Three choices to deal with US

Initially, perhaps many would have assumed, President Donald Trump’s 4am tweet on the New Year was just a bluster. But hold on! He has proved his detractors wrong. Trump has made good on his threats as his administration moved swiftly to suspend almost the entire security assistance to Pakistan. The next move could be stripping Pakistan of the status of a major non-Nato ally and finally declaring Pakistan a state sponsor of terrorism, if Islamabad does not act decisively against the Afghan Taliban and the Haqqani Network. But before we reach that stage, there still exists opportunity for the two ostensible allies to prevent the complete rupture in their fragile cooperation.

It would be an understatement to say that Pakistan is confronted with a daunting task. Policymakers in Rawalpindi and Islamabad have been scratching their heads to find a way out. There are three choices before Pakistan to tackle arguably one of the toughest foreign policy challenges in recent years.

First option: accept all US demands, including opening a front against the Afghan Taliban and the Haqqani Network. This would restore the US trust and prove that Pakistan can be a reliable partner. The step may entail financial and other benefits. But that option runs contrary to Pakistan’s approach since it believes the solution to Afghan problem hinges on sustained peace talks. And for that process to take shape, it is vitally important that all stakeholders create conditions that encourage negotiations. Use of forces, according to Pakistan, does not complement that approach. Also following such a US decision means risk opening another front against the Afghan Taliban, who have not targeted or launched any attacks inside Pakistan.

This takes us to the second option, that is, to show total defiance. It is a popular approach that can envisage withdrawing from the US alliance, shutting down the crucial supply routes for the US-led foreign forces in Afghanistan, shooting down US drones and suspending all kinds of cooperation aimed at bringing some semblance of peace in the war-torn country. Imran Khan, the leader of the Tehreek-e-Insaf, is strong proponent of that approach. But pitfalls of such a policy would be huge. The US can not only block all kinds of financial assistance but also influence international financial institutions to put an economic squeeze on Pakistan. Complete breakdown of the relationship with the US can invite catastrophic consequences.

And that is why the country’s civil and military leadership has responded cautiously to the Trump’s onslaught. Notwithstanding the statements from defence and foreign ministers, the security establishment, which perhaps knows the intricacies of the Pak-US relationship better than others, is not jumping the gun. The official Twitter handle of the chief military spokesman goes quiet and the only statements so far have come from the GHQ, talking of importance of the Pak-US partnership.

This leaves us with the third and perhaps the option Pakistan is currently relying on. This option includes avoid taking the Trump’s bait, while pursuing diplomacy over confrontation and reaching out to regional players like China, Russia and Iran and simultaneously carrying out introspection that as to why there exists a huge perception gap between what we say and what others perceive. True, the war Pakistan has been fighting was thrust upon us after the 9/11 attacks. Yes, Pakistan had to endure huge economic and human losses. No doubt, Pakistan acted as a bulwark against groups such as al Qaeda. But what really overshadows Pakistan’s unparalleled sacrifices is when Mullah Mansur was found and killed in Pakistan, when we are unable to control people like Hafiz Saeed and then expect to get away with it. Washington’s punitive measures may have strategic reasons or are part of larger great games being played in this part of the region but that must not discourage those who are at the helm in Pakistan from examining and addressing our internal shortcomings.

Published in The Express Tribune, January 8th, 2018.

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