Pak-US relations: limitations of deterioration

Daily: Daily Times
Date: 01.06.16

Relations between Pakistan and the US are no doubt multilayered. Indicators are ubiquitous
testifying that Pak-US relations have not only reduced to be domain specific –civilian and
military -- but also that Pak-US relations in military or defence domain are at low ebb.

In June 2014, when Pakistan army launched the operation Zarb-e-Azb in North Waziristan, it
meant that Pakistan’s military paid heed to US’s demands. However, on February 24, 2016
when Chief of Army Staff (COAS) General Raheel Sharif, while visiting the Shawal area of
North Waziristan, said that the operation would be over after clearing the Shawal Valley, it
meant that germane to the Taliban of the Afghanistan chapter, Pakistan’s military half did
not ‘respect’ US’s two main demands. First, trample on their hideouts, and secondly, sway
them to negotiate peace process with the Kabul government.

Two subsequent events might have reinforced US’ disappointment. First, on April 19, 2016,
the Taliban of the Afghanistan chapter detonated a truck full of explosives in the parking lot
behind the compound of the Directorate of Security for Dignitaries in Kabul, claiming loss of
more than 30 civilian lives, whereas more than 300 civilians were wounded. Secondly, the
chief of the Taliban, Mullah Akhtar Mansour, was found travelling regularly from the
Balochistan province of Pakistan to other countries, including Iran under a fake local
identity. On May 21, a US drone strike took him out near Noshki, Balochistan, en route his
way back from Iran.

In 2016, the issue of sovereignty of Pakistan -- which is now 12 years old -- must have lost
relevance owing to banality of evil that is relapsing in nature. However, on May 25, the
COAS took the risk of leading from the front against drone strikes -- which cause the
sovereignty issue -- when he met the US ambassador to Pakistan at the GHQ, Rawalpindi.
The meeting was more than just a discussion concern. Unfortunately, any next drone strike
is bound to offer the COAS a snub, as the US State Department has expressed resolve to
continue with drone strikes against those sections of the Taliban of the Afghanistan chapter
that do not come to negotiating table with the Kabul government. In principle, championing
the sovereignty cause in the face of drone strikes is the responsibility of the elected
government of Pakistan. Civilian and military leaders must remember that there is presently
no agreement between Pakistan and the US on the subject when to start or end drone
strikes. Secondly, the US authorities have never declared that the era of drone strikes is
over.

The main grievance of the US with Pakistan’s military half is that it is not serving the cause
of strengthening the Kabul regime. And that the military operation in North Waziristan is
about to end, but the Haqqani network or the Quetta Shura-- which offer the backbone to
attacks against the Kabul regime -- are both intact and potent. The presence of the late
Mullah Mansour in Balochistan not only reinforces US’s grievance but also publicly reveals
that it bears sufficient substance to consider. Against this background, the Coalition
Support Fund was supposed to serve the US cause in Pakistan to influence Afghanistan
positively. This is not visible. Taken both sides of the grievance together, it means that in
coming days Pak-US relations especially in the domain of Pakistan’s military half are going
to be tenser than ever before. Just add the factor of another drone strike, and the relations
may go from bad to worse.

By not launching a counter attack in retaliation to Mumbai attacks of 2008, India has scaled
its credibility and dependability up both regionally and internationally. The US seems to be
the main admirer of India in this regard, and this is how India intercepts Pak-US relations.
Secondly, India endorses Afghanistan in levelling the allegation that Pakistan harbours non-
state actors on its soil. However, compared to India-US relations, the strength in Pak-US
relations is that the relations predicate on the crisis of intense nature experienced together
such as countering the Communist threat in the past. The implied message is that Pakistan
knows the US better than any other country in the region, and vice versa. A ray of hope lies
in the fact that in March 2016, the leader of the Hezb-e-Islami, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar,
offered to end a 15-year old conflict in exchange for power sharing in the Kabul
government. The point is simple: the more the Kabul regime blames Pakistan for militant
attacks, the more strength India gains to portray Pakistan damagingly.

In the context of Pak-US relations, if the assumption is that the US does not believe in the
isolation of Pakistan but a constructive engagement with Pakistan, there are presently three
factors or limitations that cannot let Pak-US relations deteriorate beyond the point of
constructive engagement. First is the investment that the US has made hitherto in billions of
dollars in Pakistan’s various sectors; secondly, a capricious Afghanistan that necessarily
needs Pakistan’s help to get stabilised; and thirdly, one can also include the China factor.

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