Pakistan has been an ally to the United States for decades. The entente began soon after Pakistan’s independence, the history of which is well documented and consumes most part of Pakistan’s foreign policy preferences. The bilateral marriage between the two countries has been on the verge of divorce to occasional joyous renewal of vows over multifaceted projects. Cooperation between Islamabad and Washington has been subjected to a heavy cost; more so in Pakistan’s account with a hefty interest rate but the “do-more” demand still strains the thin diplomatic thread.
Post 9/11 attacks, Afghanistan once became a troubled spot in the region, and Pakistan decided to continue its support for US in the war on terror. Internal situation and developments in Pakistan are under radar of Washington, whose signals even interfered in internal matters. Now, Pakistan has entered a stable phase in terms of overall security and economic development along with fresh attempts to strengthen its ties with other countries – including Russia. The new administration at the White House under the leadership of President Donald Trump opens both the books of skepticism and hope for Pakistan due to numerous reasons. Sources suggest that President Trump soon after taking oath, called on the Pakistani counterparts in D.C and hinted towards offering a fresh start with Pakistan, a gesture that was met with a warm response.
The meeting however, also indicated that much of the US polices directed towards Pakistan are managed by American security establishment. However, the first drone strike under Trump administration in Pakistan took place in March, killing two. United State’s “drone policy” with Pakistan has led to more civilian causalities than actual hostile targets. Pakistan cleared its backyard of terrorist hideouts in the military operation with tangible proof, this leaves US with no excuse to use drones inside Pakistani airspace. If it does, the move will not be appreciated by Islamabad.
Situation between Pakistan and the US seems smooth on the surface but the demand to do more continues. Pakistan was put on several different US watch lists with sanctions chastisement for noncompliance, the latest of which was under the conditions of Financial Action Task Force (FATF). Bilateral relations are not above the sovereignty and law of any given state but Pakistan is struggling sincerely to regain its international reputation of being a peaceful state, hence such “requests” by the ally still take up good consideration.
Afghanistan still remains a cog between Islamabad and Washington. The global rise of ISIS has reached Afghanistan with chances of it declaring its public presence in the province of Kunar in coming months. In the beginning of this year, Pakistan was hit by a wave of terrorist attacks and the investigation traced out the links into Afghanistan. Pakistan requested its US counterpart to take actions against the terrorists responsible for the attacks but the call was dodged back by handing over Pakistan another list of “most wanted”. Despite an established counter-terrorism and intelligence sharing task force that comprises of Pakistan, US and Afghanistan, the US failed to take serious action against the miscreants. Such actions and lack of interests by US is what makes Pakistan concerned about US policies and intensions. Certain think tanks in Washington are already proposing different ways to keep Pakistan under US pressure, forgetting that the US has already made significant cuts in aid given to Pakistan and it still owes a great deal to Pakistan for its services against war on terror.
There exists a high level of possibility that Pakistan will still be stigmatized and the old rhetoric of it being a dangerous country will resurface, but what the US establishment does not realize is that as per many analysts, its US undue interference in the region that resulted in the outbreak of chaos and mayhem. Pakistan still suffers undue allegations by US of supporting groups that are not in the interests of US. The idea of using a proxy was initiated by the US in Afghanistan, similar to the current on ground situation in Afghanistan. Pakistan will remain a key regional player and US would still require an option for any emergency exit plan, with or without the US aid.
International politics and alignments are undergoing a subtle paradigm shift. Pakistan as a developing country can still adjust to a newer course in global politics. Pakistan’s alliance with the US is complex and unpredictable in theory. Realization by Pakistan and return to realism in general by the world is causing states to rethink their stances with inward reflections.
US National Security Advisor Lieutenant General H.R McMaster made an unannounced visit to Pakistan. The delegation met with Pakistan’s top civil and military brass including the Pakistani Prime Minster and the Chief of Army Staff. However, the message largely remained Afghan centric but this visit’s hidden agenda was to remind Pakistan that US will follow through its security concerns at all costs – including inside Pakistan if necessary. The outcome of the meeting and the final consensus by Islamabad will determine the final policy outcome for Pakistan’s policy towards US.
The Trump administration might be new but it is understood that the US think tanks hold strong convincing power, especially when it comes to dealing with Pakistan. Lisa Curtis’s presence along with the US National Security Advisor, hints to the latter point.
The options after the visit for Pakistan would not be difficult to comprehend. Either it is “keep doing more” or draw maximum benefits out of the do – more drumbeating. Despite the undermining of Pakistan’s diplomatic ability by both US and few at home, Pakistan has managed to break the ice with Russia. Adding CPEC to the consideration and the economic uplift, it will provide Pakistan in future to come, US aid will compensate for none of the development. Stable Afghanistan is more in favor of Pakistan than of the US which is accused of using ISIS like groups in Middle Eastern conflicts. In terms of national interests, Pakistan should now peruse any means necessary to ensure that no country violates its sovereign decisions and land; especially national security.
The counter terrorism efforts made by Pakistan over the years should give Pakistan a green card to display valor and operate on its own terms. However, to counter any harsh moves by the US, Pakistan must act proactively. Given the sudden shift of US policy on Syria, Pakistan should be very skeptic of any offers made by the US. Succumbing to US pressure in any form, would make Pakistan compromise on issues related to security in particular – a situation that Pakistani administration needs to avoid at all costs. Pakistan needs to maintain a realistic approach when dealing with Trump administration.
US obsession with Pakistan over the unfortunate events in the past, need to be shattered by drawing a clear line between any bilateral cooperation and internal decisions taken by Pakistan. The message of which should be conveyed at the earliest by both the civil-military establishment in Islamabad. Pakistan’s relationship with the US is a matter of “for better or for worst”. International cooperation is an integral component of a state’s foreign policy, but like US, Pakistan should be able to maintain the required balance and self-respect as an independent state while dealing with any country.