor Iran’s nuclear programme and browbeat Pakistan into attacking the alleged sanctuaries of the Afghan Taliban and the Haqqani Network.

It is imperative to mention that the US considers rising China a potential economic and military threat to its hegemony. The Trump administration is aware of the fact that it cannot count on Pakistan to defeat China in Asia given the robust Sino-Pak economic and security partnerships. So, the US has partnered with New Delhi and Japan to create formidable stumbling blocks for China’s rapid economic expansion and military rise in Asia.

The deepening Indo-US ties have instigated Washington to adopt an unfriendly posture toward Pakistan. It has blamed Islamabad for providing sanctuaries to the Haqqani Network and the Afghan Taliban within Pakistan. What the US has forgotten is that the Taliban already exercise sway over 40 percent of Afghan territory and they do not need Pakistan’s sanctuaries to hide and regroup themselves. The reality is that the US has virtually lost the costly and long-drawn-out war in Afghanistan and now wants to shift the blame on Pakistan for secretively harbouring the Afghan Taliban.

Despite Pakistan’s claim of having full control of the seven tribal agencies, US President Trump still blamed Islamabad for providing safe havens to the Haqqani Network in his speech on South Asia on August 21. The speech widened the trust deficit between both countries, thereby bringing Pak-US relations to a nadir. Notwithstanding President Trump’s harsh language, Pakistan took the initiative to thaw the strained relations with the angry superpower. The September visits of Foreign Minister Khawaja Asif and Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi to the US somehow melted the ice, making Pakistan and the US hold discussions on possible cooperation against terrorism and militancy in the Pak-Afghan region.

The ambience of slight trust helped both countries eliminate some hardcore militants in drone attacks. More importantly, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson recently paid a four-hour-long visit to Pakistan after his stopover in Afghanistan on October 24. On his maiden visit to Pakistan, US Secretary Tillerson described Islamabad as “incredibly important”. But he urged Pakistan to expedite its military actions against the alleged sanctuaries of the Afghan Taliban.

While briefing the Senate about the discussions held between Pakistan and the US, Foreign Minister Khawaja Asif reiterated that Pakistan would extend meaningful support to the US in the war on terror, but it would not allow Washington to infringe upon its territorial sovereignty. Overall, this is a sagacious decision to continue counter-terrorism cooperation with the Trump administration given Pakistan’s economic and military interests associated with the US.

No one can deny that greater Pak-US cooperation will help both countries stamp out regionally-funded terrorists from the Pak-Afghan region, stabilise the Afghan government and speed up the socio-economic reconstruction of insurgency-torn Afghanistan. But Islamabad should revisit some fundamental rules of its engagement with Washington. If Pakistan avoids changing these rules, the US will continue to enjoy an upper hand in determining the nature and direction of bilateral relations.

First, Pakistan should finalise some clear-cut and standard diplomatic protocols with the US with regard to the status of American officials. All American diplomatic, political and military officials should be received according to their official status. Being a nuclear power, it is not in Islamabad’s prestige that the US dispatches its foreign secretary to hold discussions with Pakistan’s prime minister. Secretary Tillerson should have been allowed to meet only his counterpart Khawaja Asif. First of all, we should recognise our own diplomatic position in the comity of nations.

Second, the government should employ effective soft power to persuade the US to recognise our invaluable sacrifices rendered in the ongoing war on terror. The US is fully aware that Pakistan has sacrificed more than 50,000 lives and lost over $120 billion in the continuous war against terrorism and militancy. Despite acknowledging our contributions, the Trump administration has continued to deliberately disregard our sacrifices with the intention to further pressurise the army into stepping up its counter-terrorism operations. The PML-N ought to hone its diplomatic guts and show competence to make the US respect Pakistan’s invaluable sacrifices in the protracted war on terror.

Third, due to India’s lucrative economy and defence sector, the US has turned a blind eye to the Modi government’s attempts to sponsor and train Pakistani terrorists and insurgents in the region. Despite Commander Kulbushan Jhadav’s startling disclosure of RAW’s flirtation with Baloch insurgents and fugitives of the TTP, Washington has shown reluctance in blaming New Delhi for supporting terrorism and insurgency within Pakistan. So far, the US has desisted from attacking sanctuaries of the TTP in eastern Afghanistan because they are operating under Indian protection.

Fourth, the US should be goaded into condemning brutal atrocities being committed by Indian forces in Indian Occupied Kashmir (IOK). On account of its security and economic objectives, Washington has always remained a silent spectator on India’s oppressive policies in the valley. The underlying reason is that the US has made India its strategic partner in order to contain China in South Asia and the Indo-Pacific region. Although it has condemned India’s gross violations of human rights in the IOK, Washington has designated the Hizbul Mujahideen (HM), a Kashmiri liberation movement, as a terrorist group. All this makes it abundantly clear that the US foreign policy sorely lacks morality and normative principles.

Fifth, to maximise its China containment policy, the US concluded an ominous nuclear accord with India in 2008 and softened the rules and regulations of the NSG for New Delhi. Owing to the US backing, India is now engaged in conducting nuclear trade with the world with relative ease. Even though India is not a signatory to the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), the US is making hectic efforts to get New Delhi included in the NSG through a discriminatory and non-criteria- based approach.

India’s nuclear trade with Japan, Australia, Britain, France and the US has greatly facilitated New Delhi to attain naval nuclear capability and build a secret nuclear city to produce thermonuclear weapons. According to various reports, India has sufficient material and the technical capacity to produce between 356 and 492 nuclear bombs.

The US is very much alive to the fact that the rapid expansion of India’s nuclear programme poses a direct security threat to Pakistan by disrupting the balance of power in South Asia. Since the US has aligned with India in Asia against China, it has continued to ignore Islamabad’s security apprehension emanating from India’s fast-expanding nuclear programme. Islamabad should make it a central point in future Pak-US dialogue that Washington should either discard its India-centric nuclear policy or facilitate Pakistan in terms of conducting nuclear trade with the world.

Given Pakistan’s ongoing political instability, foreign policy predicaments and economic crisis, the PML-N government seems largely unable to convince the US to accept the aforementioned demands. The government should stabilise its democratic setup, restructure the stagnated economy on strong footings and empower the sidelined Foreign Office to play an integral role in formulating and executing a proactive and robust foreign policy.

The writer is an independent researcher.

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @ayazahmed66665

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