United States-Pakistan relations have nosedived to an unprecedented low after President Donald Trump accused Pakistan of lying and deception. Furthermore, Washington has suspended security assistance to Islamabad recently, raising serious questions on Pakistan’s capacity to continue on with its war on terror as a US ally.
In the first social media tweet of the New Year, President Donald Trump said the US had “foolishly” given Pakistan more than $33 billion in aid in the last 15 years and had gotten nothing in return but “lies and deceit.” He reiterated longstanding allegations that Pakistan gives “safe haven to the terrorists we hunt in Afghanistan.” Suspension of security assistance to Pakistan is in connection with the Trump Administration’s ostensible frustration with Pakistan for failing to take “decisive action” against Taliban militants targeting US personnel in neighboring Afghanistan.
It appears that Washington has started implementing its policy strategy for South Asia which President Trump had announced in August last year. The purpose of the reformulated strategy for South Asia was to end the stalemate in Afghanistan, which has entered its 17th year and is therefore the longest war in US history. The US State Department Spokeswoman Heather Nauert while announcing suspension of security assistance to Pakistan on January 4, charged that despite sustained high-level engagement with Pakistan’s government, “the Taliban and Haqqani Network continue to find sanctuary inside Pakistan as they plot to destabilize Afghanistan and attack U.S. and allied personnel.” She told reporters that until Pakistan took “decisive action” against those groups, security assistance was suspended.
From the State Department announcement some respite must have been felt by Pakistan as there is no open threat to target any such safe havens which the Haqqani Network or any other anti-US groups, according to the US, enjoy in Pakistan. In other words, there is no imminent threat of US attacks inside Pakistani territory. Nevertheless, nobody knows what President Trump has on his mind regarding Pakistan, his words notwithstanding.
Insofar as the US allegations against Pakistan of giving safe haven or turning a blind eye to these sanctuaries of the Haqqani Network and the Taliban are concerned, these are serious charges. Thus, they need to be looked into and properly analyzed. The fact of the matter is that the US allegations raise a lot of questions. The foremost and most pertinent question in this regard is that if Washington really believes that the Taliban and Haqqanis have hideouts on Pakistani territory than why has it so far desisted from targeting these sanctuaries? Because otherwise the US has been carrying out unmanned air vehicles (UAVs), commonly known as drones, missile attacks continually for years on Pakistani Taliban and Al Qaeda hideouts inside Pakistan territory. So what has prevented Washington from launching such attacks when it has already been violating the territorial sovereignty of Pakistan by launching drone attacks inside Pakistani territory? More prominently, Al Qaeda founder Osama bin Laden was killed by airborne US Special Operations Forces in 2012 in Pakistan without the latter’s acquiescence.
If the answer is that the US out of sheer respect for an ally (Pakistan) has not targeted Taliban and the Haqqani Network safe havens inside Pakistan, than this argument is specious. Does the US need a license from Pakistan to launch attacks on the Haqqanis and Taliban hideouts? The answer from the international law and norms point of view is affirmative. However, keeping in view the realist stance of US foreign policy particularly with regard to safeguarding its territory, people and personnel and the behavior it has demonstrated in Afghanistan over the years, then one can safely state that if the US wants to target the Haqqanis, it does not need any approval for such attacks from Pakistan. Here it is important to note that Washington in the past targeted many members of the Haqqani Network in North and South Waziristan with missiles, through drones. So whenever the US would locate any members of the Haqqani Network or the Taliban, it would definitely attack them whether in Afghanistan or Pakistan. It is also important to note that there have been no claims, even by the US, to have killed any Haqqani Network members inside Pakistan for more than a year.
Here it seems that the US either wants Pakistan to take action against the Haqqanis or Taliban safe havens on its territory or tries to look for some excuse to meddle in Pakistan. Great powers have always been in search of such excuses in order to arm-twist the states which are not malleable and plaint to their dictates. In case the US really believes that the Haqqanis and Taliban have safe havens in Pakistan and still desisted to launch attacks on these hideouts and instead wants Pakistan to do so, then again it could have two reasons. By wishing Pakistan to take action, the US may hope that the groups start feeling they have no supporters in the region and therefore to give up fighting. This would provide Washington for a face-saving exit from Afghanistan, if it so desires. Secondly, Washington may also want that the groups turn their guns on Pakistan instead of Afghanistan. This may be aimed at mopping up these groups which the US believes have been nurtured and sustained by Pakistan.
Keeping in view the Pakistani stance that there are no Taliban or Haqqani safe havens or sanctuaries in Pakistan, Washington’s “beliefs” are based on misunderstanding or mala-fide intentions. The US must be looking for some excuse to pressurize Pakistan to toe its line in the region. It is unfortunate that the US regards Pakistan as a stumbling block to US objectives in South Asia. These objectives include containing China and using India for the purpose. Washington may have immediate objectives in the region that are not compatible with the national interest of Pakistan. However, this does not mean that for attaining certain objectives Washington ditch a long-term ally like Pakistan, which in every decade helped US achieve its objectives, particularly during the Cold War between the America-led capitalist world and Soviet-Union-led communist block. The US-Pakistan relations must be multi-dimensional and multi-purpose. In Pakistan also Trump’s words should not be dismissed as the rage of an eccentric leader. At least both Islamabad and Washington apparently want peace and stability in Afghanistan, so if both the countries would disengage with each other the biggest victim of this would be peace in Afghanistan. Moreover, any stringent action from Washington against Islamabad would further destabilize the whole South Asian region.