Monday July 22, 2024

A silver lining

By Saleem Safi
January 17, 2018

Washington has a long history of wrongdoings and stubbornness. Its betrayal of Pakistan and blunders in Afghanistan are a glaring reality that cannot be denied.

Through his recent tweet, Trump tried to pass the buck of American failures in Afghanistan and blame Islamabad for ‘lies and deceit’, while also emphasising on ‘no more’ aid to Pakistan. Trump’s policy is a blessing in disguise, and his bullying provides a golden opportunity to Pakistan. However, sagacity and effective diplomacy will be needed to harness this opportunity successfully.

It is unfortunate that instead of putting forth a prudent alternative, vote-driven politics and ratings-driven media have engaged in verbal attacks and criticism – a safe and riskless exercise indeed but a futile one. The US is not moved by any external criticism or even verbal abuse. In fact, this unbridled freedom of expression is even available to its own citizens. Washington reacts and can cross any limit only when its interests are threatened.

Surprisingly, the most vociferous in their criticism are those religious-political leaders in Pakistan who beg Washington, behind the curtains, to help them acquire power. Similarly, it is those journalists and anchorpersons who are either green card holders or whose children live in the West who are very vocal in lambasting Donald Trump. In addition, those retired generals are also on the forefront who once launched religious leaders against the US or whose children also live in the US and Australia.

General Pervez Musharaf is a leading example of this. He joined the war on terror and became Washington’s dearest ally, but at the same time launched the MMA to threaten the Americans. Instead of breaking the alliance with the US because of the latter’s double game, he started a double game of his own while fighting the war on terror. To ensure his presence in the media, he now even proudly accepts playing the double game. He either lives in London or the UAE, but Hafiz Saeed – a man designated a terrorist by the UN and US – has become his hero.

The million dollar question here is: can we fight a country in which the children of our elite live, or which has become a second home to our leadership? The Americans know the weakness of our elites and the shallowness of our jingoism. That is why we are at the receiving end of the degrading remarks of the US attorney general as well as the US president.

Nevertheless, looking at the positive side, it is probably the best time to not be as dependent on the US as we were in the past. Trump has also ended up benefiting Pakistan – thanks to his follies and political blunders. Historically, Pakistan’s policymakers have been reluctant to join the China or Russia camps. But Trump’s aggressive approach has pushed Islamabad right towards the opposite camp.

Russia too did not trust Pakistan due to its fears of Islamabad slipping back to the US camp. But now that Pakistan has started responding to Trump in the same tone, Russia’s trust and confidence in us is gradually being restored. China and Russia were also not on the same page as Pakistan on Afghanistan’s issues, particularly India’s role in the country. But with the Washington-New Delhi nexus becoming stronger, and Trump trying to use India as a proxy in South Asia, China and Russia have also grown greatly suspicious of India’s role in Afghanistan. China has strongly rejected Trump’s Afghan policy and has started playing a more effective role in Afghanistan, while Russia has also started showing greater interest in the country for the first time since the disintegration of the USSR.

As far as Iran was concerned, Pakistan was previously facing a dilemma as relations between Tehran and Washington were improving during Obama’s tenure, and Iran and India were also coming closer and their strategic partnership was increasing. The construction of the Chabahar Port and the Kulbhushan Jadhav saga are some examples of these closer ties.

Trump’s current approach towards Iran has reignited Tehran’s traditional animosity and has also weakened Iran and India’s bond. This enhances the chances of Iran and Pakistan becoming close allies, which the US could fear greatly.

While Trump’s irresponsible and foolish statements aimed at the UK, Europe, North Korea and Iran may not be a reflection of the US establishment’s policy at large, what he irresponsibly expresses about Pakistan is indeed US policy. The US establishment may not fully implement everything that Trump says or wants about Afghanistan and Pakistan but there has been a largely similar view in Washington regarding Pakistan even during the Bush and Obama administrations.

The most alarming fact, however, is that the primary victim, Afghanistan, is on the same page with Washington, and Kabul emphatically blames Islamabad for its instability. And being a victim of instability, Kabul’s voice is generally being heard in capitals around the world. This gives Washington an opportunity to engage in anti-Pakistan propaganda, shift the blame and blackmail Islamabad. Pakistan needs to counter this poisonous propaganda, listen to Kabul’s grievances and address its genuine concerns.

Pakistan’s Afghan policy should not be Trump-driven and should not be influenced by reactions to his policies. If we satisfy the people of Afghanistan, we would be able to undermine the credibility of the anti-Pakistan propaganda and deny Washington its blackmailing advantage. Although some argue that being a puppet of the US, the Afghan government will do whatever Washington asks it to do, the fact is on the contrary. Embroiled in animosity with Tehran for decades, the US failed to use Afghanistan against Tehran. Having probably tried its best to use one against the other, it is a fact that neither former Afghan president Hamid Karzai nor Ashraf Ghani ever spoke against Iran or allowed Afghan soil to be used against Iran. Even Iran, in the presence of the US, managed to use the Afghan soil to promote its strategic interests. So if Washington cannot dictate and use Kabul against Tehran, how can it use it against Islamabad?

Pakistan should never accept any demand of the US that is detrimental to, or compromises, its national interests. However, we should support every sincere effort aimed at ending instability in Afghanistan. Since we share a border, a peaceful Afghanistan is the primary need of Pakistan, China, Russia and Iran. The US and India seem to be the primary beneficiaries of instability in Afghanistan. But we should respond to Trump’s policy through other front since it would be suicidal for us to formulate an Afghan policy on the basis of our reaction to Trump’s stubbornness.

To undermine the US-India nexus, it is important to strive for peace and stability in Afghanistan. Keeping Kabul on board, we should strive for a joint strategy and should form a single bloc with China, Russia and Iran. In spite of Kabul’s follies and blunders regarding Islamabad, it is a fact that the people of Afghanistan want peace and stability.

Every Afghan knows that the role and importance of Pakistan, China, Russia and Iran is greater than the US and India. However, they are at the mercy of Washington and New Delhi due to the continuous war and instability in their country. They will rush towards the regional powers the day their dependence on Washington and New Delhi ends. It is high time Kabul were given a chance via a joint strategy and regional bloc for peace.

The writer works for Geo TV.