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Opinion

January 12, 2018

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Troubled ties

The deteriorating relations between two longstanding allies – Pakistan and the US – reflect a growing conflict of interests. Mutual relations and alliances are built on common interests and goals.

But it appears that Pakistan and the US no longer share mutual interests and objectives in the region. The mutual trust between both countries has been broken and this has affected bilateral relations. The suspension of security assistance and other forms of support to Pakistan by the Trump administration is a manifestation of this growing mistrust.

While the US wants to stay in Afghanistan indefinitely, the strategic purpose of remaining indefinitely in the country is not to pacify surging tensions but to use Afghanistan as a base to promote and protect America’s broader objectives in the region.

The US is no longer interested in a political settlement with the Afghan Taliban and has instead urged Pakistan to fight the group itself so as to make it ‘easier’ for America to stop the Taliban from claiming more land and, consequently, to ‘stay on’ in Afghanistan. Pakistan was hoping that the US withdrawal from Afghanistan will facilitate a negotiated political settlement with the Taliban. But this seems less likely at the moment.

The other issue is the complete dismantling of the LeT and the JeM. India and the US want Pakistan to eliminate the iterations of these organisations and incarcerate their leaders. The recent release of LeT leader Hafiz Saeed from house arrest was not taken lightly by the Trump administration. America’s strategic shift towards India is another matter of mutual distrust.

Bilateral relations were already strained before US President Trump’s tweet at the start of the new year. Trump tweeted that Pakistan had rewarded past US aid with nothing but “lies and deceit”. Trump’s tweet shattered the optimism of many in Pakistan who believed that there would be a way forward in bilateral relations between both countries.

Pakistan is no longer a trusted ally for the US, and for Pakistan, the US is not a trusted friend anymore. Both countries have developed serious differences and doubts over their strategy on Afghanistan. The US wants more action against the Haqqani Network and other Afghan Taliban groups. If the Afghan Taliban and the Haqqani Network are irritating factors for the US, then India’s presence in Afghanistan is equally irritating for Pakistan. The chances of diplomatic engagement to improve relations seem to be off the table – at least for now.

The Trump administration wants Pakistan to be entirely subservient to America’s dictates, and seeks to bring the country onboard with American policy in the region. It desperately wants to consolidate its position in the region. China’s hegemony – or its domination – is not acceptable for the US, and the Russia-China alliance poses a threat to American interests in the region. But Pakistan is not ready to surrender its strategic interests under American pressure. There is little hope that relations will improve in the near future.

Afghanistan is not the only bone of contention between Pakistan and the US. India is another factor, and its role in Afghanistan isn’t the only matter of concern. The real concern is the strategic alliance between America and India. Pakistan had chosen the US as its friend and ally in the cold war era. Our turf was used as the main US base against the Soviet Union while India kept close ties with Soviet Union. The collapse of the Soviet Union and the end of the cold war altered these relations. And then, the economic and military rise of China changed everything. It poses a threat to American interests in the region. Pakistan was not in a position to form an alliance with America against China as it has always maintained close relations with the communist nation.

So, the US aligned itself with India to counter China’s advances in Asia. India was also looking to dominate South Asia. As a result, the US began developing long-term strategic partnership. The US lured India by supplying it with civil nuclear technology. America also started providing military equipment and hardware to India.

These developments forced Pakistan to align itself more closely with China. Pakistan also improved its relations with Russia and started to purchase military equipment from it. The Trump administration does not seem to be interested in addressing the Pakistan’s concerns regarding India and Afghanistan. If the Trump administration thinks that it has a strong case against us, then it should realise that we also have legitimate concerns and interests. If America has a right to safeguard its interests then Pakistan also enjoys the same right.

The Trump administration is weighing different options to put more pressure on Pakistan to take action against militants. On the other hand, Pakistan is looking into options to ease the pressure. America has already stopped military assistance to Pakistan and it can impose more military and economic sanctions. The Trump administration will try to further isolate Pakistan. The problem for the US is that the major European powers are not siding with it to completely isolate Pakistan.

The possibility of war or military conflict is a less likely option for the US. America is likely to consider other options to put more pressure on Pakistan. It can impose pressure on IMF and the World Bank to stop loans to Pakistan and a whole network of economic sanctions and trade barriers can be used.

American sanctions are not new for Pakistan. It has faced sanctions from 1989 to 2001. Pakistan can survive without economic and military assistance and a dependence on America. But this situation must not be used to revive the retrogressive discourse that fighting terrorism is not our war. Militancy and religious extremism are our own problems and need to be addressed properly.

While our military and economic dependence on America is a mistake that needs to be corrected, it does not mean that we should start depending on China or Russia. Pakistan needs to balance its foreign policy.

The writer is a freelance journalist.

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