WASHINGTON: Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, once considered key US allies, are not even mentioned in the US National Security Strategy 2022, which identifies China as “America’s most consequential geopolitical challenge”.

The 48-page document, released on Wednesday evening, does mention terrorism and other geo-strategic threats in the South and Central Asian region, but unlike the recent past, it does not name Pakistan as an ally needed to tackle those threats. Pakistan was also absent from the 2021 strategy paper.

In Washington, the omission is seen as reflecting a mutual desire to build a separate US relationship with Pakistan. Islamabad has long complained that the United States views Pakistan only as a tool to counter threats from Afghanistan and other nations.

In recent statements, both the US and Pakistani officials emphasised the need to de-link Pakistan from both Afghanistan and India and give it the separate identity it deserves as a nuclear state of more than 220 million people.

Pakistan, Saudi Arabia do not find mention in Washington’s latest national security strategy

The US officials have also acknowledged Pakistan’s desire to maintain its close ties with China and that’s why it’s not seen as an ally in the US strategy to counter China’s influence in the region.

Russia is mentioned as the second major threat to US global interests after China and is condemned for unleashing a “brutal and unprovoked war” on its neighbour Ukraine.

Russia and China are the only two nations that have their own chapters in the document.

The twofold strategy underlines pandemics, climate change, inflation, and economic insecurity as, as big a threat to US interests as growing competition with major powers like China and Russia.

“If we lose the time this decade, we will not be able to keep pace with most notably the climate crisis,” the document warns.

The strategy also identifies Iran as a small, autocratic power acting in an aggressive and destabilising way.

India is identified as the world’s largest democracy and a ‘major defence partner’, in realising Washington’s vision of a “free and open” Indo-Pacific.

Saudi Arabia’s absence from the document followed the Saudi-led oil cartel’s decision to slash production by two million barrels a day, causing an increase in al­­r­eady-high gas prices in the United States.

“We are reevaluating the relationship with Saudi Arabia, and this is a relationship that has existed over decades,” US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan told reporters in Washington when asked to explain the absence.

US President Joe Biden was “doing so with the purpose of looking out for US interests and values as we think about the future of the US-Saudi relationship”, Mr Sullivan added.

The document notes that the Biden administration “ended America’s longest war in Afghanistan, and with it an era of major military operations to remake other societies”.

But the document clarifies that the ad­­ministration would continue to maintain “the capacity to address terrorist threats to the American people as they emerge”.

The strategy pledges to “ensure (that) Afghanistan never again serves as a safe haven for terrorist attacks on the United States or our allies” and warns Afghan­istan’s de facto rulers that Washington will “hold the Taliban accountable for its public commitments on counterterrorism”.

The document also notes that terrorist groups like “Al Qaeda, ISIS, and associated forces have expanded from Afghanistan and the Middle East into Africa and Southeast Asia”.

Praising India as “the world’s largest democracy”, the document add that “the United States and India will work together, bilaterally and multilaterally, to support our shared vision of a free and open Indo-Pacific”.

China is marked out as a country that “harbours the intention and, increasingly, the capacity to reshape the international order in favor of one that tilts the global playing field to its benefit”.

Published in Dawn, October 14th, 2022

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