Minus-Pakistan formula?

Published August 25, 2017

An uncharacteristically stern response by the National Security Committee to US President Donald Trump’s so-called South Asia strategy is a worrying indication of the strategic chasm between Pakistan and the US.

With words and phrases such as “outrightly rejected”, “scapegoat”, “grave challenge”, “Afghan war cannot be fought in Pakistan” and “India cannot be a net provider of security” sprinkled across the statement, the NSC has conveyed its unhappiness, perhaps even alarm, at the Trump strategy.

Nominally headed by the prime minister, the overwhelming military presence at yesterday’s meeting suggests that the statement is a true reflection of the national security apparatus’s grave concerns. Pakistan’s concerns over the Trump strategy are unsurprising; the strategy has almost universally been declared to be unrealistic and flawed.

From the NSC response, two key concerns of Pakistan can be gleaned. First, the Trump strategy appears to be an endorsement of perpetual war in Afghanistan, when it has long been clear that only “a politically negotiated outcome”, in the NSC’s words, can work.

Second, the so-called South Asia strategy puts the onus on Pakistan to act without offering to address any of this country’s regional security concerns. Specifically, the Trump administration’s silence on anti-Pakistan militant sanctuaries in eastern Afghanistan and its encouragement of India to play a greater role in Afghanistan amount to a puzzling disregard of Pakistan’s concerns. Why is Pakistan expected to act first to advance other powers’ interests and only then its own?

Merely labelling something a South Asia strategy does not automatically make it so. Indeed, it is Pakistan that appears to be seeking a true regional solution with its articulation of specific concerns, while the US approach amounts to something akin to a minus-Pakistan formula for peace. Because the US approach is wildly unrealistic, it is also dangerous.

Nevertheless, Pakistan must strive to avoid a strategic collision with the world’s only superpower. The US president’s obvious discomfort with a U-turn from his campaign pledge to extricate the US from Afghanistan presents an opportunity. A true regional approach to the Afghan question necessarily includes Iran, China and Russia, countries that Mr Trump all but ignored in his strategy.

For Pakistan, the challenge will be to pull together the diplomatic heft of those countries to cobble together a reasonable alternative to America’s latest approach. Regional ought to mean regional — a path to peace that allows Afghanistan peace and stability and balances the interests of outside powers in the immediate vicinity.

Surely, helping develop a regional consensus and encouraging the US to reconsider its own flawed approach is a better alternative than the dismal possibility of endless war in Afghanistan and the severing of even a transactional relationship between Pakistan and the US.

Published in Dawn, August 25th, 2017

Opinion

Budgeting without people

Budgeting without people

Even though the economy is a critical issue, discussions about it involve a select few who are not really interested in communicating with the people.

Editorial

Iranian tragedy
Updated 21 May, 2024

Iranian tragedy

Due to Iran’s regional and geopolitical influence, the world will be watching the power transition carefully.
Circular debt woes
21 May, 2024

Circular debt woes

THE alleged corruption and ineptitude of the country’s power bureaucracy is proving very costly. New official data...
Reproductive health
21 May, 2024

Reproductive health

IT is naïve to imagine that reproductive healthcare counts in Pakistan, where women from low-income groups and ...
Wheat price crash
Updated 20 May, 2024

Wheat price crash

What the government has done to Punjab’s smallholder wheat growers by staying out of the market amid crashing prices is deplorable.
Afghan corruption
20 May, 2024

Afghan corruption

AMONGST the reasons that the Afghan Taliban marched into Kabul in August 2021 without any resistance to speak of ...
Volleyball triumph
20 May, 2024

Volleyball triumph

IN the last week, while Pakistan’s cricket team savoured a come-from-behind T20 series victory against Ireland,...