Weeks after US President Trump blamed Pakistan for supporting the Afghan Taliban and the Haqqani network and threatened it with aid reductions and targeted sanctions, leaders from Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa (BRICS) identified militant groups allegedly based in Pakistan as a regional security concern and called for their patrons to be held to account.
The US threats to Pakistan are understandable because relations between the two countries have hit new lows in recent times. Warming ties between the US and India means Pakistan has lost its status of a close US ally. It has realized that only interests are permanent in international relations and it is time to move on. However, the BRICS summit, which was held in China and presided over by the Chinese president, explicitly called out militant groups in Pakistan and demanded action against them. The threatening tone of the declaration from the soil of Pakistan’s most friendly country is more disturbing for it than the US threats.
Unveiling the long awaited results of his policy review of the Afghanistan war, President Donald Trump announced that US troops would remain in the country without a timetable for withdrawal while another report suggested that 4,000 more troops would be added to the current force of over 8,000. The American presence in Afghanistan peaked at 100,000 in 2010-11. In his speech, Trump launched a blistering attack on Pakistan. “We have been paying Pakistan billions and billions of dollars at the same time they are housing the very terrorists that we are fighting. It is time for Pakistan to demonstrate its commitment to civilisation, order, and to peace,” he said. It was followed by more threats from Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and the National Security Council spokesman. As if it was not enough, Trump applauded India’s “important contributions to stability in Afghanistan” and urged it to play a larger role in it.
A few months ago, Pakistan called the US a “selfish friend” after relations between the two countries touched the lowest ebb in their history. Pakistan believes the US has always curried favour with it when self-interest pressed and left it in the lurch after having its interests served. The growing US-India proximity is also a cause of worry for Pakistan. Relations between the latter and the US were strained after a drone strike which killed Afghan Taliban leader Mulla Mansour. Pakistan says the US has not only violated its sovereignty but also undermined the Afghan peace process. Earlier, the US stopped the supply of F-16s to Pakistan. The attitude of the US Congress towards Pakistan has hardened recently. Besides harsh exchanges on the F-16s, it adopted the National Defence Authorisation Act 2017 (NDAA), which seeks to increase restrictions on military aid to Pakistan unless certain conditions are met.
In contrast, India has become a major defence partner of the US, with arms procurement worth over $14 billion. They have signed agreements for coordination, cooperation and sharing of information between the defence forces and working together on operations on piracy, peacekeeping and patrolling. They have sealed deals of billions of dollars in nuclear trade. The relations between India and the US have created concerns in Pakistan which fears a renewed arms race in South Asia after the two countries reached a nuclear trade breakthrough, besides signing a number of agreements for cooperation in defence, security, space and high technologies. The new deals between the archrival and a “frenemy” are a matter of concern for Pakistan but it will have to accept the harsh realities in the changing world.
The US is backing India to play a bigger role in global issues as it supports its candidature for a permanent membership of the UN Security Council. The US has long wished to contain China through India and the latest partnership with India is another link in the chain. But China plans to pay the US back in the same coin by alleviating the asymmetry of power between India and Pakistan. Pakistan will avail all its options, including forming a strategic alliance with China to counter the Indian influence in Afghanistan. It is a clash of interest between India and Pakistan. The US wishes to give a role to India in the war-torn country, to maintain a strategic balance. That does not suit Pakistan. It is to Pakistan’s benefit that China’s role is focused on its own interests. China has been actively engaged in Afghanistan, because it is worried about a possible spillover of militants into its Xinxiang province and some other areas, in case of a permanently destabilized Afghanistan.
Pakistan and the US have seen ups and downs in their relationship since the 1950s. Changes have taken place in perceptions and philosophies over the years. Strategies and ground realities have drastically altered the course of events and set a new path for the world. The US still has deep interests in Pakistan.
In a declaration after a summit in the Chinese city of Xiamen, Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa (BRICS), pointed out the presence of the Taliban, ISIS, Al Qaeda and its affiliates, including the Eastern Turkistan Islamic Movement, Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, the Haqqani network, Lashkar-i-Taiba, Jaish-i-Mohammad, Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and Hizbut Tahrir, and called for action against them.
The message indicates Pakistan’s friendly countries have been influenced by malicious Indian propaganda that it is sponsoring terrorism in the world. Pakistan failed to inform the world about Indian atrocities in Occupied Kashmir and terrorist activities on its soil. It could not effectively highlight the arrest of Kulbhushan Yadev, an India spy, and his involvement in subversive activities on its soil. On the other hand, India has drummed up its propaganda against Pakistan to hide its inhuman treatment of Kashmiris. Many US senators have an aide of Indian origin. A large number of Indians are working in US media organizations. Its sway in the US is understandable but its influence on friendly countries speaks of Pakistan’s failing foreign policy. Both the civilian and military leaderships will have to review their policies to avoid international isolation.