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Pakistan-US Relationship in Spiralling Nosedive -End 2018
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Dr Subhash Kapila | Date:04 Dec , 2018 0 Comments
Dr Subhash Kapila
is a graduate of Royal British Army Staff College Camberley and combines a rich & varied professional experience in Indian Army (Brigadier), Cabinet Secretariat and diplomatic/official assignments in USA, UK, Japan, South Korea, and Bhutan.

Strategic denouement of the United States with Pakistan’s limited strategic utility to US interests was noticeable in end of last decade and has finally come to a head in end-2018 with emergence in Pakistan of PM Imran Khan carrying heavy baggage of Anti-Americanism and proclivity for enhanced relations with China-a country in confrontational mode with USA.

Strategic denouement of Pakistan Army with its privileged relationship with the United States emerges from the stark reality that geopolitically in end-2018 India counts more heavily over Pakistan in the United States strategic calculus. This is galling for the Pakistan Army Collegium of Generals as with the changed geopolitical perceptions of the United States what has been knocked out grievously is Pakistan Army’s fixated mindset of Pakistan Army’s “Strategic Equivalence” with India. This in the past was erroneously fostered by the United States Establishment.

Pakistan’s petulant reaction to the United States changed geopolitical perspectives has been an even more marked strategic pivot to China. This has not gone unnoticed in Washington. Coinciding with the downslide in US-China relations Pakistan’s reinforced pivot to China under Pakistan PM Imran Khan in 2018 only worsened United States perceptions on Pakistan’s utility as a strategic asset in South Asia.

Noticeable in this spiralling downslide in Pakistan-United States relationship is that the United States has not taken two final steps for a complete surgical cut of its relationship with Pakistan despite Pakistan not keeping a door open for future reconciliation moves. The final surgical cut which the United States needs to apply on Pakistan is to declare Pakistan as a “State Sponsor of Terrorism” and withdrawal of United States privileged designation endowed on Pakistan in the last decade of as “Pakistan as Major Non-NATO Ally”.

Pakistan-United States relationship in end-2018 is in a spiralling nosedive as the Pakistani Establishment was impervious to US President Trump putting Pakistan on notice in January 2018 to end duplicitous strategies on Afghanistan and liquidate safe-havens provided to Islamic Extremists operating against Afghanistan and India.

The tone and tenor of both United States dignitaries and Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan as emerging in end-2018 is ow markedly acrimonious. Pakistan is petulant on US military aid being cut off and the United States maintaining that in any Pakistan approaches to the IMF for bailout loans Pakistan would be asked to furnish complete and precise details of the Pakistani debts to China for the CPEC. The United States maintains that Pakistan is seeking IMF bailout loans to service its massive debt loans for the CPEC which has debilitated the Pakistan Army.

Both actions of the United States briefly outlined above seem to be the opening pressure-points on Pakistan to carry out course corrections of duplicitously undermining US interest in the region. This process began in 2001 with General Musharraf having to yield to US military intervention in Afghanistan to displace the Pakistan imposed Taliban regime in Kabul. Succeeding Pakistan Army Chiefs have religiously followed the same course against the United States.

Pakistan is reluctant to provide Pakistan’s CPEC debt details to China and nor would China as Pakistan’s sole strategic patron would like Pakistan to do so. The reasons are obvious as many suspect that there are lot of murky transactions involving the Pakistani Establishment and also their Chinese counterparts. If everything was above board then there should be no hesitation by either Pakistan or China to provide details called for.

Once again, as is my wont in geopolitical analyses is as to question whether the United States or Pakistan would blink first? The answer is obvious but it still needs to be asked simply because Pakistan Army which decides foreign policy has the propensity to switch and trade its geostrategic location to the highest bidder.

The United Sates under past US Presidents like a jilted suitor kept lavishing strategic favours on Pakistan fully aware that Pakistan Army was duplicitous in its relations with the United States being deeply embroiled at the same time in a concubinage relationship with China. China was quick to make some smart moves to ensnare Pakistan into a tight strategic embrace from which it could not free itself without bruising itself strategically. The China Pakistan Economic Corridor was the gridlock that China applied on Pakistan. 

China has made massive strategic investments in Pakistan and Pakistan Army conscious of the same, feels emboldened and is unlikely to blink any time soon under United States pressures. Pakistan also gets emboldened by academic analyses by some strategic analysts that China would go to war with the United States should the United States ever resort to a military intervention in Pakistan to secure its national security interests.

Contextually, in light of the above, the United Sates has to face some hard choices in terms of redefining its relationship with Pakistan. The United States needs to carry out a serious reality check on the question of Pakistan’s long range strategic utility to US national security interests. The United States also has to deliberate as to what steps the US can take short of war to discipline Pakistan’s intransigence and defiance of the United States on Afghanistan and on Pakistan Army’s continued provision of safe havens for terrorist groups inflicting violence on Pakistan’s neighbours who strategically partner the United States in this region.

The United States has no political or strategic space to hope that Pakistan deeply in China’s strategic embrace can be retrieved from the Chinese gridlock  The United States would be unwise in adopting ‘Hedging Strategies’ on Pakistan hoping that Pakistan will itself retrace its steps back to the US fold.

In any decisions on United States future redefinition of its relationship with Pakistan, the United States cannot ignore India’s strategic sensitivities and in current geopolitical environment the United States cannot expect India as in the past to yield to US pressures to accommodate Pakistan Army’s sensitivities on India. In terms of geostrategic significance India today carries more weightage than Pakistan in securing the Indo Pacific security template that the United States wishes to put in place.

In terms of disciplining Pakistan’s rampant strategic delinquencies, short of war, the United States has potent economic weapons in its armoury which can be effectively used. China virtually refused Pakistan’s new PM Imran Khan in an all-out economic bail-out so that Pakistan does not have to seek IMF loans from an American dominated financial institution.

The above trend in Pakistan’s foreign policy under its new PM Imran Khan should be an accurate indicator and incontrovertible proof that the Pakistan Army Collegium of Army Corps Commanders and their political protégé PM Imran Khan do not wish to continue the old format of US-Pak relationship. It should also indicate to the United States that Pakistani Establishment has no genuine intentions to forsake their most potent weapon of state-sponsored terrorism as the preferred foreign policy tool against Afghanistan and India.

The United States would further be naive that Pakistan will willingly assist the United States in stabilising Afghanistan’s turbulence generated by the Afghan Taliban fathered for two decades or more now by the Pakistan Army. The United States should not even be tempted into being led to believe that US ‘Hedging Strategy’ on Pakistan in the Afghanistan context would pay dividends in cessation of Afghanistan’s turbulence.

Hovering heavily over any future prospects of any likely improvement of the acrimonious Pakistan-China relationship is the “China Factor”. The China-Pakistan Axis has been widely commented upon including this author in terms of its reactionary intent and content directed against United States predominance in South West and South Asia. China even when it enjoyed better and convergent relations with United States did not with its proximate strategic overlord ship over Pakistan restrain Pakistan from its disruptive policies in South Asia.

In end-2018 China would be more than ever tempted to encourage and reinforce Pakistan’s disruptive intransigence against Afghanistan, India and by extension the United States in the region, simply because it serves China’s national interests.

Concluding, one would hazard to assert that Pakistan-United States spiralling relationship as visible in end-2018 can only be expected to go into a free-fall as the United States under President Trump and the American Establishment are convinced that Pakistan has irretrievably pivoted to China’s orbit. Times ahead may witness more United States pressure- points emerging on Pakistan and which could only end if Pakistan Army “reinvents” its strategic utility in US strategic calculus—possibly Pakistan Army colluding with the United States against Iran?


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The views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily represent the opinions or policies of the Indian Defence Review.

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