Since the fateful event of 9/11, the relationship between Pakistan and the US has been marred by insurmountable mistrust. The West in general and the United States in particular have been trying to portray Pakistan as a hypocrite state and has accused the country of double-dealing in the war against terror while the huge sacrifices and colossal losses Pakistan has borne in this US-led war are intentionally minimized. An impression is being created nowadays that Pakistan is not sincere in fighting the war against terror and that it helps the Afghan Taliban despite the fact that it has received billions of dollars of aid from the US.
Admittedly, Pakistan may have its own shortcomings and weaknesses, and errors of omission and commission by those at the helm have given birth to the unfounded perception that the failure of the war against terror is because of Pakistan; however, putting the whole blame of ISAF and Nato’s failure in Afghanistan on Pakistan and exonerating the US from all its blunders is not justified at all. In the following paragraphs, an attempt has been made to highlight the blunders made by the US in this nearly war as well as its perfidious attitude toward Pakistan that created an environment of mistrust between the two states.
After 9/11, Pakistan’s decision to abandon the Taliban and support US efforts to topple their regime was a great strategic reversal in Pakistan’s Afghan policy; and it should have been fully appreciated by the US as well as international community. Instead, the US ‘honoured’ this big step by only disregarding it. By withdrawing its support for the Taliban and aligning with the US, Pakistan put all its Afghanistan-related strategic interests at stake. The US should have done all it could to protect Pakistan’s legitimate interests in Afghanistan. But, unfortunately, the Americans didn’t do anything to assuage Pakistan’s apprehensions with regard to protection of its interests in the post-Taliban Afghanistan.
Pakistan was concerned about the occupation of Kabul by the Northern Alliance (NA) — the group that vociferously opposed Pakistan with the backing of India, Iran and Russia. Giving any undue preponderance to the NA was against the demographic realities of the Pukhtun-majority Afghanistan. The NA was inimical to Pakistan whereas the Pukhtuns didn’t have any such hostility. So, it was inevitable for Pakistan to ensure that the NA did not get dominance. Although President Bush had assured President Musharraf for the same three days before the NA overtook Kabul in October 2001, yet no practical step toward materializing that assurance was taken. The Kabul occupation by the NA came as bad news for Pakistan as it ensued in many bad consequences in the shape of rising anti-Pakistan sentiment and policies by the post-Taliban Afghan government. The way Pakistanis present in Afghanistan were savagely treated by the new regime and Hamid Karzai’s rejection of Musharraf’s invitation to visit Islamabad harbingered the nature of their bilateral relations in future. The US never persuaded Karzai and the NA to change their attitude toward Pakistan in the light of the new strategic environment in the region. Pakistan had taken a full U-turn by withdrawing its support for the Taliban and backing the US and the new Afghan government in the war against terror. With change in Pakistan’s Taliban policy, the Afghan government and the NA should also have reciprocated this gesture of goodwill.
India’s influence in Afghanistan has always been a matter of great concern for Pakistan. Pakistan had a bitter experience of this during the Zahir-Daud era when Afghanistan was the centre of all types of conspiracies against Pakistan and the propaganda of the Pukhtunistan issue was on its peak. That is why Pakistan always tried to limit Indian sway in Afghanistan to the least possible extent in order to avert security threats from that side. It was with this end in view that Pakistan had agreed to its full cooperation with the US in the war against terror on an oral understanding that India would not have any role in the future of Afghanistan either in the war efforts or in the making of the future setup. But after the fall of the Taliban, India wielded considerable clout in the new Afghan setup to the detriment of Pakistan’s security and strategic interests. Afghanistan’s new Karzai-led and NA-dominated government went all out to ingratiate India, in total disregard of Pakistan. Indian consulates in Jalalabad and Kandahar became training centres for Baloch separatists and Pukhtun militants. The US too did not press India for limiting its role, especially anti-Pakistan activities, in Afghanistan. On the contrary, the US took its relationship with India to new heights.
The post-9/11 US policy toward India and Pakistan was based on the principles of de-hyphenation which meant that the US would not regard Pakistan’s sensitivities in enhancing relations with India. This was a total deviation from past when the US regarded Pakistan as its ally in the Cold War and confined its interaction with India within the limits of Pakistan’s toleration. In the new era, the US made it clear that it wouldn’t care for Pakistan’s interests in dealings with India. Bush and Obama administrations clearly indicated that their relationship with Pakistan was limited to war against terrorism while that with India was based on long-term cooperation in the areas of trade, commerce, defence and high-technology transfers. The peak in the US-India relationship was the civil-nuclear technology deal that was a scheme to make India preeminent legitimate nuclear power.
The United States has done everything it can to ignite misperceptions and apprehensions in Pakistan and showed its motive in co-opting India as its greatest future ally in the region. The US was expecting Pakistan to give sacrifices in the war against terror beyond its capacity and was demanding to do more and more in this respect. Pakistan was doing all that was possible in the harsh geographical and social environment of FATA. The US accused Pakistan of taking no action against the Afghan Taliban and Haqqani network based in the Pakistani side of the Durand Line and alleged that this non-action was the biggest cause of the failure of international forces in Afghanistan.
But the question that begs attention is that how did the Afghan Taliban or Haqqani network insurgents enter Pakistani territory? Why did the US not or could not stop them on the Afghan territory despite huge intelligence and technological resources at its disposal? The point is that if Pakistan failed to completely stop these elements’ raids into Afghanistan from its territory due to lack of financial and technological resources, harsh terrain and tough local reaction, the US could not control the same forces on the Afghan territory despite tremendous resources.
The US policy of ignoring Pakistan’s sensitivities regarding NA domination also helped the spawning of Afghan Taliban’s resistance and popularity in the Pukhtun majority areas because the Pukhtuns felt deprived and marginalized in the new dispensation. They saw in the rise of the Taliban a new hope of realizing their lost position and glory. Moreover, the failure of the US to arrive at a settlement with the defeated Taliban and invite them to the Bonn Conferences for the future of Afghanistan left the defeated Taliban with no constitutional way to become part of the new political system. The only way they were left with was to take up arms against the US and the puppet government in Kabul. The Taliban started insurgency in the first opportunity that came their way. It was a great folly on the part of the US to think that the Taliban had been defeated beyond any possibility of rising again. They had been defeated but not crushed. The best way for the US hence was to arrive at a settlement with them and make them a part of the future Afghan setup.
Pakistan’s role in the entire Afghan war was highly critical for the US. It played an important role in apprehending al-Qaeda activists and handing them over to the US. It had also to take up a long, arduous task of taking action against the homegrown Taliban in form of several military operations in Swat and Fata. But still the US was dissatisfied with Pakistan’s contributions and continued chanting the ‘do more’ mantra. What Pakistan was doing with its limited resources and given the policies of the United States which were in total disregard of Pakistan’s strategic interests, was more than enough. No other country would have done better than Pakistan in such circumstances. The US was itself responsible for its defeat and the resurgence of the Taliban due to its short-sighted and myopic policies. Pakistan, despite unfavourable circumstances, started a full-fledge operation against the terrorists namely Operation Zarb-e-Azb that has been instrumental in breaking the back of the terrorists. Nevertheless due to lack of cooperation from across the border, most of the terrorists fled to Afghanistan. It was the responsibility of the Afghan and US forces to stop their infiltration into their territory. But, they did not fulfil their duty. So, instead of indulging in a blame game, it is high time that Washington reviewed its policy toward Islamabad and made this partnership viable.