How much the strategies of global powers can affect the wave of militancy in the country is too difficult a question to answer. But it cannot be ignored completely knowing the presence of Nato forces in the neighbouring country and the history of US drone attacks in Pakistan. The emerging economies and the shifting alliances of global powers do create opportunities alongside turmoil that leave some countries as the winners and others as the losers with an overall outcome reflective of a highly polarised global scenario. This is what we currently observe in the Muslim countries.
Pakistan is currently surrounded by multi-layers of conflicting political scenarios in the region. Iran has hostile relations with one of Pakistan’s best friends, Saudi Arabia, but very cordial relations with Pakistan’s arch rival — India. China, another best friend of Pakistan, has a strong trade partnership but strained relationship with India. China’s export to India was $61b compared to $9b to Pakistan in 2016. China is developing Gwadar port in Pakistan while India is working on Chabahar port in Iran to facilitate an alternate transit route for Afghanistan to minimise its dependence on Pakistan for a similar facility.
Saudi Arabia maintains very good relations with the US while Pakistan’s relations with the US go through phases of cordial to non-cordial ones. India is on the way to replace Pakistan as one of the most important allies of the US in its counter-terror policies in Afghanistan while Pakistan is on the receiving end of the US reminders to “do more”. The US and India are considered to be the most unfriendly countries not only by the militants, but by the people of Pakistan. The latest decision of the US to shift its embassy to Jerusalem has further deteriorated its popularity and provided another good reason for the militants to enhance their anti-US rhetoric.
The animosities between Saudi Arabia and Iran that emanate from their religious beliefs render opportunities for the US to take sides based on its own global strategies that often enrage Iran and its allies resulting in heightening of adversities between Iran and the US. Although the newly emerged militant force of Daish (Islamic State) is currently facing its downfall in Syria and Iraq, it remains a potential threat in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
In a briefing to the American press, Brigadier General Lance Bunch, a US Central Command officer in Kabul, has said that Afghanistan has the single largest collection of violent extremist organisations in the world for the US troops. Militants from the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) are reported to be present in Nangarhar, Kunar and as per the assessment their numbers may be in thousands, he said. Taliban militants, he added, had pockets around the entire country.
Dealing with the terrorist threats, US President Donald Trump announced lately his new policy using harsh words for Pakistan, saying Washington could “no longer be silent about Pakistan’s safe havens for terrorist organizations.” A month before the issuance of this policy statement, the Congress was informed by the US Secretary of Defense James Mattis that the US funding to Pakistan has been put on hold because Pakistan took no sufficient actions against the Haqqani Network. The new US strategy in Afghanistan is now called a new war that allows American troops to target militant networks and not just individual fighters.
This new US strategy is in conflict with the ongoing controversial drive in Pakistan to bring Jihadist outfits into the mainstream. The greatest supporter of the Afghan Taliban network in Pakistan is Maulana Sami-ul-Haq of Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam Sami (JUI-S) and his greatest admirer and political ally is Imran Khan, chief of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI). What kind of turmoil may hit the country if this new US policy is followed with sincerity.
The day the US Secretary of State arrived in Pakistan to discuss mutual strategy on meeting the challenges of terrorism in the region, Chairman of Senate Raza Rabbani took a strong stance on Rex Tillerson’s briefing to the Afghan media wherein he said that he will pressure Islamabad to take action on the support Taliban and other “terrorist organizations” receive in the country. “His [Tillerson] tone and tenor are not acceptable,” the Senate chairman declared.
Appearing before the Senate to explain his position about Rex Tillerson’s controversial statement, Foreign Minister Khawaja Asif said that Pakistan, in the meeting with Rex Tillerson, had made it clear that no terrorist safe havens exist on Pakistani soil. A week after making this declaration in the Senate, Khawaja Asif indirectly conceded that his ministry was not in authoritative control of the country’s foreign policy. Talking about the new American strategy on Afghanistan, he said the foreign policy was being shaped by different institutions and no single institution was in charge of the foreign affairs. It was a great failure of the PML-N government in dealing with a highly crucial issue but not the only one.
Suddenly, the drive for mainstreaming of Jihadist outfits began getting momentum. The first was the Faizabad Dharna (sit-in) launched by Tehreek-e-Labbaik Ya Rasool Allah on November 6, 2017 that ended after bringing lots of humiliation to the PML-N government whose foreigner minister had called the Haqqani network and Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JuD) as liabilities. The next move came from the former president of Pakistan, Pervez Musharraf, who declared himself the greatest supporter of proscribed militant groups Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) and JuD. He even went one step ahead and expressed his desire to form a political alliance with JuD and its chief Hafiz Saeed.
What more is in the waiting for the country is completely unpredictable in view of the complicated and conflicting global and domestic policies.
The US policy makers now view Pakistan as a state facing serious threat from militant groups that may take control of its territory if it doesn’t sever its ties with the Haqqanis and other terrorists. How real is this threat and what chances are there if India, being the new favourite ally of the USA in the region, try to use its links with the terrorist networks in Afghanistan to turn this warning of the US into reality? Can the country, with the ongoing belligerent and divisive internal political situation, meet this external challenge effectively?