Chief Editor: Ansar Mahmood Bhatti

Pakistan, US ties touching lowest ebb by Ansar Mahmood Bhatti

The National Assembly of Pakistan on August 30, 2017 convened a special session to discuss US President Donald Trump’s Pakistan policy. Donald Trump’s tirade against Pakistan, in his Afghanistan strategy speech of August 21, ostensibly pushed relations between the two partners to a new low. Pakistan foreign minister postponed his scheduled US visit after US President’s remarks and Pakistan also refused to welcome the US Assistant Secretary of State, who perhaps wanted to visit Pakistan for some firefighting.

Trump had criticized Pakistan for “offering safe havens to agents of chaos, violence and terror.” He also accused Pakistan of “sheltering the same organizations that try every single day to kill our people”. He said things “will have to change and change immediately.” Praising India he urged it for a bigger role in Afghanistan. The US Secretary of State subsequently expounded that all possible options to bring Pakistan to heel were on the table. That translates to withholding military aid, invoking sanctions and even revoking major non NATO ally status.

 Keeping in view the gravity of the situation the Pakistan government decided to convene a special session of the National Assembly to discuss this issue threadbare. The opposition parties suggested convening another session of both the houses in order to further dilate upon the emerging crisis and with a view to sending loud and clear signals to Washington that any misadventure against Pakistan will have negative repercussions for the relationship.

The consensus amongst the lawmakers was that the US was unmindful of Pakistan’s lead role in the war on terror. Decimating most of Al Qaeda, losing over 70,000 precious lives and over $120 billion losses to the Pakistan economy were ignored. In fact, the US failure of its 16 years Afghanistan war was being persistently blamed on Pakistan. To add insult to injury, arch rival India was being given a bigger role and say in Afghanistan thereby allowing it to encircle and destabilize Pakistan further.

However, there was also a consensus amongst the parliamentarians of continuing engagement with the US to settle misgivings. There is no denying the fact that despite being located far away, the US has always been well poised to exercise its influence in this region therefore, the proposition of engagement rather than hostility sounds logical. As reports suggest, there are clear divisions among the US administration also on President Trump’s Afghan policy. There is no dearth of people who earnestly believe peace in Afghanistan in particular and in the region in general cannot be achieved without the support of Pakistan therefore, according to them Trump’s policy may backfire if implemented and pursued in letter and spirit.

Pakistan needs to continue to cultivate closer relations with the members of the camp that believe in longer-term and mutually beneficial partnership with Pakistan. After all this is not for the first time that both countries seem to have developed differences on this particular issue. Even in the past disagreements on a host of issues strained relations between the two countries on numerous occasions. But needs and compulsions helped iron them out.

Interestingly Chinese response was immediately forthcoming after President Trump’s speech. The Chinese leadership rubbished President Trump’s assertion saying Pakistan had done a lot and sacrificed a lot in the war against terror therefore their sacrifices need to be recognized. Russia too came out eulogizing Pakistan.  A strong-worded response from the Chief of the Army Staff General Qamar Javed Bajwa unequivocally stated that Pakistan does not need any financial assistance but recognition of its track record and a relationship based on mutual respect.

The present US policy of antagonizing major stakeholder, immediate neighbor and logistical compulsion Pakistan to win the war in Afghanistan with an insignificant troop surge is baffling. It would seem the US President decided to opt for a bad decision rather than no decision. That is understandable since a good decision was never an option in this historical graveyard of the Empires-Afghanistan context! Pakistan can and should bide its time by following a path of least confrontation. It has time and history on its side. The US policy will eventually have to be reviewed and modified with the situation on the ground. Eventually, it is just another tiff in a long, difficult but essential relationship between USA and Pakistan.