Monday May 27, 2024

Pak-US ties not destined for rupture

By Jan Achakzai
November 08, 2021

Pakistan and US relations are not standing on the edge of the precipice and all post-US withdrawal reviews do not suggest any doomsday scenario in bilateral America-Pakistan relations. Pakistan's politicians, some media voices, and think tanks are overreacting to on-off outbursts in Washington DC's chattering classes and some politicians.

Admittedly, post-Taliban Afghanistan has caused a degree of shock and awe in the US policy circles and there have been calls for a thorough introspection of ascertaining causes of the failure of Ghani government's spectacular collapse in nine days.

Also, there is some truth to assertions in Congress hearings to scapegoat the US omissions and commissions in its Afghan policy on Pakistan and other marginal issues. Taunted as a core failure for the US debacle in Afghanistan is the belief that the Taliban's support by Islamabad over a decade ensured the Taliban's military victory in nine days. However, discerning the causes of the Taliban's victory is not the direct focus here.

The main convergence between US and Pakistan revolves around stabilizing the region and Afghanistan, though divergences exist as to how to achieve this goal. Securitization of foreign policy priorities of the two countries is bearing heavily over other aspects of bilaterals. Doomsayers forget that Pakistan and US relations are multi-levels despite creative tension over Afghanistan policy. Political, economic and people-to-people contacts are some of the aspects of this relationship.

All those who claim that Pak-US relations are transactional forget that such characteristic is inherent even in strategic relations between the US and Europe underpinned by common security goals. For example, the back and forth wrangling over the climate issue, Iran Nuclear deal, Palestine Tariffs, etc is noteworthy here. Since the US is engaged all over the world, it has to look right, left, and center, yet some issues and interests remain long term, though the only emphasis may change, sometime briefly and other times over a long haul.

Certain example of Pak-US ties with long-term emphasis has been the counter-terrorism efforts spanning over the last two decades. Going forward, the US has though militarily disengaged from Afghanistan, its counter-terrorism effort will not go away, and here again Islamabad chips in to supplement. Fight against Al Qaeda, Daesh, and the stability of US interest in Afghanistan and beyond is a common cause and goal. Recently the CNN report of Pakistan helping US CT effort through ALOG was all over the media.

Critics in Islamabad gloss over the fact that media voices emanating from Washington have a bias — it is a very anti-Biden administration media and thrives on any report, assertion, and myth to embarrass the Biden White House. The US media loves to create such controversies mainly in the foreign policy domain focusing on Afghanistan to turn it into a sour point for the current administration. Just like Pakistani media is obsessed with no phone call to Prime Minister Imran Khan from President Biden.

Again Islamabad's naysayers and some Washington think tanks make a big fuss of what is said on Capitol Hill. These hearings are conducted in a highly politicized environment, so whosoever officially turns up for the hearing has to play to the gallery. Congress is full of Republicans who have to have an anti-Democratic narrative. Congressmen occasionally criticize Pakistan not Pakistan per se but because they have to say the opposite to what President Biden and other officials of his admin have to say in favor of Pakistan. So their anti-Pakistan rhetoric or criticism of Islamabad in the context of Afghanistan do not find traction with Biden Admin and its policy-making circles–which is a bottom line of relations.

Do not forget the larger picture — US and Pakistan have common interest and that is counter-terrorism, and now a new emerging shared goal is likely to expand this relation further: prolonged humanitarian assistance to Afghanistan.

The areas of focused cooperation in this regard have yet to be determined, but moving forward, conceivable cooperation will be a common lineup in the two countries foreign policies. Not to mention Islamabad's huge help in the US grand withdrawal effort and subsequent evacuation of millions of US and Afghan and NATO citizens from Afghanistan. Thus all naysayers should understand that there is no possibility of a negative impact on Pak-US relations or a rupture as a result of US internal political polarisation.

Washington and Islamabad still disagree as to how to engage the Taliban while sanctioning-vs-recognition binary still besets both countries’ foreign policy talking points. India’s potentially rising role prodded by the US in Afghanistan and beyond is another divergence. Delhi leveraging its ill-conceived fears of Afghan spillover is music to US ears. Even though India has been at the forefront fanning militancy and proxy warfare in Pakistan, Islamabad is still struggling to convince Washington of its limits over the quantum of levers on the Taliban.

The writer is a geopolitical analyst, a politician from Balochistan, and an ex-adviser to the Balochistan government on media and strategic communication. He worked with BBC World Service. He is also Chairman of the Institute of New Horizons (INH) & Balochistan. He tweets @Jan_Achakzai