It seems the relations between US and Pakistan are spiraling down fast. First it was President Obama declaring that they will operate drones without impunity if and when they found a creditable target inside Pakistan without consideration of any red line. Few weeks later he announced extension of US military stay in Afghanistan, increase their size and also change their role to participate in combat operations. President Ghani then followed blaming Pakistan for failure of peace talks with Taliban and refusing to return to the negotiation table. And finally this week US Congress Foreign Relations Committee used Pakistan as a punching bag for their own failed policy in Afghanistan. Let us review all these three situations and its consequences for Pakistan.
Afghanistan is not an independent country and has not regained its complete sovereignty because of presence of foreign forces on its land, its economic dependence on foreign aid and its political arrangement brokered by a foreign power. President Ashraf Ghani did not win mandate to his office as a result of a free and fair election rather it was an outcome of a deal brokered between him and his opponent by US Secretary of State John Kerry. This has created a domestic stalemate as a nation can’t be led by two politicians that refuse to give space to each other. The foreign policy position of President Ghani is dictated by foreign powers because of lack of sovereignty as stated above. President Ghani’s olive branch to Pakistan offered after his oath taking was at the behest of United States because President Obama had decided to leave Afghanistan at the end of 2016. His recent hawkish attitude is also because of US prooding as they have changed their position from departing to staying for an unforeseeable future as a response to changing regional and global environment. This in other words means that Pakistan could have never done enough to make Afghans or Americans happy. They would always ask for more and more. I have already mentioned in another oped that US is seeking to please India by being hawkish towards Pakistan.
We believe that only in Pakistan we have civil and military tensions. But the reality is that establishment in USA is also very strong and play their own strategic game. Since the oath taking of President Obama in his first term there has been tension between them on Afghan policy. President Obama ordered a review of the policy immediately after taking office and appointed former CIA regional expert Bruce Riedel to lead it. After the review President Obama agreed to have a surge of 10,000 forces but at the same time announced the date of withdrawal to be end of 2016. This did not sit well with the establishment and despite this announcement the building of bases for permanent stationing of the soldiers continued. It is around that time that General Stanley McChrystal was relieved of his duty for mocking President Obama’s lack of understanding of military affairs. In other words US military establishment continued their efforts to change policy and prolonged their stay in Afghanistan. Recent regional changes including Ukraine, Syria, Russia, CPEC, and Iran nuclear deal has compelled them to finally be able to secure a u-turn in President Obama policy to depart from Afghanistan. Chaos in Iraq and rise of ISIL also played a significant part in this change of policy. Another dimension is domestic compulsion where Democratic Party candidate Hillary Clinton wants to be on the right side of establishment and even considering picking Admiral Stavridis as her running mate as Vice President.
This is not the whole story. US and European relations are in tail spin after the vote for Brexit losing a very close ally sitting on the EU table and ensuring protection of American interests. Germany and France have always showed a high degree of independence from towing the US line. This does not mean that they have agreement on most issues but they have always shown greater restraint in dealing with crisis and advocated different routes to solve a problem. One example is dealing with Russia after the Ukraine crisis. Another failure US is experiencing is in Asia Pacific where China has decided to be more aggressive and does not allow room for maneuver to USA to develop security alliances and pacts. New Philippine President has expressed concerns about rising tension with China on South China Sea and dispatched his foreign minister to China as soon as possible after taking oath. India is hesitant to become a declared ally of USA against China in both South East Asia and South Asia. Iran is still hawkish towards USA and there are reports that former President Ahmedinejad has started exploring possibility of contesting in next presidential elections. American unilateral refusal to lift sanctions on Iranian entities has undermined the support for Rouhani moderates. Turkey has also not appreciated American alliance with Syrian and Iraqi Kurds considering it a risk to its integrity and sovereignty. In other words American alliances are breaking down world over and three recent examples are refusal of US allies not to heed to their pressure to not join Asia Infrastructure Bank (AIIB) and second was her failure to secure Indian membership in Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) which was blocked by China. Lastly the economic sanctions against Russia did not have substantial success to retard their diplomatic and military efforts to increase influence in Middle East and Central Asia. Rather they had to accommodate Russians in Ukraine and Syria.
These diplomatic failures are causing frustrations and anger among policy makers. They need some scapegoats to blame. This means increased pressure on Pakistan to do more and blame them for continued political crisis in Afghanistan. I would not be surprised if sanctions are imposed on some individuals and organizations in Pakistan. In an extreme case regime change may also be part of their retaliation as traditionally military dictators have been more amenable to American strategic interests. Funding and support for separatists in Sind and Balochistan was publicly discussed in the US Congress Foreign Relations committee hearing. In other words all tools both diplomatic and military will be used to derail the CPEC that is considered by Americans a threat to their interests in South and Central Asia.
What should be our strategy to counter this developing scenario? First should be our diplomatic posture that presence of foreign forces in Afghanistan is causing regional instability. Russia, China and Iran will support this position but we have to work closely with them. Second is development of a regional platform most probably through Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) and Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC) to ensure security, economic and political development in Afghanistan. Taliban will support this as well because one of their top demand is withdrawal of foreign forces and complete return of sovereignty of the state. But they have to provide guarantees that they will pursue moderate politics providing space to women and equal rights for non-Muslims as well as ensure that their land is not used by any foreign power for any great game.
It is unfortunate that American influence is in decline because of their own wrong foreign policy and engagement in unjustified long term wars that is also putting pressure on their social cohesion. Recent riots by African-American against police brutality resulted in killing of five police officers by an Afghan war veteran that returned home only recently. A strong America is in the interest of all but their policy of no permanent friends only interests has run its course. They do need friends on which they can rely on as humans rather than strategic assets.