NationalVOLUME 17 ISSUE # 4

Pak-US relations in the unfolding situation

It appears that relations between Pakistan and the United States have touched the ebb in the history of ties between the two states after the swashbuckling control of the Afghan Taliban as the American forces were withdrawing from the war-ravaged country. Since the Taliban takeover of Kabul on August 15, relations between Washington and Islamabad have greatly been affected as the capture and US forces withdrawal are being considered a defeat of America by its strategic competitors, Russia, China and rival, Iran.

Russia and China, on their part, have been playing their role in strengthening the Taliban, so that they could not be defeated by the US and allied forces and thus the pullout of the foreign forces from Afghanistan could be ensured. As Pakistan has been on board with Chinese, Russian and Iranian efforts to engage the Taliban so that a regional solution of the conflict in Afghanistan could be found, it enraged Washington. However, the US did not completely abandon Pakistan as it critically needed the country to manage its operation and ultimate withdrawal of its forces from Afghanistan. Islamabad also immensely facilitated Americans in Afghanistan as it is an obvious reality and power. In other words, Pakistan, on its part, tried to strike a balance in its relations with the US and China over Afghanistan. Noticeably, Pakistan also facilitated the February 2020 historic agreement between the US and the Afghan Taliban and it was duly acknowledged by Washington.

But after the Taliban takeover of Kabul and the US forces pullout, Pakistan has been trying its utmost to ensure the formation of a broad-based all inclusive Afghan government by convincing the Taliban to accommodate members and representatives from all ethnic groups. However, the point which is important to be noted is that Pakistan has not been making efforts to ensure a broad-based government in Afghanistan along with most important friend China, Russia and Iran as well as Central Asian neighbours of Afghanistan, including Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan. Islamabad’s efforts have a lot of rationale as a regional solution could be more durable. This thinking is in line with the history of issues and conflict in Afghanistan, which have roots in the regional states’ interest rather than the international system per se. However, America is a global power and it wanted to settle the Afghan issue according to its will rather than diktat. But as it has failed so far, its wrath has and would fall on Pakistan, the most-influential neighbour and state actor in the war-ravaged country.

The relations between Pakistan and the US have nose-dived due to the policy of US President Joe Biden, who has been hesitant to engage with the Pakistani civilian leadership. Since he took oath as American President, Joe Biden has not even considered it important to make a phone call to Prime Minister Imran Khan. He even completely ignored Pakistan during the process of the Taliban takeover and pullout of all American forces. It means that the American leadership has been quite annoyed at Pakistan’s role in Afghanistan. Washington has been consistently asking Islamabad to “do more” in preventing the Afghan Taliban from attacking US and Afghan National Defence and Security Forces (ANDSF). However, Pakistan always negated any domineering influence on the Afghan Taliban and dubbed the American demands largely “unjustified.”

Although the Afghan issue is far from being settled and the US role cannot be completely obliterated, therefore, Washington would have to hook up with Pakistan regarding matters in Afghanistan. But the most important lesson which both Pakistan and the United States have to learn is that they have to unpeg their relations from the Afghan issue and work towards a broader framework of relations earnestly.

Historically, Pakistan is an old partner of the US, however, this partnership has been evolving over decades and the demands and expectations of both states from each other have been changing despite their certain relatively stable interest. In recent years, US-Pakistan relations have become so intricate that both countries have serious doubts about each other’s intentions while they also cannot afford to sever ties.

Initially, when the US established close ties with Pakistan in the 1950s, it fundamentally wanted Pakistan to serve as an important link in encircling the former Soviet Union by containing it and preventing communist ideology from spreading in South Asia. Therefore, the US during the Cold War rivalry with the former Soviet Union wanted Pakistan to be its strong ally and for this purpose it contributed significantly to its stability. However, certain Pakistanis have an opposite view that America did not care for Pakistan’s stability even during the Cold War.

On its part, Pakistan, during the Cold War, wanted Washington to be the source of its financial and military sustenance so that its regional rival India, the Soviet Union and its puppet Afghanistan may not harm its integrity and sovereignty. Unfortunately, Pakistan could not keep its territorial integrity intact as East Pakistan had to become Bangladesh in which both India and the Soviet Union played an instrumental role. Thus, in a way Pakistan lost its eastern wing due to its alliance with Washington, which had annoyed the Soviet Union.

In the post-Cold War US, with its near-dominance of the global scene with the main challenge coming from non-state militant and terrorist organisations, specifically Muslim armed militias, it wanted Pakistan to serve as an ally against the militants. However, due to ideological or religious reasons and acute security compulsions Pakistan could not support Washington in a way as has been expected by the latter. This is despite the fact that Pakistan has been on the forefront to help the US trounce Al-Qaeda, considered the gravest threat to American security by its policymakers. Therefore, there have been ever-increasing demands from Pakistan “to do more” against militant and terrorist organisations.

Pakistan and the US have to move ahead in their mutual relations and put the history behind them. It is the only way for sustainable relations between Washington and Islamabad. Both countries cannot afford ups and downs in their relations. This is neither good for Pakistan nor for the US as it affects Washington’s great power status and Islamabad cannot achieve its geo-economic objectives.