US-Pak relationship moves downhill

Harsha Kakar
In a recent interview on CNN, Pakistan Prime Minister, Imran Khan,when asked on reasons for the trust deficit between the West and Pakistan, stated, ‘It is complete ignorance (of the US).’ He added that ‘Americans did not understand what the Haqqani network was (Imran claimed it to be a tribe, not a terrorist group, a fact which was disputed by all).’ In other words, Imran implied that the US was ignorant on Afghanistan and did not heed to his advice to engage in dialogue and meet conditions laid down by the Taliban, including dismantling the elected Ashraf Ghani Government.
He also denied that Pak supported the Taliban and Haqqanis. Defending his army for not acting against the Taliban and Haqqanis, Imran stated, ‘The Afghan Taliban weren’t attacking us.’ He had in an earlier interview mentioned that the Taliban comprises of normal civilians and hence cannot be militarily suppressed.
Simultaneously, Moeed Yusuf, Pakistan’s national security advisor, addressing the media, last week, stated that Washington, ‘should take note and listen to Islamabad’s advice on now ramping up engagement with the new Taliban government.’ He added, ‘If there has to be a reassessment, the reassessment has to conclude that what Pakistan was saying made sense.’ The entire Pak establishment is seeking to prove that the US was ignorant about Afghanistan, while Pakistan was most knowledgeable. It is desperate to project that only Pakistan understood Afghanistan and can lead the global community on engaging with it.
In his address to the recently concluded Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) summit, Imran mentioned, ‘That all this (Taliban takeover) happened without bloodshed, without civil war, and without a mass exodus of refugees, should be a matter of relief.’ He stressed that preventing a humanitarian crisis and an economic meltdown were equally urgent priorities. The fact remains that the current government in Afghanistan, which is neither inclusive nor has women, was formed at Pakistan’s behest, post the visit to the country by their DG ISI, General Faiz Hameed, and the responsibility of sustaining it is falling on Pakistan.
Meanwhile in the US, Secretary of State, Anthony Blinken in a hearing of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, on the role of Pakistan in Afghanistan, stated, ‘we’re going to be looking in the days and weeks ahead: the role that Pakistan has played over the last 20 years but also the role that we would want to see it play in the coming years, and what it will take for it to do that.’ Members urged the administration to remove Pakistan from its status as a major non-NATO ally. They also accused Pakistan of supporting the Haqqani Network and the Taliban with the US taxpayers’ money leading to loss of US lives.
Pakistan’s immediate response was to criticize comments of the US Secretary of state. Its foreign office spokesperson termed these comments as a ‘surprise’ adding that these were ‘not in line with the close cooperation’ between the two countries. He claimed that it was Pakistan which played a ‘critical role’ in helping the US degrade al Qaeda’s capabilities in Pak, ignoring the fact that Osama Bin Laden was a state guest in Pakistan, residing under the nose of the Pak army in Abbottabad. The current head of al Qaeda, Ayman al-Zawahiri, is also suspected to be in Pakistan.
Pakistan had been an unreliable ally to the US from the outset. The US was compelled, due to geographical limitations of Afghanistan, to depend on Pakistan throughout its deployment in Afghanistan. It paid Pakistan for use of its territory, bases and ports.This was subsequently funnelled to the Taliban. The US was aware of this, though it hoped that bribing Pakistan’s senior military and political officials could change its behaviour. It was also aware that members of Taliban and Haqqani network came from the same Madrassas in erstwhile FATA. Their leadership resided in Quetta, Peshawar and Miran Sahib.
As early as Mar 2016, Pakistan’s advisor on foreign affairs, Sartaj Aziz had stated in Washington that Pakistan has influence over the Taliban as its leadership resides in his country. Similar comments are currently being made on a daily basis by Pakistan’s political leadership to convey the message that Pakistan holds the key to Afghanistan. Pakistan’s interior minister Sheikh Rashid stated, ‘All top Taliban leaders were born and brought up in Pakistan. This has been our ‘service’ that we trained them and many more might be studying.’ Treatment of injured Taliban fighters was undertaken in Pakistan’s hospitals.
Is the US now seeking to blame Pakistan for its failure in Afghanistan in a similar manner as it blamed Cambodia for its failure in Vietnam or was Pakistan playing a double game of running with the hares and hunting with the hounds? The facts prove that Pakistan, apart from scuttling peace, was directly backing the Taliban and Haqqanis in targeting the US.
Pakistan arrested Mullah Baradar, the current deputy PM of Afghanistan in 2010, when he began talks for peace with the Hamid Karzai government, mainly to stall talks and prevent peace unless it met Pakistan’s strategic aims. Pakistan ensured that the new government in Kabul was dominated by pro-Pakistan Haqqani network and sidelined moderates, Doha mediators and pro-Iran elements. Its forces physically supported the Taliban in its battle in Panjshir, a claim even backed by the EU. Evidently, Pakistan ensured that the US gameplan in the country was not achieved. Hence, US anger is justified.
In all likelihood, the US is waiting for completing withdrawal of its supporters from Afghanistan before it begins to hold Pak accountable for forming a government which would only support rise of terrorist groups in the region. With the US shifting focus to the Indo-Pacific, with strengthening the QUAD and forming the Australia-UK-US (AUKUS) alliance, Afghanistan and Pakistan may remain only on the periphery of its radar. Pakistan’s importance as a frontline state has receded to the level that it can be ignored and allowed to fail. This would serve another strategic purpose of placing pressure on China to sustain two failing nations, Pakistan and Afghanistan, apart from North Korea, which it already is doing.
The only concern which the US may have will be security of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons and further proliferation of nuclear weapon technology.
The author is a Major General (Retd)