Pakistan-US ties

Updated June 29, 2017

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THE devastating attacks in Parachinar and Quetta have bloodily underlined an inarguable reality: Pakistan needs the support of its allies and friends in the fight against militancy.

Unhappily, as the administration of US President Donald Trump debates its strategy in Afghanistan, there are signs that the US is preparing to revive its ‘do more’ mantra and willing to consider troubling actions against this country.

That would be a mistake. For more than a decade and a half, since the start of the US-led war in Afghanistan, the US has viewed relations with Pakistan through an Afghan prism.

Whether money has flowed to Pakistan or assistance has been sought of it, much of what the US has done has been linked to its quest to defeat the Afghan Taliban or degrade their strength.

To be sure, Pakistan’s own policy choices and perception of its security interests have been flawed at times.

But Afghanistan has not been, is not and will not be unstable fundamentally because of Pakistani security policy choices. The Taliban are strong and Kabul weak for reasons that are mostly intrinsic to Afghanistan.

The foolhardiness of a get-tough approach towards Pakistan can be gauged by two questions: who is advocating it and what can it achieve?

Unsurprisingly, the most ardent advocates of this get-tough US approach are strategists and policymakers who are perennially hostile to Pakistan and advocate for India as a hegemonic power in the region.

But if the bilateral Pak-US relationship is used by the US to try and rebalance power in South Asia, it will surely only exacerbate Pakistan’s security concerns and increase the risk of conflict in the region.

Moreover, it is not clear what such a policy can realistically achieve on Afghanistan. Across administrations, the US has articulated a similar desired outcome in Afghanistan: eroding the Taliban threat to the extent that Kabul can negotiate a political settlement favourable to the current dispensation.

But the US has also visibly struggled with the idea of a peace settlement with the Taliban.

So could getting tough on Pakistan just be a slippery slope towards trying to militarily defeat the Taliban in Afghanistan, the real, unstated goal of the US?

Therein lies a further problem: suspicion of US motives by regional powers other than India and concern that the US is fundamentally on the wrong course in Afghanistan.

Complicated as the Pak-US relationship is, the US ought to recognise that Pakistan is locked in a long-term fight against militancy — a fight that aligns with US interests — and that Pakistan, a country of 200 million with a growing economy, is an important country to maintain relations with in its own right.

Reviving the ‘do more’ mantra runs the risk of Pakistani policymakers saying ‘no more’ in response — an outcome that can and should be avoided.

Published in Dawn, June 29th, 2017