Dr Zafar Nawaz Jaspal
American and Pakistani officials held series of meetings in Washington last week. They deliberated on various conflicting issues to improve the working relations, which have been sour due to the mistrust between Washington and Islamabad. Though, the chances of the strategic convergence seem marginal, yet both sides are struggling to continue their cooperation in the regional affairs.
Since the beginning, Trump administration has been expressing serious concerns over Pakistan’s role in Afghanistan. The annoying factor for the administration is Pakistan’s insistence for political solution rather than American military victory in Afghanistan. Whereas; President Trump is determined to secure military victory. On August 21, 2017, President Trump expressed his frustration by levying serious allegations on Islamabad. He also threatened Islamabad for grave consequences. Subsequently, it revamped its Afghanistan and South Asian policy to curtail the Pakistani influence in the regional matters.
The shrinking validity of Islamabad in Washington’s Afghanistan and South Asian strategy is advantageous for India. New Delhi is presenting itself as a balancing actor in the regional strategic environment. It has gradually been expanding its influence in Afghanistan. Therefore, Americans are endorsing and assisting its regional hegemonic drive to counterbalance rising Chinese power in Asia and Russian ingress in Afghanistan.
The United States and India strategic partnership and the latter’s increasing influence in Afghanistan are alarming for Islamabad. It is an open secret that New Delhi has been using the Afghanistan territory for launching terrorist activities in Pakistan. Indians presence in the country also checks Pakistan influence in Afghanistan. The balancing role of India in Afghanistan suits to the American Eurasian strategy. Admittedly, the Americans has lesser problem with Pakistan in Afghanistan, but they cannot overlook the cumulative consequences of Russians and Chinese increasing influence in Afghanistan.
The American strategic pundits have been treating India as a Great Power in the South Asian strategic affairs. Whereas; Islamabad is averse to comprise on its traditional stance of regional equality. Therefore, increasing significance of India in the United States strategic calculation, especially in the South Asian and Indian Ocean strategic environment, bothers Islamabad. Hence, it has been improving its relationship with the Russian Federation and solidifying its strategic partnership with China.
Washington and its allies’ are worried from the presence of religiously radicalized militant groups in the country. They have been pressuring Pakistan to eliminate the sanctuaries of these groups. Realising the inconsequential affect of its suspension of economic assistance to Pakistan, Trump administration approached Financial Action Task Force (FATF), which placed Pakistan on the ‘Grey list’. Instead of realising and rectifying one’s own mistakes, Islamabad is continuously blaming United States and India. Indeed, without serious efforts to change international community perception about Pakistani establishment and civilian linkages with militant groups, the country may be isolated. Precisely, placing of Pakistan on FATF’s grey list proves that Islamabad has failed to change the perception of the international community about its role in the war on terrorism, despite the success of its military operations and restoring writ of the state in Federal Administrative Tribal Areas and managing the Afghanistan-Pakistan border.
Interestingly, many analysts opined that without having comfortable relations with United States, Pakistan would be isolated. Either they are ignorant of current international politics or they are deliberately concealing the developments in the neighborhood of Pakistan. Undoubtedly, maintaining bilateral relations with the United States is in the interest of Pakistan. Correspondingly, the former requires the support of the latter in accomplishing its objectives in west Asia, especially eliminating transnational terrorists syndicate networks and sanctuaries located in Afghanistan.
Pakistani leadership’s firmness and resolve to not accept dictates or compromise on its national interest despite the accusation and suspension of US security aid forced Trump administration to revisit its South Asian policy. Recent developments indicate that Trump administration is contemplating to engage Pakistan to end in the insurgency in Afghanistan. On March 7, 2018, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asia Alice Wells stated, “We’re certainly not walking away from Pakistan. Pakistan has an important role to play in helping to stabilise Afghanistan.” Interestingly, the Americans acknowledge the decisive role of Pakistan in Afghanistan affairs, but they are neither trusting nor prepared to engage Islamabad seriously in resolving Afghanistan’s intrastate conflict. Conversely, Islamabad also doubts the intentions of Washington.
The recent Washington visit of Foreign Secretary Tehmina Janjua kicks off a wide-ranging and high-level process of stabilising and improving ties with the United States. However, the reshuffle in President Trump cabinet may obstruct the constructive initiative between Islamabad and Washington. On March 13, 2018, President Trump sacked Rex Tillerson, secretary of state and named current CIA chief Mike Pompeo to succeed him. Mr. Pompeo is an advocator of tough policy on Pakistan. Hence, there is a probability of increasing pressure on Pakistan over his perceived backing for the Taliban in Afghanistan.
To conclude, further deterioration in Pakistan-US relationship is mutually damaging. Therefore, both sides need to shelve the blame game and address intelligently the legitimate grievances of each other for improving and stabilising bilateral relationship.
— The writer is Associate Professor, School of Politics and International Relations, Quaid-i-Azam University, Islamabad.