|Resetting ties with the US
Daily: Weekly Cutting Edge
Under the euphoria of a “Naya Pakistan” (New Pakistan), Pakistan yearns for resetting its
bilateral ties with the US while overlooking the fact that the ground realities are both
coercive and restrictive. The agenda that US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo brought
along on September 5 was the trite one: stamp out the dens of terrorism from the land of
The Pak-US huddle acknowledged a point: the Pak-US relations had become tenuous, just
short of a full-fledged rupture. Both sides, however, remained divided on the way to
improve relations. Pakistan thought that the solution lay in resetting relations on new terms
whereas the US thought that the solution lay in following the prevalent plan of taking stern
action against terrorists. Similarly, the two sides also remained divided on another point.
Pakistan’s representatives tried to convince the US delegation that Pakistan had sacrificed
enormously in terms of men and material and that Pakistan was averse to act on the advice
of the US any further. Instead of repeating the mantra of “do more,” Pompeo replied that
Pakistan remained short of acting decisively against the terrorists on its land. In short, in
addition to “do more,” the reply included another demand: act decisively – leaving no space
for any “do more” – to extirpate the scourge of terrorism.
Pakistan’s ambitious agenda to reset the terms of engagement faces the challenge of
timing. One of the major new conditions the Pakistani delegate conveyed was that Pakistan
would focus on just shared (bilateral) interests, and not on any unilateral interest of the US.
In other words, Pakistan conveyed that it would prefer to watch its own interests, and where
its interests coincided with the US interests, it would act but not otherwise. When the US is
busy in concluding the war on terror in Afghanistan, Pakistan is trying to set new terms
based on its own preferences. The same also means that Pakistan disengaged itself from
the war on terror unilaterally. The tangible change in stance must have disheartened the
The time to effect such a change is not in 2018, but it could have been effected twice in the
past. First, it was when Pakistan decided to enter the war on terror in 2001 and, secondly, it
was when Pakistan decided to own the war on terror in 2009.
On 19 September, 2001, then President General Pervez Musharraf gave three reasons for
Pakistan’s joining the war on terror. First, to exchange intelligence and information with the
US; secondly, to offer support to the US in using Pakistan’s air space; and thirdly, to offer
logistic land support to the US army (and the coalition of the willing). These reasons were
beside the compulsions imposed by the UNSC resolutions (1368 and 1373) on Afghanistan
to eradicate terrorism as a threat to international peace and security and punish all those
who support terrorism. Pakistan is oblivious of the fact that the UNSC resolutions are still
Despite General Musharraf’s decision to join the war on terror, Pakistanis struggled with
owning the war. In the first battle of Swat in late 2007 (from October to November), Pakistan
conceded Swat district to the Taliban. Despite a subsequent army offensive, the Taliban
held sway over the most area of Swat in 2008. On 16 February, 2009, the Taliban and the
Pakistan army agreed on a ceasefire followed by a peace agreement allowing the Taliban
establishing a sharia court under the Sharia Law in Swat. The mediator of the agreement
was Sufi Mohammad. This was how a mini-Caliphate saw the light of day and this was how
the possibility for replacing democracy with the Caliphate reared its head.
In April 2009, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton declared that the Pakistani Taliban were
a “mortal threat” to the world, and they were not far from the Margalla Hills of Islamabad.
The reference was to Pakistan’s nuclear installation near the capital. Consequently, in May
2009, the Pakistan government decided to launch the second battle of Swat. By September
2009, the Pakistan army was able to release Swat from the Taliban shackles. In October
2009, Clinton visited Pakistan and asserted that some Pakistanis officials bore
responsibility for allowing terrorists from al-Qaeda to operate from safe heavens along
Pakistan’s western border areas. During her visit, the Pakistanis publicly admitted that they
then owned the war on terror (as their war). Over the years, the Taliban (of the Afghan or
Pakistan hue) might have replaced al-Qaeda; however, in essential details, the stance of
the US is still the same in 2018 as it was in 2001 or 2009. That is, root out militants from
Pakistan’s land who are interfering in the internal affairs of Afghanistan.
This point leaves no space for Pakistan to take a U-turn and try to reset new terms of
engagement. It is akin to scorning the bilateral relations and undermining the values of
diplomacy. The context of understanding is quite narrow and specific: Pak-Afghan. The
context is not broad enough to pass through China or Russia, contrary to the delusional
belief of many Pakistanis, whether they are in uniform or in civvies.
The Coalition Support Fund was an umbilical cord linking Pakistan and the US, though
reluctantly. The link stands severed and the US has decided to stop paying Pakistan on its
expenditure claims. With that, for all practical purposes, the coalition has ended, along with
the Pak-US partnership against terrorism. The development is quite ominous. On the one
hand, Pakistan has refused to help a country that forged financial and military ties in
Pakistan’s hour of need (from mid-50’s to mid-90’s), while on the other hand, Pakistan is
hell bent on changing horses in midstream.
Pakistan might have calculated well what its diversion to Russia (or China for that matter) at
the cost of the US would yield benefits, but Pakistan might have not calculated well what
harm the diversion at this point in time would accrue to it.
Back to columns in 2018