The threat of US sanctions

September 18, 2016

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FOLLOWING the failure of Pakistan’s effort to revive talks between Kabul and the Afghan Taliban, a US drone strike killed Taliban leader Mullah Mansour, the US Congress blocked money for Pakistan’s acquisition of eight F-16 aircraft and later the US defence secretary stopped repayment of several million dollars of ‘Coalition Support Funds’.

In a US Senate hearing last July, several American legislators and ‘experts’ expressed anger against Pakistan for its alleged failure to act against the Haqqani ‘network’ as well as the Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) and Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) ‘terrorists’. The hearing was stacked with anti-Pakistan legislators and ‘experts’. Several proposals were made to impose new sanctions on Pakistan, most specifically by Zalmay Khalilzad, the Afghan-origin ex-US ambassador to Afghanistan, Iraq and the UN. Even more disturbing were remarks by some US senators, such as Dana Rohrabacher’s expression of support for the ‘independence’ of Balochistan, Sindh and other ‘parts’ of Pakistan.

A second Senate hearing in early September was more balanced. While there were expressions of frustration from Senator Corker and other legislators, all three ‘experts’ testifying at the hearing advised against recourse to sanctions against Pakistan. The US State Department spokesman also assured afterwards that the administration had no intention of imposing anti-Pakistan sanctions and fully supported Pakistan’s territorial integrity.


Today, Pakistan has few friends and many enemies in Washington.


Something obviously changed between the first and second Senate hearings. Perhaps sober minds in Washington assessed the high costs and dangers of anti-Pakistan sanctions for America’s short- and longer-term objectives in the region. Perhaps warnings and/or assurances were conveyed from Islamabad. While the US rhetoric has been dialled down, Secretary Kerry was obliged to please his Indian hosts recently by urging Pakistan to do more against the Afghan and Kashmiri ‘terrorist’ groups.

The Indians have gone into diplomatic overdrive. At the G-20 and Asean summits, Modi railed against Pakistan as the ‘instigator’ of terrorism. Kabul has joined the campaign, as evidenced by the recent Modi-Ghani joint statement in New Delhi.

India’s anti-Pakistan campaign is obviously designed to divert attention from its ongoing repression in occupied Kashmir and to convince the Americans to revive the sanctions threat against Pakistan. Likewise, President Ghani, beset by political division and a security collapse, is desperate to transfer blame onto Pakistan.

However, the danger for Pakistan does not reside in the rhetoric from New Delhi or Kabul; it still emanates from Washington.

At the second Senate hearing, Robert Grenier, the former CIA station chief in Islamabad, recalled that in 1994 Pakistan “came within a hair’s breadth” of being put on the US list of “state sponsors of terrorism”. Actually, Pakistan forcefully rejected the threat, telling the US that the legitimate Kashmiri struggle for self-determination could not be equated with terrorism and Pakistan would not sit idle while Indian occupation forces were killing thousands of Kashmiris. The threat was not pursued further.

In 1994, despite the Pressler nuclear sanctions, the Benazir Bhutto government still had many friends in Washington. The Indo-US strategic partnership had not been formed. Pakistan’s image had not been systematically trashed. Today, Pakistan has few friends and many enemies in Washington.

Despite the recent assurances from the State Department, the ‘terrorism file’ against Pakistan is being built up steadily by India and the US at the UN. The first step was to place the Haqqani group and the LeT and JeM on the Security Council’s ‘terrorist’ lists. Pakistan’s previous government agreed to this. The second step was to press Pakistan through the Security Council committees to outlaw these organisations and seize their assets. Pakistan has done so. The third step, now under way, is to demand that Pakistan arrest the ‘leaders’ of these organisations and eliminate the presence of these organisations. In the best of circumstances, this would be a challenging task. With Indian repression rampant in Kashmir, and Indian-Afghan support for the TTP and BLA ongoing, these are not the ‘best circumstances’. Pakistan’s inability or unwillingness to act against the designated groups could be used to justify future UN or unilateral US anti-terror sanctions.

It is therefore essential for Pakistan to formulate and execute a well-considered strategy to respond to the Indian and Afghan rhetoric and neutralise the threat of US sanctions.

Pakistan should more vigorously project that all militant groups, including the Haqqanis, have been eliminated from North Waziristan and other agencies and remaining hideouts are being cleared. It should call for Afghan and US support to fence parts of the border and strengthen cross-border controls (which are being resisted by Kabul). It should demand action from Kabul and the US to eliminate the TTP’s safe havens in Afghanistan and end Afghan and Indian support for the TTP and BLA; and project the affiliation or integration of TTP elements with the militant Islamic State group, which poses a common threat to Kabul and the Afghan Taliban. Pakistan should reaffirm the international consensus that peace in Afghanistan can be restored only through negotiations between Kabul and the Afghan Taliban. Finally, it should indicate the grave consequences for Afghanistan if Pakistan is penalised by sanctions.

Pakistan’s response on the Kashmir dimension should be even more robust. It should reaffirm the legitimacy of the Kashmiri freedom movement, reject its equation with terrorism, uphold the Kashmiris’ right to receive moral and material support; seek condemnation of India’s gross and systematic violations of human rights in occupied Kashmir; expose India’s current and past role as a ‘state sponsor of terrorism’ and a serial perpetrator of ‘state terrorism’. It should reject all discussions with India on terrorism until it halts its repression in Kashmir and ends its sponsorship of the TTP and BLA.

Hopefully, the next US administration will carefully review the implications of sanctioning Pakistan — chaos in Afghanistan, end of counterterrorism, non-proliferation and arms control cooperation and a heightened danger of an India-Pakistan conflict — and come to the conclusion that coercion is not an option in the conduct of relations with Pakistan.

For its part, while seeking a peaceful solution to the conflict in Afghanistan and the right of self-determination for the people of Kashmir, Pakistan too would be well served by eliminating terrorist and extremist groups from its soil.

There is thus room for constructive diplomacy between Pakistan and the US.

The writer is a former Pakistan ambassador to the UN.

Published in Dawn September 18th, 2016