|Threat perception's role in Pak-US relations
Daily: Daily Times
If recent developments offer a means to judge, one can say that Pak-US relations are now
at their lowest. The beginning of the lowest ebb of relations is marked by both overt and
tacit threats coming from the US to its (now former) ally, Pakistan.
In his August 21 policy speech on Afghanistan and the South Asia region, US President
Donald Trump said that there were terrorist hideouts were present in Peshawar and Quetta
and that the US would destroy these sanctuaries. Trump also invited India to ‘do more’ in
Afghanistan. Pakistan reacted to the policy speech vehemently and started looking around
in the region to have a counterbalancing force on its side. Trump’s speech also swayed
Pakistan internally and expanded the already existing fissure between the civilian
leadership and the military. The incumbent civilian government is disinclined to part ways
with the US (or the perceived US camp) whereas the military craves for a course of action
independent of the US.
On October 6, US Defence Secretary James Mattis appeared before the Senate Armed
Services Committee and briefed the legislators on the latest in the Pak-Afghan region by
mentioning two main points. First, the US opposed the Chinese One Belt, One Road
(OBOR) policy in principle because in a globalised world, there were many belts and many
roads, and no one nation should put itself into a position of dictating any such policy.
Second, the US opposed OBOR traversing Pakistan also because it passed through a
disputed territory. Never before had the US officials raised objections to Pakistan’s relations
with China. This time the US is insensible to Pakistan’s sentiment on the China Pakistan
Economic Corridor (CPEC) and Pakistan’s relations with China.
On October 11, the Pakistan army intercepted and rescued an American-Canadian couple
and their children from the grasp of the Taliban and the Haqqani network when the Taliban
were transporting the hostages from Afghanistan to Pakistan. The family was in custody of
the Taliban for five years and they used to take the family across the border. This time the
Taliban had sensed that the US drones were monitoring the compound where the captives
had been imprisoned. Apparently, the Taliban were moving them to one of their sanctuaries
in Pakistan. The US authorities tipped the Pakistan army off to intervene, before the US
itself intervenes. The event oozes two messages. First, if the captives had not been
rescued, they would have been moved to some sanctuary in Pakistan as was the practice in
the past, thereby meaning that some kind of sanctuaries in Pakistan still exist. Secondly,
Pakistan’s intelligence agencies failed to catch whiff of the hostages and their movements
for years, thereby meaning that they are failing at the local intelligence gathering process
compared to the mechanism laid by the US in Pakistan, that is unless there is still a deal of
complicity between the Afghan Taliban and the Pakistani establishment.
On October 12, Trump thanked Pakistan’s cooperation and said that the US was “starting
to develop a much better relationship” with Pakistan and its leaders. Interestingly, the
success of the rescue operation offered both the US and Pakistan an opportunity to rebuild
their mutual relations. In the wake of the shifting of the hostage family, the demarcated area
of Afghanistan such as Paktia and Khost (bordering Kurram Agency and North Waziristan)
is experiencing drone strikes again, the reverberations of which are also felt in Pakistan.
Drone strikes mean that America is involved in the region again. When Major General Asif
Ghafoor of the ISPR said that the Pakistan army is not ready to launch any joint operation
with the US army inside Pakistan, the statement offers a leeway to the US to predicate on
the drone technology. This also means resurfacing of drone strikes in the border areas of
Pakistan. Nevertheless, the issue of hideouts deep inside Pakistani territory (where the
rescued family would have been kept) still sticks out like a sore thumb.
On October 17, Nimrata Nikki (Randhawa) Haley, the permanent representative of the US to
the United Nations, said that the UN was open to reforms to expand the permanent
membership of the Security Council (SC). She also said that India could also a member of
the UNSC if India did “not touch” the issue of veto power that current members were
unwilling to share or give up. This is also an interesting development. The presence of Nikki
(who has Indian origin, as her parents, Ajit Singh and Raj Kaur Randhawa, immigrated from
India in the 1960s and her husband, Michael Haley, is a Christian American) at the helm of
affairs indicates the influence of India’s expatriate and next generation community in the US.
Certainly, India’s interests are watched. In the next breath, Nikki also said that the Trump
administration was urging India to keep an eye on Pakistan, as President Trump had “taken
a tougher approach to Islamabad harbouring terrorists.” The attached development is that
instead of expressing it’s yearning for seeking veto power, India astutely demanded
withdrawal of veto powers to make all members veto-less whenever the permanent
membership of the SC expanded to include India. Former US President Barack Obama and
incumbent US President Trump have encouraged India to join the UNSC as a permanent
In short, the political relief offered by the rescue operation means more Pak-US
collaboration on the anti-terrorism front. Secondly, Pakistan army’s reluctance to undertake
joint military operations inside Pakistan means more drone strikes in the bordering region
and perhaps occasional strikes on the supposed hideouts of the Taliban inside Pakistan.
Third, the overarching Indian influence on both Afghanistan and the UN means Pakistan is
cornered both regionally and internationally. While Pakistan is deciding about the winner
and loser in the ongoing civil-military conflict, the world is not waiting for the outcome.
Instead, the world is cornering Pakistan.
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