The election of Donald Trump as president of the United States did not augur well for many parts of the world and shook capitals of various countries when he took over the office in January. US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson also followed Trump in his tone and style when he sent a ‘specific request’ to Islamabad to eliminate ‘sanctuaries’ on its soil.
Pakistan was one of the countries expecting a difficult working relationship with the new US administration which has been struggling with itself to sustain its power at Capitol Hill.
During his whirlwind visit to South Asian countries, Tillerson briefly stayed at Bagram Airfield in Kabul where the Afghan president came to see him and he was not allowed to come out of the facility due to pathetic security situation in the capital which is also the seat of the US Army.
According to foreign policy experts, the tough messages under the garb of diplomatic language will have little impact on Islamabad to change the dynamics of its foreign policy which is committed to find a negotiable and diplomatic solution to the Afghan problem. However, every effort from Islamabad to strike a deal between the Taliban and the United States resulted in the killing of ‘Taliban leaders’ in drone strikes.
The United States has dumped billions of dollars and lost hundreds of its troops on the Afghan soil in 16 years, but could not achieve the desired results and is in search of a scapegoat for its failures. The current US administration, like the previous one, wants to give basic role to Pakistan to restore peace in the war-torn Afghanistan, but in the words of Foreign Minister Khawaja Asif, there is a ‘trust deficit’ between the two countries over strategic partnership.
Pakistan has been caught between the devil and deep blue sea as the political situation is not stable after the removal of Nawaz Sharif as prime minister and the new prime minister will have to take time to understand the complex situations facing the nation. However, it is a good omen that the civilian and military leadership is on the same page as far as the foreign policy and, specifically, Pakistan’s relations with the Unites States are concerned.
Unlike his predecessors, Tillerson met with ‘cold response’ in Islamabad where he was received by an official of the Foreign Ministry. As dynamics of Pakistan’s foreign policy have changed, the era of receiving US officials like viceroys has also been over and this must be clear to the diplomatic circles in Islamabad who matter.
Pakistan has endured a loss of $100 billion to its economy and sacrificed thousands of its troops and civilians in the so-called war on terror, but at the end of the day all the efforts have met with ungrateful response from the United States. The failure in Afghanistan is the failure of diplomacy and until Indian government and its agencies are actively involved in the internal affairs of Afghanistan, all the efforts to restore peace will end in fiasco.
According to foreign policy experts, Afghans should be allowed to streamline their affairs themselves, but it would not happen until foreign interference is discouraged in that country. There are various militant groups operating in Afghanistan with different ideologies and domains of power. There also several factions of Taliban who are hostile to each other and Pakistan does not have leverage on each and every group. Pakistan has already suffered huge losses at the hands of the Taliban, and differentiation between ‘good and bad Taliban’ has lost in the battlefields of Afghanistan.
In this chaotic situation in the region, the United States wants to coerce Pakistan into acting against the Taliban groups who have already lost all kinds of connections with Islamabad. In the words of Foreign Minister Khawaja Asif, there are no “safe havens in Pakistan and the Taliban do not even need to operate from Pakistan when they are able to conveniently operate in Afghanistan after holding 40 per cent of its territory under their control”. He also blames the ‘inability’ of the allied forces to end the conflict in Afghanistan.
Taliban control a considerable part of Afghanistan which allows them to operate in that country. Ironically, the US officials have reportedly ignored the offer of the Pakistani leadership to launch a joint operation against alleged ‘sanctuaries’. The US officials so far could not identify even the alleged ‘sanctuaries’ in Pakistan from where they ‘plan attacks’ in Afghanistan.
India is emerging as a strategic partner of the United States, but its role in Afghanistan will add fuel to fire. Both the countries are on the same page on the issue of Afghanistan and China Pakistan Economic Corridor, which is regarded as a game-changer in Pakistan.
On another note, Pakistan is drifting away from the United States and nearing China and Russia in the emerging world order. The economy of Pakistan is in a shambles but will have to reduce dependence on the US aid and loans from the international financial institutions which mostly operate under the influence of the United States.
Though Pakistan has lost its leverage on Taliban, it is still relevant to ensure peace in Afghanistan. However, Afghan President Ghani challenges his own credibility and lacks capacity to understand situation on the ground when he speaks India’s language against Pakistan despite depending heavily on Islamabad.
Tillerson has used intimidating and undiplomatic language against Pakistan, but at the same time sought its cooperation. Undoubtedly, he has received a mature response from Pakistan as attacks in Pakistan are planned in Afghanistan and the Afghan forces have so far failed to arrest Tehreek-e-Taliban chief Mullah Fazlullah.
It is now the United States’ turn to do more in Afghanistan by launching serious operations against Taliban and terrorists. The best part of Tillerson’s visit is that he has brought the civil and political leadership of Pakistan at the same page. He needs not to worry about the safety of the Pakistani government but his job at the hands of President Trump.