America’s Pakistan policy is baffling


By Samuel Baid

In the aftermath of the 37-nation meeting of the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) in Paris last month the United States and Pakistan expressed their desire to change their policies about each other. But the sum total of all the statements the leaders of the two counties made, indicated that they can at best put the old wine in new bottles. No creative thinking in formulating a policy which is drastically different from what the two countries have followed for 64 years vis-á-vis each other.

Pakistan’s highest civil-military forum, the National Security Committee (NSC), met in Islamabad on February 27after Pakistan was put under FATF watchlist, and endorsed recalibration of foreign policy for making it more regionally focused. It said the fight against terrorism would be dictated by Pakistan’s national interest. This is a clear notice to the US that Pakistan would fight only that terrorism which was against its (Pakistan’s) own national interest. In fact Pakistan has been following this policy for the past 17 years despite its paid partnership in the US-led coalition against global terrorism. Former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s Foreign Policy adviser Sartaj Aziz is on record as having said why should Pakistan fight the terrorists, who were not against it. This has been Pakistan’s actual, undeclared policy about the Haqqani Network, about Hafiz Saeed and his Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JuD) and about Masood Azhar and his Jaish-e-Mohammad (JEM). It is to be seen if Pakistan’s new foreign policy if it is at all formulated will recommend its exit from the US-led war against global terrorism.

The US also says it wants a change in policy towards Pakistan. US National Security Council’s Senior Director for South and Central Asia Lisa Curtis was in Islamabad for two days at February-end. She met Foreign Secretary Tehmina Janjua, Interior Minister Ahsan Iqbal and Chief of the General Staff of Pakistan Army Lt Gen Bilal Akhtar. She reportedly delivered to them Trump Administration’s tough pre-conditions for bailing out their country from the FATF watchlist in June this year. These conditions were not new. They related to US old demand that Pakistan must not give safe havens to terrorists including the Haqqani Network. They also included international community’s concern about Pakistan going easy on the implementation of its anti-money laundering and terror financing commitments. On the basis of Lisa Curtis’ talks with Pakistani officials the US Embassy in Islamabad said in a press release the US “seeks to move towards a new relationship with Pakistan based on a shared commitment to defeat all terrorist groups that threaten regional stability and security as well as on a shared vision of a peaceful future of Afghanistan”.

The Nation quoted Foreign Ministry officials to say that US also urged Pakistan to cooperate with India and punish those responsible for the 2008 Mumbai terror that killed 166 people including some Americans.

A couple of years ago, afflicted by taunts of isolation after its failure to host the SAARC summit in Islamabad in November 2016, Pakistan day-dreamt of an anti-US triangle of China, Russia and Pakistan, Pakistan’s vague and fitful desire to change its US policy is based on this day-dreaming. Of course, Pakistan is important for Russia and China – but not as an equal, but as a mercenary who can be used and paid off suitably. Pakistan has lately acquired importance for Russia after growing presence of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and the open-ended policy of the Trump Administration in Afghanistan. Russia is uneasy about the unending presence of the US in Afghanistan. It hopes to counter ISIS presence in Afghanistan with Afghan Taliban, with whom Pakistan has good relations. Even American observers of South Asian relations believe that Russia wants to use Pakistan to undermine US influence in Afghanistan. The US feels Pakistan has already been doing that by providing sanctuaries to Afghan Taliban terrorists who attack US troops and Afghan citizens in Afghanistan. Pakistan Foreign Minister Khawaja Asif claimed after his three-day visit to Russia last month that his hosts praised Pakistan’s fight against terrorism. If this is true and if China’s repeated claims to this effect in the past have been genuine, one sees no reason why they deserted Pakistan in the FATF meeting in Paris last month.

China’s heavy investments and loans are taking Pakistan the garden path serfdom. Politicians, small entrepreneurs, journalists, academics in Pakistan are wary of this end. Pakistani newspapers are full of articles warning the government against Chinese investments and loans. Friendship with the Chinese or Russian after a certain extent is unnatural for religious and freedom loving Pakistanis. On the contrary it is very natural for them to make friends with Americans.

Reading between the lines the statements emanating from Islamabad and Washington addressed to each other, no matter how critical, leaves an impression that neither wants to snap a 64-year old relationship. After the National Security Committee decided to recalibrate Pakistan’s foreign policy, Foreign Office spokesman Mohammad Faisal tried to dispel the impression that Pakistan’s proposed new foreign policy is aimed at taking the country away from the US. He said the country was trying to find common ground to work with the US. If Pakistan cannot do without the US, the US, too, cannot do without Pakistan especially now that it remain entangled in Afghanistan for the past about 17 years.

Gen Joseph Votel argues that the US cannot achieve long-term stability in Afghanistan without Pakistan’s support and assistance. Gen Voted, who heads the US Army Central Command and is responsible for all military operations in the Af-Pak region, may sound voicing the Cold War era nostalgia. He said the US and Pakistan woe not on a collision course and that the US valued the military-to-military relationship with Pakistan. He told a Congressional Panel on February 27 that US had preserved the valuable military-to-military relationship with Pakistan and attempted to increase transparency and communication with military leaders.

When President Donald Trump’s New Year tweet about Pakistan and Gen Votel’s statement two month later are juxtaposed, one is baffled by the US Pakistan policy. Can Americans have military-to-military relationship with a country that considers them fools and returns their help with ties and deceit as Trump said?