On 1 January, 2018, the warning tweeted by US President Donald Trump to Pakistan to mend its ways or be ready for the suspension of the military aid has started unfolding. Trump accused Pakistan of telling lies and practicing deceit in return for US military aid in the past. Trump asked Pakistan to stamp out the militant hideouts from its land before it was too late. In its wake, the US announced to suspend Pakistan’s security assistance amounting to about $ 2 billion.
On August 10, the US suspended Pakistan from joining its International Military Education and Training (IMET) program and, consequently, sixty-six officers of the Pakistan armed forces would miss the opportunity of seeking benefit of the program. Now, for training and study purposes, Pakistan’s military officers would not be able to join the US Army War College, the US Naval War College, and the Naval Staff College. Reportedly, the US would save $ 2.41 million.
The suspension of the IMET program for Pakistan is a worst-case scenario. The program had withstood the repercussions of the crisis erupted subsequent to the raid of the US Navy SEALS on Osama bin Laden’s compound in Abbottabad in May 2011, and the succeeding Salala check post incident in November 2011, consuming lives of two dozen Pakistani troops. Despite apparent strained relations, Pakistan’s participation in the IMET program continued, except this time. It seems that Pakistan knew what was in store, but Pakistan let the situation slip out of its hands.
In the mid-1980s, during the age of the Pressler Amendment, denying all economic and military assistance to Pakistan unless the US president certified annually that Pakistan was not developing an atomic bomb, Pakistan experienced its first exclusion from the IMET program. Reportedly, from 2003 onward, Pakistan has been one of the main recipients of the IMET program. The exclusion of Pakistan might means that the US army would lose a military-to-military contact with the Pakistan military, but the exclusion also means that Pakistan would miss the latest techniques taught and practised in the US war colleges. Keeping oneself abreast of the latest is vital for sustenance in the war market. Obsolescence offers no comfort on the battleground.
The symbolic importance of Pakistan’s being a Major Non-Nato Ally (MNNA) of the US since 2004, is more than the IMET program. In sequence, the MNNA status may come before any IMET program, but the impact of the exclusion from the MNNA might be grave for Pakistan. Such exclusion would bring disgrace for Pakistan. If Pakistan does not value the MNNA status, it must gracefully come out of it before the US revokes Pakistan’s status.
Pakistan might be reveling in the certainty that the US needs Pakistan’s help in Afghanistan more than Pakistan needs the US sponsored IMET program, and this confidence alludes to the dependence of the US forces operative in Afghanistan on the NATO-supply line passing through the land of Pakistan. Similarly, Pakistan might be reassured in the belief that the US cannot fight the war on terror without Pakistan’s active and willing participation. Both factors are a plus-point of Pakistan’s geo-strategic location, but both are still insufficient to secure Pakistan in its relations with the US beyond Afghanistan or after the end of the war on terror. Owing to this sort of miscalculation, Pakistan has created a vacuum in its standing with the US and the gap is being fast filled up by India. Pakistan has failed to recognize that, in the context of Pak-US relations, the space lost by Pakistan is the space gained by India. Nevertheless, Pakistan assumes itself to be invaluable, always insisting that the gap left by it should be left unfilled, or at least not filled up by India. Even in Afghanistan, the space ceded by Pakistan is the space gained by India. Pakistan is still not coming to terms with this reality.
Pakistan wallows in the delusion that, if pushed hard, it has an option to join Russia. It is as if Pakistan were a pendulum oscillating between one limit and the other. The idea behind this swing is not just that Russia can substitute for the US, but it is that Russia can never get annoyed with Pakistan. Pakistan thinks that it has a geo-strategic edge in the region to decide in favour or not, of Russia.
Pakistan considers that China can be a substitute for the US financially, but not yet militarily. For the latter, Pakistan’s choice is Russia. Interestingly, on August 8, Pakistan entered into a military cooperation agreement with Russia permitting officers from Pakistan’s armed forces to train in Russia. The agreement is a corollary of the bilateral defence cooperation pact signed in 2014, when the US-sponsored financial assistance under the Kerry-Lugar-Berman Act of 2009 ended. Russia has provided Pakistan with four Mi-35 combat helicopters. Both countries have also undertaken counter-terrorism and anti-drug operations jointly. Both countries have finally discovered a common ground for mutual collaboration. The timing of the agreement with Russia also means that Pakistan knew that it would be suspended from the US-funded IMET program. Only a public statement was awaited.
Here, Pakistan again overlooks the fact that an edge was provided by the US military equipment and training in the wake of the SEATO and SENTO anti-communist defence alliances of the 1950s. With its own men and material, Pakistan could not have sustained the Afghan jihad in the 1980s, if the US help, both financial and military, had not been available. Pakistan is also overlooking the fact that, under the push of the either-or formula, Pakistan’s drift towards Russia at the cost of the US would put Pakistan in a predicament because Russia is nearer to India than it is to Pakistan, and Russia has adopted no such either-or formula substituting Pakistan for India. Pakistan may be annoyed with the US at its pro-India policy in Afghanistan, but India is already present in any context banking on Russian collaboration.
Pakistan’s scramble for regional importance is obvious. Pakistan is still slow to understand that the world might have gone multipolar financially but the world is still unipolar militarily.