relationship between Pakistan and the United States is at a critical juncture.
Developments over the past two weeks indicate that mistrust and divergence of
interests have increased the strategic distance between the two. Yet, both
sides continue to maintain communication.
Presently, the United States is also Pakistan’s neighbor, owing to its
military presence in Afghanistan. Where does the bilateral relationship go in the
near future, at a time when the Trump administration is being confrontational
and Pakistan is bracing for general elections this summer? This piece will explore the question and possible
measures both sides can take to shape contours of bilateral relationship in
The roots of this strategic dissonance
between Washington and Islamabad go back a decade. Three successive U.S.
presidents have pressured Pakistan to ‘do more’ in fulfilling American
objectives in Afghanistan related to the war on terrorism. Meanwhile, Pakistan
has steadfastly pursued its own national security interests. Events of the year
2011 are case in point. 2011 arguably marks the worst year in the bilateral
relationship during past 16 years of engagement. Despite recurring events that
led to direct confrontation communication channels were kept open. Both sides
conducted their internal reviews of the relationship and concluded that strategic compulsions necessitate
engagement. Patient diplomacy . gradually repaired the relationship after
Washington tendered an apology and GLOCs were opened.
Five years later, Pakistan and the United States are clashing again. However,
context and events are different. Trump administration is demanding certain actions. While a new element in the U.S.-Pakistani relationship is the
unpredictable U.S. President Donald Trump. Islamabad has, meanwhile, dug in and is refusing to accede to U.S. demands under pressure. Impasse
continues and at time when Pakistan has entered into an election year. PML-N
government is seized with domestic politics with focus on securing a majority
at the polls. It also means tactical cooperation would resume and bureaucratic engagement will take place on as and when basis. However
political capital necessary to undertaking resetting the relationship with
Trump administration and re-viewing Pakistan’s Afghan policy will not be
present. In this sense, most likely, present status-quo will continue for the
near future. Before a reset takes place both sides can make progress in certain
Next Steps for Bilateral Engagement
With regard to the war on terrorism and the
conflict in Afghanistan, Islamabad and Washington are well aware of each
other’s concerns and interests. AV3 Z4 The
United States seeks
action against specific groups, particularly the Haqqani network. Washington also
emphasizes the crucial role of Pakistan in facilitating
a reconciliation process in Afghanistan. On the other hand, Islamabad looks at
these issues differently. It contends that the conflict in Afghanistan is directly
spilling over into Pakistan. It is wary
of the long-term presence of U.S. forces in Afghanistan and the footprint
of India across its western border. Islamabad alleges that a joint Afghani and
Indian intelligence apparatus is fomenting terrorism in Pakistan. Moreover,
Pakistan’s national security posture is India-centric and its interests in
Afghanistan stem from that particular viewpoint.
To bridge the
distance between standpoints of both sides, the first requirement is of a
“ruthlessly candid dialogue” as
termed by Pakistan’s defence minister. Such a dialogue will take place away
from public. Through back-channels, American and Pakistani interlocutors can
begin to share minimum actions each seeks from the other side and then chart a
course for reducing political tensions. However, one challenge is to identify
who will verify the steps each side takes to implement the commitments made.
the Aid Factor AV5
For over a decade
Pakistan has received economic and security-related assistance from the United
States. Islamabad, however, didn’t charge U.S. led international forces for
ground and air supply lines. A fact acknowledged
by Hilary Clinton, former U.S. Secretary of State, at the time of resumption of
GLOCs in July 2012. This needs to change. In recent years a narrative has
emerged that Pakistan has been provided ‘billions and billions of dollars’ but
it has not cooperated with the United States in Afghanistan.
As a sovereign
nation Islamabad should lessen its dependence on foreign economic assistance.
Pakistan could announce that it will not receive any further economic and
security assistance from Washington, but it will charge the United States and
international forces for supplies via Pakistani territory.
Washington did provide
security and economic assistance to Islamabad but it always came with strings
attached and certain conditions. As the contours of the post-9/11 relationship
were shaped in late 2001 and early 2002, Washington and Islamabad agreed that the
United States will reimburse Pakistan for military operations Pakistan
undertakes on its soil to support the U.S. war in Afghanistan. Out of $33
billion, around $14 billion were those CSF reimbursements, which is not
foreign assistance. PK6 While
the remaining security assistance has been crucial for developing Pakistan’s counter-terrorism
capabilities, the United States has provided that assistance in furtherance of
its own national security interests.
As for economic
assistance, while Pakistan did receive its assistance from the United States Pakistan
Political process in Afghanistan
Two weeks after President
Trump’s tweet, media
outlets reported that talks between the Afghan Taliban/Haqqani network and the Afghan
government took place in Turkey and Pakistan. PK7 These
exploratory talks indicate that pressure on Pakistan moved it to make a new
attempt at commencing peace talks. Coincidently, acting Assistant U.S.
Secretary of State for South Asia Allice Wells was also in
Islamabad during the same period. Even if U.S. representatives were not
involved in the Islamabad talks, the results will emerge during the upcoming spring
and summer, when the Taliban’s next fighting season starts. It is
possible that Islamabad and Washington can save their bilateral relationship by
achieving preliminary progress in talks with the Afghan Taliban. Various
processes have been tried for commencing peace talks with Afghan Taliban. Any
forward movement also requires talks between Islamabad and Washington on means
and ends of the peace process. Washington has indicated openness to political settlement with Taliban if they reject terrorism.
Islamabad has pushed for a ‘politically negotiated settled settlement’ between Taliban and
Afghan government. Pakistan asserts that only Afghan government and the United
States can negotiate details for such an arrangement with Taliban. Islamabad,
thus, cannot guarantee success of a peace process. Pakistan, however, can call
for a cease-fire in Afghanistan to push forward the peace process.
Due to the
geographical compulsions and constraints of the international system, Islamabad
and Washington are compelled to maintain communication. Crises in bilateral
relationships occur periodically. However, the current phase appears to be the beginning
of a new chapter of the seven-decade old bilateral relationship. A total rupture
in bilateral ties is not in the interest of either side. Both countries are significant
stakeholders in the on-going conflict in Afghanistan, yet their divergent
strategies were bound to clash. And confrontation is underway. Meanwhile, steps
can be taken by both sides to repair some of the damage and tone down political
AV1Faisal, thanks for working on this despite jet lag.
I think the workings of a good piece
are in here but since so much has already been written on this subject, it is
essential that your piece breaks new ground. This is especially important as
it’s your first fellowship piece and you’ll be sending this as an example of
your work to people you meet.
Here are a few suggestions on how you
could strengthen this piece:
Skip over parts that have already been covered
(such as how US-Pakistan relations have deteriorated in the past few months)
and use that space to talk more about what’s expected in the near future and
what you’re recommending. In this respect, it may be valuable to ask some of
these questions during your meetings with Shamila Chaudhary and Shuja Nawaz and
incorporate that analysis in here.
You talk about 2011 as the worst year of
relations in the last two decades. How did the relationship survive and get
back on track? Maybe do a comparison of then to now and glean what the United
States and Pakistan can learn from that period?
Address the possibility that the relationship
could just keep ambling along without a big gesture to reset ties and what are
some practical/realistic expectations there.
We can definitely discuss this in
person, if you’d prefer.
PK2I appreciate the fact that you establish the purpose of your article
in the introduction. My only suggestion
would be perhaps to reword the sentence so that it doesn’t sound so direct.
AV3Faisal, slight contradiction in what you’re recommending here. On
the one hand, you say the US and Pakistan know each other’s concerns well. But
on the other hand, you say they need to have a candid dialogue. Please clarify.
Z4So while both sides are aware of each other’s concerns, but knowing
them isn’t going to move the needle. Talking candidly about it and attempting
to explore which of concerns can be addressed by each side at minimum cost will
move the needle. Talks about verifiable assurances to address concerns is what
I mean by candid dialogue.
AV5Faisal, suggest starting this paragraph with what you’re
recommending the United States and Pakistan do with respect to aid and then
explain why and its modalities. As currently stated, it’s a bit difficult to