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The New US Approach to Pakistan

The New US Approach to Pakistan

The election of Republican Party candidate, Donald J. Trump, as the 45th President of the United States, gave birth to apprehensions that he would be disastrous for the Muslim world in general and Pakistan in particular. Pakistan has been fighting the US-led global war on terror since 2001 as a frontline state. However, for the last decade and a half, more Washington has been accusing Islamabad of double-dealing in this long war. It employed a host of tactics to compel Pakistan to take action against the Taliban and the Haqqani Network. Nevertheless, instead of President Trump, the task of making Pakistan yield to the US wishes was recently took up by Pakistan’s former ambassador to the United States, Husain Haqqani, who has suggested Trump administration to impose further aid conditions on Pakistan to make the country do what the US wants.

In a report entitled ‘The New US Approach to Pakistan: Enforcing Aid Conditions Without Cutting Ties’ Husain Haqqani, who co-authored it with Ms. Lisa Curtis, the former US Assistant Secretary of State for South Asia and currently senior research fellow at The Heritage Foundation, suggested Trump administration some ways to deal with Pakistan. In preface to the report, he wrote:

“The new Trump Administration must review its policies toward Pakistan in order to more effectively contain, and eventually eliminate, the terrorist threats that continue to emanate from the country. The activities and operations of diverse terror groups on and from Pakistani soil, and the government’s failure to rein them in, threaten vital U.S. national security interests in the region. These include stabilizing Afghanistan, keeping the country from again turning into a global terrorist safe haven, and preventing the outbreak of an India-Pakistan military conflict that could potentially go nuclear”.

It’s a fact,  whether the US acknowledges it or not, that Pakistan has sacrificed precious lives of more than 60,000 civilians and 6,000 security personnel in the unending war on terror, besides bearing the colossal economic losses to the tune of billions of dollars. The US has been carrying out drone strikes in Pakistani territory in sheer violation of Pakistan’s sovereignty. Adopting an opportunistic approach, the US gave huge weight to India in its relations with countries in this part of the world, in complete disregard to Pakistan’s interests. The US came closer to Pakistan only to pursue its own interests and once those interests were fulfilled, it abandoned Pakistan. And even more surprisingly, it has laid the whole onus of its own failure in Afghanistan on Pakistan’s shoulders. The US must understand the fact that there may be some shortcomings but Pakistan is a Third World country and it has its own national interests and, like every other country, also has the right to pursue those.

In the past, Pakistan has tailored its policies to converge with the US interests in the region – be it the Cold War or the fateful event of 9/11. Nonetheless, after some years of the US invasion of Afghanistan, Pakistan started supporting the Taliban and Haqqani Network and it was completely legitimate in the sense that the US never fulfilled the commitments it made before the invasion. The US paid no heed to Pakistani demands that there should be only a limited role of the Northern Alliance in Kabul and that Indian sway over Afghanistan’s territory must be contained.  Indian presence in Afghanistan had been a matter of gravest concern for Pakistan’s security establishment especially because India has been fomenting unrest and insurgency in Balochistan. The US failed to persuade the Northern Alliance and the Karzai regime to adopt a balanced and friendly approach to Pakistan as the strategic environment had changed a lot after the latter’s withdrawal of support for the Taliban.

If we look to the US-Pakistan relationship, it has always been on a rocky path due to divergence of interests. This relationship has been limited to cooperation in war on terror in the contemporary era while Pakistan, in return, receives economic support from the US in form of Coalition Support Fund (CSF). Both the states want, and rightly so, to pursue their own interests. In pursuit of its interests and strategic objectives, the US uses its economic and military prowess, media, and its diplomatic power, as well as technological resources. On the other hand, Pakistan pursues its interests by employing its own strategic assets to counter threats.

If the United States wants a stable Afghanistan, it should pull out and support efforts to make an agreement between the Taliban and the Afghan government. On the one hand, it will make Afghanistan more stable and will also assuage Pakistan’s apprehensions, on the other. There can’t be any clash if the US respects the strategic interests of Pakistan. The Trump Administration, instead of adopting a hard stance on Pakistan, should adopt a balanced approach in order to counter the emerging threat: the ISIS, which is poised to spread its tentacles in South Asia. As far as the economic conditions are concerned, a country may sacrifice its interests for the sake of economic gains but only to some extent.

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About Zafar Iqbal Yousafzai

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The writer is an M.Phil scholar at the Department of Political science, University of Peshawar. He can be reached at: iqbalyousafzai@gmail.com

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