Pakistan-India-U.S.: The Troubled Triangle

Published in Hilal English

Written By: Dr. Huma Baqai


Pakistan has supported U.S. for seven decades, the relationship has swung between being the most sanctioned ally to a non-NATO ally. Post 9/11, Pakistan helped U.S. more than any of its NATO allies. The reward unfortunately is public humiliation now and then. President Trump’s tweet was the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back. The shifting thought in Pakistan is that it’s time to change the equation. The message from Pakistan is loud and clear. The Armed Forces of Pakistan have restored country’s stability while the stability in Afghanistan is the responsibility of the Afghan government and U.S. forces.

Pakistan-U.S. relations are witnessing an unprecedented realignment. Washington has taken an exceptionally tough stance on Pakistan with the U.S. President accusing it of lies and deceit. Pakistan and U.S. relations are a textbook case of political realism. Since 1947, the construct of convergence between the two states is ambiguous. The engagement is compulsion driven. On more than one occasion, both the states have pursued divergent interest trajectories sabotaging each other’s interests at regional and international levels. Uneasy marriage to odd couple of modern international relations is how the relationship is referred to. This roller coaster alliance is the direct outcome of the lack of a shared threat perception. Pakistan at best is, and was, a utility partner.


The relationship has experienced a more obvious downward slide since President Bush’s second term, where an attempt was made to de-hyphenate India and Pakistan. In 2008, under Obama, America launched the AfPak policy, a term popularized by Richard Holbrooke, who later became the first U.S. special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan. Pakistan both resisted and resented this grouping.
Another major irritant was the use of unmanned aerial vehicles by the allied forces stationed in Afghanistan against targets in Pakistan. U.S. was seen as a state violating Pakistan’s territorial sovereignty and killing innocent people. This led to the dwindling of public support for General Musharraf’s pro-U.S. policy, which was low to begin with. Other factors included the increased levels of militancy and terrorism in Pakistan, U.S. treatment of captives at Guantanamo Bay detention facilities, and handing over of the alleged terror suspects to the U.S. The rising levels of insecurity also impacted the economy adversely. In 2012, three-in-four Pakistanis (74%) considered the U.S. an enemy, up from 69% in 2011 and 64% in 2009. President Obama was held in exceedingly low regard. Pakistan because of its pro-U.S. policies, became a country that was internally divided and doubted abroad.

 

pakindiausthe.jpgPresident Obama, known by many as a pacifist and the recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize within the first nine months into his presidency as well as for his notable speech “A New Beginning” in Cairo, six years into his time in the office had approved military operations in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia, Yemen, Libya and Syria.


The Bureau of Investigative Journalism estimates that the Obama administration launched more than 390 drone strikes in five years across Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia, eight times as many approved during the entire Bush presidency. 330 of the 390 drone strikes were carried out in Pakistan.


The China Factor
Since then, the relationship has only deteriorated and the trust deficit between the two countries has increased. U.S. desire to replace Pakistan by New Delhi to achieve its larger objectives of curtailing China’s rise and maintaining its influence in the region has only worsened the situation. Admiral Harry Harris, the head of U.S. Pacific Command, called China a disruptive power in the Indo-Pacific region, while speaking alongside Indian and Japanese counterpart at the annual Raisina Dialogue in New Delhi in January 2018. Earlier in 2011, Hillary Clinton wrote an article titled “America’s Pacific Century,” where she says, “the future of politics will be decided in Asia, not in Afghanistan or Iraq, and the United States will be right at the center of the action.” 2013 onwards, senior U.S. officials like Joe Biden, John Kerry and former commander of U.S. Pacific Command Samuel Locklear III began to use terms like Indo-Asia Pacific or Indo-Pacific. The outcome of this is the very active engagement between U.S. and India in the Asia-Pacific. The Indian Ocean has become the new field for the rebalance. U.S. also sees a strategic convergence with India’s “Act East Policy.” India is now the lynchpin of U.S. Asia-Pacific Rebalance Strategy.


“India is in” and “Pakistan is out,” is the crux of President Trump’s South Asia Policy. This turnaround is embedded in the shift in Washington’s focus from being Asia-specific to Indo-specific to counter the new power dynamics of South Asia, where U.S. now views China as more than just a latent adversary. China’s rise has changed the regional balance, making it imperative for U.S. to sustain its supremacy by aligning more proactively with India.


Damage Control
The first visit of a senior American official since President Trump’s new year tweet, in which Pakistan was accused of lies and deceit, happened in mid-January 2018. The U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs Principle Deputy Assistant and Acting Assistant Secretary of State, Ambassador Alice Wells met Pakistani officials and gave the first so-called policy statement on Pakistan-U.S. relations. She said all the right things and more of the same just a bit more nicely, trying to soften the blow. The crux of which is that U.S. is not desirous of giving Pakistan a key ally status anymore, nor wants to sever its ties and perhaps there are consequences for non-compliance and some acknowledgement of Pakistan’s contribution ending on the usual ‘more has to be done’.


This is perhaps the problem. James Carafano, a senior defence analyst with the Heritage Foundation, way back in 2015, said, “Washington has failed in the efforts with Pakistan and it is stuck playing tit-for-tat with Islamabad, that’s fine for kids’ game, but it is disaster when it comes to playing politics in what might be the most dangerous part of the world.” He also said, “sadly, the White House doesn’t have any other game plan. The back and forth with Pakistan is not only unproductive, it just keeps adding space for Al-Qaeda, the Haqqani Network, and others to grow making the world less safe for Washington and Islamabad.”


In an attempt at damage control from Pakistan’s side, Foreign Secretary of Pakistan, Ms. Tehmina Janjua, made a quiet visit to Washington in March 2018, where she held two high-level meetings at the White House and the State Department. Apparently, the visit resulted in Washington responding to Pakistan's longstanding demand to take action against TTP terrorists using Afghan soil to launch cross-border attacks.


The U.S. Department of Justice announced a hefty reward for information on three TTP leaders: $5 million reward for information on TTP chief Mullah Fazlullah and $3 million each for the leaders–Mangal Bagh and Abdul Wali Khan–of its two affiliated groups. Earlier in March 2018, 21 TTP terrorists, including Fazlullah's son, were killed in drone strikes inside Afghanistan. It is also believed that Qari Yasin, a notorious trainer of suicide bombers, and Maulvi Gul Muhammad, the group’s head from Bajaur Agency, were also killed in the strike.


Fazlullah, Wali and Bagh are among the most-wanted men for Pakistan, which had already announced reward money for their capture and outlawed their groups. Their organizations had claimed responsibility for some of the most horrendous terrorist attacks in Pakistan. Fazlullah’s TTP claimed the 2014 attack on an army-run school in Peshawar in which around 149 people, including 133 schoolchildren, were killed. It also claimed responsibility for the beheading of seven Pakistani soldiers in June 2012, shooting of Malala Yousafzai in October 2012, and the failed bid by Pakistani-American Faisal Shahzad to detonate an explosive device in Times Square, New York, in May 2010. Among other attacks, Wali’s JUA was accused of killing two Pakistani employees of the U.S. Consulate in Peshawar in March 2016, and Bagh’s men of attacking NATO supply convoys.


Ms. Janjua’s visit was an attempt to improve ties with the U.S. and at least have a working relationship. She said that both sides wanted positive engagement and were partners in the War against Terror. However, Commander of the U.S. Central Command, General Joseph Votel–who was present at Janjua's White House meeting–told the House Armed Services Committee "we are now beginning to see positive indicators" from Pakistan, though in terms of a strategic shift it is "not equal to actions that we would like to see them take." The divergence in the two sides' views of the situation is hardly surprising. As the Foreign Secretary explained after her discussions in Washington, there are differences on modalities. Pakistan "wants less (emphasis) on kinetics and more on reconciliation, as ultimately it's reconciliation that produces results." Ambassador Wells and Secretary Janjua’s statements are following the vicious cycle of public humiliation followed by damage control which has become a signature of Pakistan-U.S. relations. More importantly, the term “ally” was neither used by U.S. nor Pakistan.


What's New?
Pak-U.S. relations have reached a new low, and has nothing new to it. What’s new is that this time Pakistan has chosen to respond differently to American pressure tactics. It is actively looking for alternatives and options; they are coming in plenty. China was already filling the growing void left by the U.S. while Russia is the new entrant. Russian analysts say that it is motivated by years of growing presence of Islamic State militants in neighbouring Afghanistan. Russia has warmed up to Pakistan as well as to Taliban insurgents battling the ISIS.


Daniel Markey, senior research professor in international relations at John Hopkins University, has said that Russian relations with Pakistan aim to solve two problems for Moscow. First, to blunt the threat of ISIS from Afghanistan. Second, to undermine U.S. influence; but perhaps more importantly, according to him Russia and Pakistan probably have more in common with respect to the war in Afghanistan, than the United States has with either, and this is a real turnaround from prior history. Russian Foreign Minister, Sergey Lavrov has also accused Washington of failing to go after Islamic State groups in Afghanistan.


As U.S. influence in Islamabad diminishes, Pakistan’s former adversary Russia is building up military, diplomatic and economic ties, that could replace the alliance of the past. The forthcoming energy deals and blooming of military co-operation, are very promising and may turn a new leaf in Pakistan-Russia relations, that was dead for many decades. Pakistan’s Defence Minister rightly said, “Both countries have to work through the past to open the door to the future.” Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi was of the view that Russia and Pakistan are on common grounds on most issues at diplomatic level and that “it’s a relationship that will grow substantially in the future.”


The détente between Pakistan and Russia will not only act as a diplomatic lifeline for Pakistan in the face of its growing friction with Western powers, but will also help Pakistan in its relations with India which now leaves no stone unturned to exploit the distancing between Pakistan and the U.S. The sale of F-16 to Pakistan, absence of a favourable approach towards China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, grey-listing Pakistan by Financial Action Task Force (FATF) and criminal silence on Kashmir by the U.S. are some of the examples of how the Indian lobby has used its clout with American congressmen to sabotage Pakistan’s interests and its relations with the U.S.

 

The thrust of the doctrine is that the effort Pakistan military has put in since 2001 to counter terrorism on its soil and in the region must be both appreciated and recognized. The repute of Pakistan is not at stake anymore, it has changed for the better and Pakistan military has worked very hard and given a lot of sacrifices to make it happen. Now, in 2018, America needs Pakistan and not the other way around. The American establishment knows U.S. forces cannot survive in the landlocked Afghanistan without Pakistan’s active support. The myth of Pakistan’s diplomatic isolation is challenged with Turkish, Chinese and Japanese foreign ministers’ public support for Pakistan’s counter-terrorism efforts.

U.S. had played the role of a balancer between Pak-India relations; this role is now compromised. This compromise may have a very high cost. India is becoming more aggressive with each passing day. Since 2013 the LoC is in a state of mini war. India has been resorting to violation of ceasefire treaty signed with Pakistan in 2003. However, the escalation since 2013-14 is dangerous. Indian forces have routinely resorted to unprovoked firing at the LoC, 382 times in 2016 and as many as 1881 times in 2017. More than 300 ceasefire violations along Line of Control (LoC) have been committed by Indian Army since January 1, 2018 alone, making LoC one of the most dangerous borders in the world.


No wonder, India is skeptical of both China and Russia growing closer to Pakistan. “If the Russians start backing Pakistan in a big way at the political level, then it creates a problem for India,” said Sushant Sareen, a leading expert on India’s relations with Pakistan and Afghanistan with New Delhi based Observer Research Foundation. Moreover, the new warmth in Pak-Russian relations’ also in some ways offsets the over-dependence of Pakistan on China.


Russia and Pakistan are negotiating potential energy deals worth in excess of $10 billion, setting up of five huge power projects is in the pipeline. Russian companies are keen on building up an oil refinery and a power station in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. Much bigger deals have their focus on gas supply and infrastructure to Pakistan (a go ahead has been given to a 1,100 km gas pipeline from Lahore to Karachi). The takeover of the dysfunctional Soviet built Steel Mill by a Russian company is also on the cards.


The relationship may be in its infancy, but the potential is immense. Moreover, the convergence is now being built on commonality of interests, which includes peace in Afghanistan, countering the threat of ISIS in the region and defying U.S. arrogance.


The other major change in Pakistan-U.S. relations is how Pakistan is resisting American pressure tactics with the new-found confidence it has gained after successfully winning the War on Terror on its land and its new-found friends.


In the face of constant public humiliation dished out by the Americans, Pakistan desires to balance its sovereignty and interests against American pressures by embracing new centers of power. The other policy response is what the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI), a leading British think tank, has called the push back that Pakistan has given to the United States “The Bajwa Doctrine”. The observations made are that the doctrine is biting back hard against threats issued by the American Administration. It also says Pakistan appears far more confident than it was in the past. The doctrine categorically states that the Pakistan Army has done enough, it’s time for the world to do more.


Pakistan is also now adamant that time for American threats and directives is over. It is prepared to face cuts in the U.S. military aid and counter potential threats of cross-border incursions by American forces.


The thrust of the doctrine is that the effort Pakistan military has put in since 2001 to counter terrorism on its soil and in the region must be both appreciated and recognized. The repute of Pakistan is not at stake anymore, it has changed for the better and Pakistan military has worked very hard and given a lot of sacrifices to make it happen. Now, in 2018, America needs Pakistan and not the other way around. The American establishment knows U.S. forces cannot survive in the landlocked Afghanistan without Pakistan’s active support. The myth of Pakistan’s diplomatic isolation is challenged with Turkish, Chinese and Japanese foreign ministers’ public support for Pakistan’s counter-terrorism efforts.


Pakistan has supported U.S. for seven decades, the relationship has swung between being the most sanctioned ally to a non-NATO ally. Post 9/11, Pakistan helped U.S. more than any of its NATO allies. The reward unfortunately is public humiliation now and then. President Trump’s tweet was the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back. The shifting thought in Pakistan is that it’s time to change the equation. The message from Pakistan is loud and clear. The Armed Forces of Pakistan have restored country’s stability while the stability in Afghanistan is the responsibility of the Afghan government and U.S. forces.


Seventeen U.S. intelligence agencies have warned the Congress that Pakistan will continue to slip out of American influence and into China’s orbit in 2019, and thereby, will become a threat to U.S. interest in the South Asian region. The review is part of an annual report that Director of U.S. National Intelligence Daniel R. Coats presented to the Senate Intelligence Committee. The agencies that jointly produced this report include Central Intelligence Agency, Defence Intelligence Agency, Federal Bureau of Investigation and National Security Agency.


The report is frozen in time, it continues to harp on the themes of nuclear weapons, ties to militants, Pakistan drawing closer to China and tensions with India compounded with Pakistan’s economic vulnerability. It seems that U.S. is incapable of digesting the change Pakistan is undergoing.


More recently, General Qamar Javed Bajwa in the Munich Security Conference held in Germany, has given a soldier’s view of what Pakistan has done, which includes Pakistan defeating Al-Qaeda, Tehreek-e-Taliban and other outlawed militant groups, and, he has also said that no organized militant camps exist on Pakistani soil today. More than 35,000 Pakistanis have lost their lives in the war against terrorism and over 48,000 are critically wounded or disabled whereas the financial cost is exceeding USD 250 billion which is shared fractionally by the global partners. Interestingly, out of the last 131 terrorist attacks in the border areas of Pakistan, in 2017, 123 were conceived, planned and executed from Afghanistan. 89 percent of Pakistanis in a recent Pew global opinion poll said that violence against civilians in the name of Islam was never justified. This is the real face of Pakistan. There are positive changes taking place in Pakistan that need to be recognized and embraced. U.S. attitude and policy towards Pakistan is not responsive to the new changes taking place on the ground which include Pakistan’s desire to be a geo-economic state.


This, in itself, is a major paradigm shift. The economic objective that Pakistan has set for itself has direct stakes for peace and stability in Pakistan and Afghanistan, improved relations with Iran and Russia, in fact even India. Pakistan is fast becoming a country investing in the politics of economy of growth, regional integration and peace. Pakistan’s energies are now geared towards neutralizing all conflicts inside its territory and improving relations with its neighbours to cultivate the atmosphere of peace. Pakistan exercises strategic restraint in its response to U.S., India and Afghanistan and the resolve to exercise this restraint is tested every day.

 

The writer regularly contributes to national electronic and print media. She is currently an Associate Professor at Department of Social Sciences and Liberal Arts at IBA, Karachi.

E-mail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

 
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