A scapegoated ally

August 29, 2021

Pakistan-US relations remain a muddle with no order in sight

A scapegoated ally

When Pakistan’s relationship with the United States is studied in the coming years, it will not start with the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan but with the US invasion of Afghanistan following the September 11 attacks. And unless the relationship is rewritten by the US over the coming months, it will be challenging to find a more favourable time for cooperation with Pakistan.

The 2001 US invasion of Afghanistan opened a Pandora’s Box for the region. Pakistan has been a victim of this besides Afghanistan.

Gen Pervez Musharraf, the then president of Pakistan, had faced a difficult decision that could have a lasting impact. The good and bad of it has been much argued. In the end, Pakistan joined the long US War on Terror. The Operation Enduring Freedom pushed the Taliban militants to the border with Pakistan, leaving the country a rock and a hard place.

US pressure on Pakistan mounted in the coming months. After some internal assessments, Pakistan launched several military operations to eliminate militants on its soil. Unsatisfied with Pakistan’s commitment, the US pushed the government and its military to do more while it fell deeper into the war in Afghanistan. Officials in Pakistan, including its military generals, were quick to see the reality. They warned of the probability that the US will pointlessly dig itself deeper in to a mess. Yet, all those years, Pakistan was an ally scapegoated, pressured and occasionally applauded. The bilateral relationship remained a one-sided affair.

The recent fall of Kabul at the hands of the Taliban took most experts and officials by surprise. Almost 20 years and trillions of dollars later, the US-trained Afghan military and the government failed to hold their ground. The abrupt US pull-out from Afghanistan has become a nuisance for Pakistan. As the US separates itself from the crisis in Afghanistan, it has disengaged itself from Pakistan too.

The false impression carried by the US of Pakistan being ecstatic about the Taliban’s victory does not help. This is not unusual, nor is it something that bothers some Pakistani leaders much at the moment. At this point, it knows all too well that this phase of the cold shoulder the US gives when things do not go according to their plan. However, Pakistan is still looking for a renewed bilateral relationship and hopes that the Biden administration will do the same. Perhaps, the Biden administration cannot comprehend the seriousness in the Pakistani civil and military ranks regarding the state policy towards the US.

The notion that the events in Afghanistan are influenced by or from Pakistan is old rhetoric no matter how much pressure Western media, US officials or experts exert.

In his recent interview with The Washington Post, National Security Adviser Moeed Yusuf said the United States and Pakistan have a shared interest in working together in Afghanistan. This he said required fixing the bilateral relationship. The statement from a top official speaks of what Prime Minister Khan has reiterated since taking office.

Pakistan’s policy under Imran Khan is clear. The lack of interest and suspicion by the US at such a critical time only adds to the uncertainty of the situation. The notion that the events in Afghanistan are influenced by or from Pakistan is old rhetoric no matter how much pressure Western media, US officials or experts exert. An Afghanistan-centric US relationship with Pakistan hampers what Khan had hoped for.

If the thinking in the US is to wait for the change of command in the military leadership, it sets a dangerous prospect. With two years until Pakistan’s next election, it is still Khan and his team that the Biden administration will have to deal with.

With civil and military aid out of the question, what does Pakistan require from the new administration in the US or the international community?

When it comes to the immediate issue faced by Pakistan, it is the situation in Afghanistan. Pakistan wants the US to continue humanitarian assistance and share the refugee burden. It does not want the US to completely abandon Afghanistan in tatters. If the US and Pakistan cooperate through this phase of the bilateral relationship, then perhaps, once the dust settles, the two can see eye to eye on other aspects. The security facet has dominated the bilateral relations and will continue to do so unless there is a significant change in the US policy towards Pakistan. This seems inevitable under the current circumstances.

The US administration might need Pakistan’s support when and if it wants to approach the new government under the Taliban in Kabul. For now, it is occupied with the evacuation from Kabul. Many in Pakistan remain hopeful of a fresh start with the US under President Joe Biden regardless of the checkered past. The US insouciance towards Pakistan’s legitimate concerns is not helping the state of bilateral relationship.

The writer is an independent media and foreign policy analyst. She tweets @MsAishaK

A scapegoated ally