Lesson for India, Pak

Crude national interest is what determines US foreign policy. And peace in Afghanistan is inconceivable without Pakistan's support.

Lesson for India, Pak

Radio Pakistan reported in late November 2016 that Donald Trump was willing to play any role that Pakistan wanted in order to find solutions to its outstanding problems. These remarks were made by Trump, then president-elect, in a telephonic conversation with the then Pakistan PM Nawaz Sharif.

Cut to late 2017, and there’s a lot of suspense and eagerness about the contours of the new US policy towards the Afghanistan-Pakistan (Af-Pak) region under President Trump. He had earlier said that if elected, he’d like to mediate between India and Pakistan since the region is a “very, very hot tinderbox”. On August 21, Trump unveiled his policy on Afghanistan, outlining the responsibilities and roles he envisioned for Pakistan and India, apart from reaffirming continued US engagement in the region.

Trump’s Af-Pak policy is a departure from that of earlier presidents. It has held Pakistan responsible for giving safe havens to agents of chaos, violence, and terror. As per the policy statement, there are 20 US-designated foreign terrorist organisations active in Afghanistan and Pakistan. There’s tough talk of changing the approach towards Pakistan: “We can no longer be silent about Pakistan’s safe-havens for terrorist organisations…Pakistan has much to gain from partnering with our effort in Afghanistan. It has much to lose by continuing to harbour criminals and terrorists...We have been paying Pakistan billions and billions of dollars. At the same time, they’re housing the very terrorists that we are fighting. But that will have to change. And that will change immediately”.

In the same policy statement, Trump also outlined the significance of America’s strategic partnership with India and pledged to further deepen this partnership. India is perceived as a key security and economic partner of the United States. There’s appreciation for India’s efforts in stabilising Afghanistan, especially in the area of economic assistance and development.

Pakistan was outraged by the new policy
shift. In protest, it suspended talks with the US administration and deferred schedu-
led bilateral visits. Foreign Minister Khawaja Asif instead visited China and Russia. The greater Chinese investment in Pakistan and the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor has enhanced its strategic
profile. For the first time, Pakistan publicly stated that it no longer needs American aid. Meanwhile, China urged the US to acknowledge the significant role and sacrifices Pakistan has made in the fight against
terrorism while the Russian and Pakistani armies held joint military exercises.

The 72nd session of the United Nations General Assembly was, as usual, acrimonious for India and Pakistan as the two neighbours levelled serious charges against one another. But Pakistan also took this opportunity to try to mend fences with the Trump administration. Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi met US Vice President Mike Pence and showed eagerness to stay engaged with America, while Pakistan’s Foreign Secretary termed the meeting an ‘ice-breaker’.

In his speech at the US Council on Foreign Relations, Abbasi underlined the financial and human losses incurred by Pakistan in the fight against terrorism. On October 5, at the US Institute of Peace, Foreign Minister Khawaja Asif also highlighted his country’s commitment to the fight against terror. He sought time for his country to get rid of all its liabilities.

These high profile visits were succeeded by the release of an American-Canadian family from the captivity of the Haqqani network on October 13. Trump hailed the gesture: “Yesterday, the United States government, working in conjunction with the government of Pakistan, secured the release of the Boyle-Coleman family from captivity in Pakistan…..We hope to see this type of cooperation and teamwork in helping secure the release of the remaining hostages and in our future joint counterterrorism operations.” He lauded it as a positive moment for America’s relations with Pakistan. But Trump’s about-turn didn’t go well with Afghanistan and India.

Amrullah Saleh, former National Security Adviser of Afghanistan, charged that President Trump is taken in by Pakistan’s deceitful acts. In a sceptical tone, he wrote in an Indian daily: “It seems the Western hostages were in the hands of good terrorists, the ones that listen to GHQ Rawalpindi, don’t hurt Pakistan, and in times of need, dance like circus monkeys for visiting spectators, according to the diktat of an ISI colonel.”

Limited intervention

Strategic affairs expert C Raja Mohan holds that India must find ways to effectively intervene in the limited but inviting strategic space that is opening up between America, Pakistan and Afghanistan, instead of prejudging the final outcome of the current round of jousting between Washington and Rawalpindi.

He suggested that the most effective way for India is to enhance the economic and military assistance to Afghanistan. Although America has always supported India’s economic assistance to Afghanistan, it’s wary about military collaboration between New Delhi and Kabul because it directly affects the behaviour of Pakistan.

The meeting of the Quadrilateral Coordination Group (QCG) in Muscat reflects renewed engagement between Islamabad and Washington. The group comprises four countries: America, China, Pakistan and Afghanistan. The QCG focuses on intra-Afghan talks, tries to bring Afghan Taliban to the negotiating table. But the latter have so far refused to be part of the peace process.

The fact of the matter is that America cannot simply wish away Pakistan, for some obvious reasons. It’s a nuclear weapons state; squeezing it beyond a point could bring unwarranted consequences for world peace. It’s also strategically located and enjoys significant leverage over the Muslim world. And peace in Afghanistan is inconceivable without Pakistan’s sincere support and cooperation.

Crude national interest is what determines America’s foreign policy. India and Pakistan need to learn from Trump’s about-turns.

(The writer is assistant professor of Political Science, Government Degree College for Women, Anantnag, Jammu and Kashmir)

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