Trump’s Pakistan Policy: Challenges & Strategies

By Syed Qamar Rizvi.


It seems very much inconvenient at the part of Islamabad that despite Pakistan’s indefatigable role in the US-waged war on terrorism for the past sixteen years, Washington yet blames Islamabad for the ongoing state of turmoil in Afghanistan and presses to do more. It is also true that deviousness in this situation has not been a Pakistani display. While it has been insisting that Islamabad press on with attacks against the Taliban over the past year, the US has held secret meetings with Taliban representatives in Germany and Doha, Qatar—and kept Pakistan out of those talks. This only increased Pakistani insecurity and reinforced the idea that Washington will ignore its interests in the Afghan endgame. Needless to say, the US-Pak relationship undergoes some currents and cross-currents. Not realpolitik, but pragmatism must be the core of Trump’s policy towards Pakistan.

Pakistan became the pivotal coalition partner of the US-led global war against terrorism as the geographical position on the Southern and Eastern border of Afghanistan was the best location of supporting the US coalition against the strongholds of Taliban. Pakistan was also in a position to provide the vital intelligence that made it necessary for the US to renew its military and diplomatic relations with Islamabad. Pakistan transformed itself from supporter of Taliban to a partner of an on-going war against terrorism and the US applied this leverage to achieve its own objectives. In the Post-Taliban scenario too, Washington continued to rely on Pakistan to root out Al-Qaeda terrorists who were suspected to operate from within Pak-Afghan border.

Potential Trump administration responses being discussed include expanding U.S. drone strikes, redirecting or withholding some aid to Pakistan and perhaps eventually downgrading Pakistan’s status as a major non-NATO ally, the two officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity. A press spokesperson for Pakistan’s embassy in the U.S. said it would not improve the security situation, noting that Pakistan was carrying out its own efforts to tackle militants in the country. The United States is again poised to deploy thousands more troops in Afghanistan, an acknowledgment that U.S.-backed forces are not winning and Taliban militants are resurgent. Pakistan Army chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa on Saturday stated that it was about time for the other stake holders particularly Afghanistan to do more in the fight against terrorism.

“Unfortunately our sacrifices against terrorism are not well acknowledged and we are often subjected to demand of do more,” the army chief was quoted as saying by the Inter Services Public Relations.

Per se , there are some fundamental problems undergirding US-Pakistan troubles. First, instead of a boldly and fairly admitting Pakistan role in the war against terror, the US administrations Democratic or Republican have been demanding to do more from Pakistan. Second, the two countries have a one-dimensional transactional relationship centered along security concerns, i.e., the war against the Taliban and al-Qaeda. Many Pakistanis view the Washington demand of taking actions against Haqqani network differently as they argue since American Black Water treacherous activities inside Pakistan were not rightly tackled by the US administration as to how and why the Americans push us the Pakistanis to tack actions against those who may pose great security risks to Pakistan. Nevertheless, Pakistani government is cautiously taking action against the Haqqanis. In a way, General Jehangir Karamat, Pakistan’s retired Army chief and ambassador to the US, once underscored this point, saying that, in his assessment …..’’US-Pakistan relations are further complicated because of clashing security interests, especially vis-à-vis the Afghan Taliban’’.

Third, Pakistani region remains unstable — especially because of India’s terrorist moves inside the Pakistani territories in Balochistan and TTP’s provoked attacks in the Pak-Afghan border . The mistrusts between India and Pakistan could damage the US interests in Afghanistan and Central Asia too. Stabilizing relations between Pakistan and India will be an important challenge for Trump. What is important to note is that Pakistan aspires for talks with India for revamping ties despite the hostile approach that India has currently adopted on the Line of Control and in occupied Kashmir. Recently, Pakistan tried to attract the world’s attention toward its issues with India especially Kashmir. However, India has delayed resumption of dialogue with Islamabad for one reason or the other. Trump’s expressed support for addressing the outstanding issues of Pakistan in the region is therefore a welcome step in the right direction.

Fourth, counterterrorism strategy: including aid to Pakistan. As under the Obama administration and now under the Trump administration the counterterrorism  financial assistance to Pakistan have been gradually cut thereby having an emphasis onto ‘do more’—creates a new gray area of US-Pakistan relationship in the post- Cold War era.

Fifth, the growing US-India ties in the post 9/11 world where the two sides Washington seem to have been two great economic, military and diplomatic partners, creates a new challenge of US-Pakistan relationship.

Seen retrospectively, Pakistan experienced friendly relations with the US during the Cold War period. Despite convergence of many interests, the US has divergence of interests on several issues and policies. So there are frequent ups and downs in bilateral relations of the two countries. The attacks of September 11 transferred Pakistan from failing to a frontline state and reduced its status from the major recipient of the Western aid in South Asia. It soon became obvious to policy-makers that they had no choice of losing or preserving their strategic position in Afghanistan at the cost of Washington. They had no option but to support the American intervention.

At the same time, India’s announcement of unconditional support and extending offer for logistic facilities to American troops further tightened the position of Pakistan. The US tried to balance its interest in the region and Bush administration assured Indian leaders that the military and economic assistance provided to Pakistan, was designed to assist the war against terrorism (Mohan, 2002-3: 144). India’s general importance to US interests after the Cold War has not been set back directly by the war on terrorism. The US perception of India’s future importance as a strategic partner remained as an inducement to cultivate further security cooperation.

And it has been in this backdrop that the US tried to reorient its relationship dynamics with Pakistan. But the US administration changing Pakistan policy at the behest of India-US interests may pave for open conflict of interests between Washington and Islamabad. Without having a profound cost and benefit analysis, Trump’s administration’s pro India policy would invite many hurdles to US’s South Asia stakes. A stable Afghanistan cannot be possible without Pakistani support and nor an instable South Asia being under fire because of the ongoing Pak-India strained relationship cannot help produce conducive results for Washington in the region. Before Indian premier Narendra Modi’s state visit to Washington, the Pentagon has sanctioned a deal that provides 22 spy drones to India-a move that displeases Islamabad.

These problems will not yield to quick diplomatic fixes. Barring a fundamental re-thinking, Washington and Islamabad should get used to making the best use of the positives imbibed so far in this relationship: A feeling persisting in the psyhe of the Pakistani public is that the US- -by using Pakistan to the best of its interests– Washington now treats Pakistan as a second or third priority state at the altar of growing its heroic partnership with India .  India-US adopted strategy of coopted interests in the Afghan game is making an alert in Islamabad.

The ongoing war of competition over the endgame in Afghanistan seems to create a challenging situation in the region. The US wishes to have strong trade ties in the region — and it would not be fruitful if the Afghanistan. While the US-India partnership is unlikely to undergo major reversals, the rise of China and the security situation in Afghanistan are likely to remain the enduring filters through which a strident Republican Presidency seems reviewing its Pakistan policy and adapt its strategic interests in South Asia albeit not without some provoking challenges.

Any seemingly policy review by the Trump administration to accelerate the drone strikes inside the Pak-Afghan territory would be counter-productive as has been accepted by some American policy experts. Not only these controversial strikes imperil the sanctity of international law but also promote in the Pakistani people a feeling of bete noire about the US administration since the said strikes violate sovereignty and territorial integrity of Pakistan.

Keeping in view the above stated arguments, it is suggestible that the Trump administration’s policy managers give a serene thought while remaking US’s South Asia policy. During the current visit of Indian PM Modi to the US, the Trump administration must convince him to make a move forward vis-à-vis’ the Kashmir situation. Only a pragmatic collective approach to protecting peace in the region led by a pivot US-Pak counterterrorism cooperation can be instrumental in reviewing a new US- strategy. As for Pakistan, relations with the new administration and strategically plot a decisive roadmap for bilateral engagement as well as contingencies for Pakistan-US ties over whatever path Trump takes.

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