Conditions based Pak-US relations

Daily: Daily Times
Date: 13.11.17

Sometimes it seems that Pakistan is shy about working in collaboration with the US. In the
past, under the rubric of “hammer and anvil operation”, when the US-NATO forces kept on
entreating Pakistan to launch a military operation from its side of the border to crush
militancy in between, Pakistan preferred to reply that it would act as per the time of its own
choice. In June 2009, owing to deteriorating domestic circumstances, when Pakistan
launched an operation in South Waziristan (as Operation Rahe Nijat), Pakistan found itself
alone and the target, the Tehreke Taliban Pakistan, fled to Afghanistan. Pakistan is still
counting its operations and losses, both men and material.

However, after the recent visit of the US delegation led by Secretary of State Rex Tillerson,
it is now clear that Pakistan and the US are ready to collaborate once again but within the
context of the second chance given to Pakistan and the main characteristic of the chance is
a conditions-based approach of the US. That is, the US links peace and stability in
Afghanistan with Pakistan’s willingness to refusing the Afghan Taliban any support base in
Pakistan, which is given a second chance to produce desired results. The conditions-based
approach of the US narrows down US’ demands from Pakistan by making them specific.

Hitherto, at least, four points are clear. First, trust deficit engulfs Pak-US relations. The
Abbottabad raid launched unilaterally by the US in May 2011 was a vivid expression of the
lowest ebb of mutual trust. Contrary to his early statement, Pakistan’s Foreign Minister
Khawaja Asif has said recently that Pakistan is averse to launching any joint military
operation against the Afghan Taliban on its soil. However, Pakistan has shown its
willingness to launch an operation against the Afghan Taliban if Pakistan is provided with
credible intelligence information. This is how Pakistan has made its action conditional. The
point is this: Subsequent to 2011, what has changed convincing the US to trust Pakistan
and share a piece of credible intelligence with it? The reply is in the negative. The raid also
showed what the US was capable of doing. Does Pakistan want to test the US another time
is the next best question? Apparently, Pakistan’s condition to share intelligence with it is
fraught with more crises at the Pak-US diplomatic level.

Even if it were assumed that the US arrogates to itself the prerogative of acting alone
against a high value target and that Pakistan can be assigned a low-value target to be
content with, it means that the target stands classified into categories, and so are the
actors. Pakistan may be asked to chase down a low-value target. In the commando
operation on the land of Pakistan to rescue an American-Canadian family recently from the
clutches of the Haqqani network operatives, Pakistan had a choice not to act. In such a
case, the US also had a choice to act alone alternatively. The episode shows that Pakistan
has reduced the option of launching any operation to the either-or phenomenon, where the
US is found ready to act alone as an alternative actor for a low value target – not to
mention a high value target. Interestingly, Pakistan has not made it clear what would
happen if the US did not share intelligence and launch a unilateral action against a target
on the land of Pakistan.

Second, a disagreement on the existence of Taliban sanctuaries consumes Pak-US
relations. Whereas Tillerson made it clear that the US was not ready to accept that there
were present no sanctuaries for the Afghan Taliban, Pakistan insisted that its land was
shelter free. Though Pakistan has been substituting its help with the offer of persuading the
Afghan Taliban to come to the negotiating table, the US seems not satisfied. Apparently,
the Haqqani network operatives were shifting the hostage family to some safe shelter inside

Third, the obsession with India blurs Pakistan’s view to look at US policies in Afghanistan.
From Tillerson, Pakistan sought guarantees that India’s role in Afghanistan would not be
beyond the field of economy. This was another condition Pakistan put on its willingness to
cooperate with the US. Pakistan envisions all US moves in Afghanistan in the context of
gains to India and losses to Pakistan. It is not known what made Pakistan assume that the
US or Afghanistan was supposed to consult Pakistan before awarding any role to India.
Pakistan seems to have been deciding on the time and space of other countries in
Afghanistan and this again reeks of Pakistan’s craving for enjoying monopoly over the
Afghan affairs.

Fourth, the state of security in Afghanistan affects Pak-US relations. Interestingly, the
security concerns of both Pakistan and the US converge in Afghanistan, though for
disparate reasons. The US thinks that peace and stability in Afghanistan would avert any
new 9/11. However, Pakistan thinks that instability in Afghanistan has the potential of
creeping into Pakistan through the shared Afghan ethnic corridor. This is where the
security concerns have gone mutually competitive: the competition is between whether
Pakistan’s security concerns in Afghanistan are more important or those of US’s security
concerns in Afghanistan. Both Pakistan and the US are not agreeing to what kind of system
be in place to protect their security concerns.

Generally speaking, the major challenge the US has been facing regarding Pakistan is that
it cannot go beyond a certain level of persuasion or coercion. The US fears instability in
Pakistan. Currently, the US is trying to gauge what pressure or action is significant to watch
American interests in Afghanistan without destabilizing Pakistan. The US finds the latitude
to work quite narrow. In a way, Pak-US relations have been relegated to conditions and
counter-conditions. The question is this: Is Pakistan in a position of balking at US conditions
and foisting its own conditions?

The major mistake Pakistan is currently committing is that it is trying to assume the present
turmoil in Afghanistan as lasting. That is, Pakistan looks at the Afghanistan (troubled)
phase of the US history as permanent and has been overlooking the importance of stability
and permanence in Pak-US relations. Pakistan is squandering an opportunity of acting in
collaboration with the US and keeping its relations long-term with the US.

Back to columns in 2017