The United States of America has been acting like an indecisive angry teenager since Donald Trump became the 45th President of the country. Trump’s impulsive tweets and aggressive policies have had a withering impact on Washington’s ties with many of its allies; the ongoing trade wars with its sworn allies like Canada and European countries being exhibit A. The case of Pakistan is no different!
From going on record to say, “I love Pakistan,” during the pre-election campaign to lashing out on the very same country in a new year’s tweet for giving safe haven to terrorists and cutting off $300 million military aid, Trump administration has only added to the ever so uncertain bilateral relations.
Following the tweet and the arrival of Imran Khan’s government in Pakistan, an effort was made to “reset” the US-Pak relation when Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Joint Chief of Staff Gen Joseph Dunford visited Islamabad a few months back.
Soon after, the Foreign Minister of Pakistan Shah Mehmood Qureshi met the POTUS in a meeting alongside the lines of UNGA session and the news of constructive dialogue started making rounds, only to be denied by the US side later.
However, just when the world thought that the equation between the United States and Pakistan is on its way to recovery, Trump took it upon himself to, once again, induce uncertainty and volatility into the dynamics by defending the military aid cut off vis-a-vis Pakistan and stating that “they don’t do a damn thing” for US war in Afghanistan.
Now, understandably many developments have led to the growth of mistrust between Pakistan and the United States and both the states are known for having a hot and cold relationship, but the nature of mixed signals given by the sitting government in Washington is unprecedented. No other US administration has downplayed the significant role Pakistan plays in the Afghanistan conflict as much as Trump’s has, one of the many reasons that the Republican leader has failed terribly at ending the stalemate in the region.
That said, history is a witness that although Afghanistan is said to be the graveyard of empires, its Pakistan that has played a decisive role in both the rise and fall of many regimes in the war-torn Kabul.
Here’s why good ties with Pakistan is the only option the United States has to its disposal.
1. Geographical Significance
In a desperate attempt to leave behind a legacy, Trump has increased the number of on-foot soldiers in Afghanistan and subsequently, the military offensives have been amped up in order to the resolve the conflict through force. If the newly launched operations have failed is whole another debate, but for the US to sustain its military force in Afghanistan, she needs Pakistan for the transport of supplies. Therefore, undermining ties with Islamabad will only hurt Trump’s objectives in Kabul.
2. Undeniable Influence by the Virtue of Shared Ethnicity
Despite choosing to side with the United States in its war on terror against the Taliban, the South Asian Muslim nuclear power has managed to maintain ties with certain militant factions in Afghanistan. Even if something set-off the equation, the factor of the shared ethnicity of Pashtuns consolidated Pakistan’s position and helped in regaining influence. By the virtue of this relevance, Islamabad cannot be ruled out in any political solution of the decade-long Afghan war. In fact, the latest talk between Taliban and US envoy materialized only because Pakistan released high profile Taliban prisoners including Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar as an incentive to bring the group to the table.
3. Pakistan’s Role in the Great Game
The significance possessed by Pakistan in the Afghanistan war has presented Islamabad with the strategic option to ally with Russia and China in a bid to shift the power equation in the favor of these countries against the United States. The international dialogue that was held in Moscow and attended by 9 regional countries including the first ever Taliban delegation is a discernible sign of Russia’s growing interest and influence in the region. In pursuit of this, no wonder Russia has taken substantial steps in mending its ties, especially military, with Pakistan.
China, on the other hand, is looking towards Pakistan to outweigh the balance of power equation in the region against the US-India block. This is only possible if China is able to gain dominance in the Kabul theatre and thus, the role of Pakistan comes into play.
As Russia and China continue to emerge as resurging states in what is being called a power transition period, the insecurities of the United States are only multiplying.
Given such circumstances, the United States direly needs to revisit the conduct of Pakistan in its South Asia policy or else the exit from the region will not only become more humiliating than the Vietnam defeat but it will also cost the dominance that country has enjoyed post-Cold war.