Trump lambasted Pakistan during the recent announcement of his Government’s South Asia policy. He openly blamed Pak for supporting and providing bases to terror groups operating in Afghanistan on its soil. It was holding Pak responsible for the failure of previous US policies on Afghanistan. Pak support was neither a new discovery nor did it require rocket science, it was known all along, however, ignored by all US Governments, as they hoped Pak would change.
General John W Nicholson, commanding the US forces in Afghanistan, stated in an interview to Afghan media outlet, Tolo news, that Washington was aware of the Afghan Taliban’s leadership presence in Peshawar and Quetta. His statement was open proof that the US finally wanted Pak to act.
US policies towards Pak kept changing with each administration. They varied from providing financial and military aid to threats. Pak always promised, however did nothing. The US kept pumping good money, but only bought casualties in return. It required an administration which realized that there is almost no hope of success, unless support from the deep state comes to a standstill. Thus, the present policy where the carrot has vanished and the stick remains.
Since release of the policy, there has been an outcry of anger and resentment against the US in Pak. The most common statement, made by every political and military leader, is that Pak does not permit its territory to be used by terror groups. It has also claimed that no nation has suffered as Pak has in its battle against terror groups. Pak claims over seventy thousand casualtiesas a result of terror strikes since 2001, including seventeen thousand dead. Post the Pak national security council meeting, a statement issued stated that cooperation with the US and Afghanistan was contingent upon elimination of safe havens of anti-Pak terror groups operating from Afghan soil.
Pak’s claims of not providing safe havens have been rebuked solely because the world has proof of Pak’s complicity. Pak appears to have forgotten that Osama bin Laden was killed in Pak, just a short distance away from a major military training centre and Mullah Mansur was targeted in Pakistan, while returning from Iran. Terrorists eliminated while attempting to cross into Kashmir with weapons, are products of Pakistan’s terror factories. Sartaj Aziz, their erstwhile foreign affairs advisor, had stated in the US, that since Pak provides support to the Taliban leadership, it does possess some hold over them.
The Pak army chief met the US ambassador and conveyed that Pak does not need US aid, however, demands that the nation be treated with respect. There are calls within Pak to deny use of its territory to US forces presently deployed in Afghanistan, as all heavy equipment still moves via the Karachi port. Pak faces internal as well external pressures solely because of its terror support policies.
Pak has also been threatened that unless it acts it would no longer be considered a non-NATO ally. The US secretary of state refused to rule out the possibility of military action, involving air strikes, on terror groups on Pak soil. What has irked Pak is not the direct threat, but that the US echoes the words of India.
To add fuel to fire, has been the offer by the US for a greater role for India in Afghanistan, an area which it considers as its backyard, as also opens doors to its soft underbelly. Further, within Pak, all policies towards Afghanistan and India are beyond the scope of the elected Government, being the sole prerogative of the deep state, hence there is increased anger and helplessness of the senate.
Within Pakistan, despite US threats, the realities are different. It has created and supported this multi headed hydra. Taliban and Haqqani leaders are well aware of Pak’s involvement in a similar manner as Dawood is, hence have to be protected. Pak is also aware of the growing power of the Taliban and the Haqqani network. Most of its financing flows through Opium production, which it controls in Afghanistan, hence does not lack funds. Pak must protect them, solely to prevent them from falling into US hands, which could open its involvement to the world.
The question being asked across the west is whether this strong statement and open threat by the US would compel Pak to act, or would it be another attempt wasted, as Pak must simultaneously protect its own international reputation. The basic fact is that for Pak to act, the cost of refusal must be very high. This is not easyconsidering the changing geo-political equations in the region.
China is Pak’s main benefactor. Its deep investments in the country, would compel it to ensure Pak’s security and sanctity, however the support may be only economic and diplomatic. Militarily, Pak would have to face US drone and air strikes in its territory. Russia, presently under US sanctions, has also come in support of Pakistan. The US is also aware of Iran’s involvement in Afghanistan, after all the drone strike which eliminated Mullah Mansur, did so when he was returning from Iran, however have remained silent on this aspect, basically because the main Taliban leadership is sheltered in Pakistan and the US and Iran are sworn enemies.
Pak has few options. Firstly, and the easier one is to push the leadership into Iran, thus ensuring their safety and away from US strikes. However, their movement is being monitored and hence it could backfire. Secondly, it could compel them to avoid making statements and reduce military engagements, which again is not easy. Finally, is the hard option of pushing them into Afghanistan.
If the US is to compel Pak to act, in the manner that it desires, then it must be ruthless in enforcing its will. This implies diplomatic pressure by removing Pak from being a non-NATO ally and employment of air strikes including drone and missile, irrespective of collateral damage on terror targets within Pak. It is only by humiliating the Pak army’s ability to ensure security of its borders will it force them to act. Thus, if it has shown Pak the stick, then the US much employ it to the maximum, or like all other earlier options, this too would be an empty threat which would be ignored.
Courtesy: First published on www.dailyexcelsior.com