Back to the drawing board


    US Afghan policy – it’s the do more demand again


    “I’m sorry, but others need to ‘do more’ in Afghanistan, not Pakistan.

    Guess we were okay as long as the supply lines were needed.”

    – Sherry Rehman




    Pakistan has lately seen a downward trajectory in relations with the US and the situation got even shoddier after US President Donald Trump lashed out at Pakistan while announcing his recent policy towards South Asia.

    Trump left no stone unturned to hurt Pakistan’s sentiments alleging that it is providing safe havens to ‘agents of chaos’, adding, “We have been paying Pakistan billions and billions of dollars at the same time they are housing the very terrorists we are fighting.” But what alarmed Pakistan more was Trump’s offer to India to expand its role in Afghanistan. Clearly, Trump has backed out from his stance of bringing an end to what he called the ‘futile Afghan war’ during his presidential campaign, giving an approval to deploy 3,900 more troops to Afghanistan, increasing the total number of American soldiers on Afghan soil to around 10,000, without suggesting any timeline for withdrawal.

    Reacting to the Trump’s policy on Twitter, Pakistan People’s Party Senator and former Ambassador to the US Sherry Rehman said, “US policy on Afghanistan doesn’t sound new but the administration is new and its tactical plus geostrategic moves amplify old dogma to a new level. I’m sorry, but others need to ‘do more’ in Afghanistan, not Pakistan. Guess we were okay as long as the supply lines were needed.” Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf chairman Imran Khan on the other hand said, “The US again blames Pakistan for its deeply flawed and failed Afghan policy stretching over a decade. This should teach Pakistan once and for all a valuable lesson: Never to fight others’ wars for the lure of dollars.”

    The harshness Pakistan faced from Trump is not new as it has always had more of a love-hate relationship with the US. During Obama’s administration too, Pak-US relations continued to deteriorate, be it the purchase of F-16 fighter jets, the resistance in providing Coalition Support Fund, US drone strike in Pakistani territory killing Taliban leader Mullah Akhtar Mansour or Pakistan’s efforts to become a member of the Nuclear Suppliers Group.

    In an earlier conversation with DNA, Pakistan’s former Ambassador to the US Husain Haqqani had said, “We are isolated, without much support on what we describe as our core issue, and are perceived as a terrorist incubator but we prefer to live in denial. Pakistan needs to recognise that the advantages we had of being the West’s ally during the cold war, when India was non-aligned, are over.”

    Two days after Trump’s statement, Pakistan broke its silence after holding a high-level National Security Council (NSC) meeting and outrightly rejected the allegations, mentioning that to scapegoat Pakistan will not help in stabilising Afghanistan. Pakistan reiterated that it remains committed to international efforts for peace and stability in Afghanistan, but it also wants its concerns to be addressed, including the main issue of sanctuaries on Afghan soil. Interestingly, COAS General Qamar Javed Bajwa reacted on the statement even before the government. “We are not looking for any material or financial assistance from US but trust, understanding and acknowledgement of our contributions,” he said during his meeting with US Ambassador to Pakistan David Hale on Wednesday.

    Talking to DNA about the situation, analysts Ayaz Amir said, “We should not give an impression that there are certain terrorist elements we support. By showing such panic and giving a defensive and aggressive posture, we confirm the US concerns. Just like Maulana Sami-ul-Haq gave a statement that he is sure Pakistan won’t take any action against Haqqani network, which was very stupid.”

    About what ‘more’ Pakistan should do, Amir said, “Our so-called leaders should become a little responsible. We should invite the US and ask them which safe havens they are talking about. We should avoid going over the top like Thursday’s NSC meeting. We should learn from other countries who give a more considered response to such statements. For example, US gives more such threats to Iran but they don’t panic like us. We go in an overdrive, we should also learn to give a measured and quiet response.”

    Security analyst Amir Rana while talking to DNA about this action and reaction said, “The US is demanding an action against a certain militant group, Haqqani network, and Pakistan’s position is clear that they have taken an indiscriminate action against all the terrorists. There is a mistrust between both the sides which needs to be cleared. If both the sides continue a dialogue with each other, they will find a way out.”

    The panic Islamabad presented over Washington’s new South Asian strategy makes sense as the country has long lacked in strengthening its foreign ties and has never considered investing in long-term diplomacy and lobbying. The fact that Pakistan did not have any foreign minister for four years also adds to the severity of the situation.

    “A foreign minister should not be appointed to fill a position only. We have not had a reasonable person for this position for long. This is one of the reasons the military and civilian leaders are telling their own different stories,” analyst Amir said, while analyst Rana added, “A foreign minister has nothing to do with these sort of security issues.

    “Since former prime minister Nawaz Sharif was holding the portfolio himself, all other institutions were intact. Foreign office is not any non-state actors shop like Taliban. They always issue a statement when the state has discussed an issue and taken a position. They do not operate independently so they can’t issue a statement immediately,” he added.

    Although Russia, China and Saudi Arabia have jumped in to rescue Pakistan and acknowledged its efforts in fight against terrorism, Pakistan itself failed to get international recognition, reason being it never made much noise on how much losses it had to face due to this war. While America mourns over the killing of its 2,400 troops, Pakistan has lost thousands of more soldiers and civilians during the course of this war and still continues to face the outcomes of terrorism.

    With the Islamic State increasing its footprints in the region, the fight against terrorism has become even more vital and Pakistan, being at the centre of these activities, needs to continue taking indiscriminate action against terror outfits to ensure regional stability. Not only that, the only way to bring an end to the 16-year old war in Afghanistan is through negotiations and challenging the mindsets of the terrorists. To get the acknowledgment of the world in its fight against terror, Pakistan needs to strongly voice the efforts it has made and the heavy losses it has been facing ever since it allied with the US as a frontline in its so-called war on terror after the 9/11 attacks.