By Munir Akram
The insult contained in President Trump’s new year tweet accusing Pakistan of “lies and deceit” was followed by announcement of the injury the $255 million cut in Foreign Military Financing by the Indian-origin US ambassador to the UN. Further punitive measures may be revealed shortly. These are the latest developments in the progressively unravelling Pakistan-US relationship.
Pakistan is the world’s fifth largest country; it fields one of the most powerful militaries; it is a nuclear weapons state. It has its own priorities and interests in the region. It cannot be threatened and pushed around like a banana republic. Pakistan needs to articulate its interests and objectives, and execute its policies, boldly and clearly. The rambling statement issued by the National Security Council meeting in Islamabad did not adequately respond to the American insult or injury. It was left to the statement issued by the PTI leader, Imran Khan, to express the anger and sentiments of the Pakistani people. Pakistan needs to boldly and clearly articulate its interests and objectives to the US.
If it has not already done so, Pakistan should tell the US clearly and boldly that: one, we expect the Afghan and coalition forces to halt all cross-border attacks against Pakistan from Afghanistan. These attacks are emanating from ‘safe havens’ which the TTP, Jamaatul Ahrar (JuA) and IS terrorists enjoy in the 40pc of Afghanistan’s territory which is ungoverned; two, Pakistan will encourage the Afghan Taliban, whose fighters, commanders and leaders are in Afghanistan, to engage in political dialogue with the National Unity Government in Kabul.
They are likely to respond to political incentives, not the escalation of force; three, Pakistan will not kill or capture Afghan Taliban leaders who happen to be on Pakistani territory as long as they are not involved in cross-border attacks or terrorism on or from Pakistani territory. To expel them, we will have to expel all the Afghan refugees; four, Pakistan sympathises with the legitimate aspirations of the Kashmiri people. It will act against all militant groups on Pakistan territory, including the pro-Kashmiri groups, but only in accordance with its obligations under UN Security Council resolutions, nothing more or less; and, five, Pakistan will discuss restraints on its nuclear and missile programmes, with the US or in any other format, only if these discussions involve reciprocal restraints by India.
Pakistan should make a clear policy decision not to accept US financial assistance or the so-called reimbursement from the Coalition Support Fund. So long as Islamabad accepts US money, it will be treated as a ‘gun for hire’. If money is to be extracted from the US, it should be in the form of high fees for the transit of goods for its forces in Afghanistan that are presently allowed to flow free of charge through or over Pakistan. However, Pakistan should review its agreement to allow this land and air supply to US-NATO forces in Afghanistan. What is the rationale for facilitating supplies to forces that could, one day, perhaps sooner than expected, pose a threat to Pakistan’s security?
Indeed, there are now good reasons for Pakistan, and other regional states (China, Russia, Iran, Turkey and the Central Asians), to consider ways to secure the early departure of US and NATO forces from Afghanistan. The Trump administration has opted for an escalation of force in Afghanistan. It wants to stay there indefinitely to project power in the region. This is a recipe for perpetual war. The Taliban will not accept a settlement that omits the exit of foreign forces from Afghanistan. Nor can they be defeated militarily.
Second, the US has obviously not ‘done enough’ to eliminate the TTP, JuA, IS and affiliated terrorist groups which conduct cross-border attacks on Pakistan from their Afghan ‘safe havens’. It is plausible that the US has endorsed Indian-sponsored terrorism against Pakistan, perhaps to disrupt the CPEC project. Third, the US has reportedly formulated plans to ‘seize or destroy’ Pakistan’s nuclear capabilities in a crisis. Obviously, its special forces in Afghanistan are likely to be used for this purpose. Fourth, Russia and Iran are openly suspicious of the US relationship with IS / Daesh. It is strange that IS has emerged in Afghanistan under America’s watch. It could spread from Afghanistan to neighbouring countries.
It requires a collective effort, including Afghan Taliban cooperation, to eliminate this virulent brand of terrorism. Given the US reluctance to promote a political solution, the regional states should assume the responsibility of doing so. They should contact and cooperate with all willing Afghan parties and groups to evolve the parameters for a possible political solution to the conflict in Afghanistan. There are several formats available to conduct such a peace process, with or without US cooperation.
In this context, Pakistan needs to review the nature of its relationships in Afghanistan. It should open and maintain contacts with all relevant parties in Afghanistan, including Kabul and the Afghan Taliban. It should build new ties with the various warlords. It should adopt a differentiated approach to the Afghan refugees, supporting those who are friendly and need Pakistan’s help, externing those who abuse Pakistan or collaborate with India.
A strong response to the US attempts to bully Pakistan would reflect the sentiments of the vast majority of the Pakistani people, from the liberal elite to the religious extremists. Pakistan may suffer financially and face immense diplomatic pressure.
We have endured and emerged stronger from past bouts of US-led sanctions. In any case, from a strategic perspective, a Pakistan-US alliance has become unsustainable. The US is aligned with our enemy, India, and opposed to the rise of our strategic partner, China, including the Belt and Road Initiative and CPEC. It supports India’s campaign to crush the Kashmiri struggle for freedom.
It has recognised Holy Jerusalem (Al Quds al Sharif) as Israel’s capital thus foreclosing the establishment of a viable Palestinian State. It is supporting instability in Iran. It is pushing Saudi Arabia into an alliance with Israel and confrontation with Iran. For all these reasons, it would be best to work out ways for an amicable separation with Trump’s America.
The writer is a former Pakistan ambassador to the UN.