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From absolutely not to an implicit nod!

A problematic 18 months lay ahead for Pakistan, with so much instability internally between now and the next elections. Combined with the Democrats displaying a "tough" front to reclaim lost voters at the midterms with a provocative display in foreign policy, it will determine how much the establishment bends and implicitly nods to its demands.

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The drone strike on Ayman Al-Zawahiri in Kabul is merely a symbolic victory for Joe Biden, whose party lags behind the polls in the upcoming mid-term elections. However, the ramifications leave Pakistan navigating uncharted territory in dealing with Drone strikes in a Taliban-led Afghanistan. The leader of Al-Qaeda’s death has no strategic bearing on the security of Europe and the U.S, and the group as a whole has no relevance in today’s fight against Terrorism.

High-value targets like Zawahiri are reserved as trump cards for short-term political gains to increase election approval ratings in the U.S. Case in point, Biden’s predecessor Obama was faced with a similar slump when the Democrats lost control of Congress in the 2010 midterm elections. In a Gallup poll conducted between April 25-1st May 2011, his approval rating was at 44% but jumped to 51% when Bin Laden was killed on the 2nd of May. There was never any verification or proof that the person in question was, in fact, Bin Laden as his body was tossed in Mafia-style disposal into the sea.

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Understanding the matter better

The covert action taken halfway around the world translated into a rally of U.S stocks and the Dollar, placing a feather in the cap of Obama as he prepared for his 2012 Presidential re-election campaign. On the other hand, the two-faced national policy of the Pakistan Peoples Party of protesting drone strikes in the National Assembly but giving private approval to the U.S, combined with a lack of preparedness from Pakistan’s Armed Forces, exposed hypocrisy and gaps in dealing with matters outside the country’s India-centric policies.

During Imran Khan’s tenure, attempts shifted toward an independent foreign policy that pursued Pakistan’s national interest. In an era of competing powers, this policy would have been a refreshing change from siding with various blocs and allowed Pakistan to leverage its geo-strategic position. However, the sands have shifted from Imran Khan’s “absolutely not” to an implicit nod from the establishment to the U.S as ramifications of Al-Zawahiri’s death are still undetermined. The flight path taken to strike Zawahiri’s compound in Kabul originated in Abu Dhabi and would have had to fly through an air corridor over Baluchistan. The U.S horizon capability in Afghanistan is effective if it has access to the airspace of adjoining countries. With Iran out of the question and Central Asia remaining neutral because of Russia, Pakistan remains the outlier.

When Bilawal Zardari pronounced with glee in the National Assembly, “Welcome back to Purana Pakistan” (old Pakistan), the events leading up to this strike displayed the return of the transactional relationship of the “do more days” of his father’s Presidency. Pakistan has regressed from Imran Khan pursuing an independent foreign policy, which was averse to siding with hegemony, in all its manifestations, like “beggars can’t be choosers” and “Pakistan can’t afford enmity with the U.S”.

The way forward

To help bring Pakistan (rather its establishment) in the good graces of Washington, meetings between NSA Jake Sullivan and DG ISI Nadeem Anjum in May ensued, as Bilawal met Anthony Blinken a few days later, essentially bringing Pakistan back to chasing the proverbial carrot.

The timing of events seem eerily connected, aimed at rapidly thawing relations in the hopes of resetting ties as quickly as possible. On the Domestic front in Pakistan, COAS Qamar Javed Bajwa called Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman to release $1.7 billion from the IMF; the drone strike occurred two days later. Imran Khan, who would generally protest about Pakistan aiding foreign interventions in other countries, was tied down with a sudden verdict on a case that had been pending for the past eight years. History has demonstrated time and time again that Washington’s relationship with Islamabad is transaction-based, period-specific and cold-heartedly thankless.

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If Sherman delivers on Bajwa’s request, it will come with more caveats and conditions designed to discipline Pakistan to pursue an independent foreign policy and reach out to China and Russia. A problematic 18 months lay ahead for Pakistan, with so much instability internally between now and the next elections. Combined with the Democrats displaying a “tough” front to reclaim lost voters at the midterms with a provocative display in foreign policy, it will determine how much the establishment bends and implicitly nods to its demands.

 

 

Sameed Basha is a defense and political analyst with a master’s degree in international relations from Deakin University, Australia. He specializes in Asia-Pacific regional dynamics and conflict & security studies. The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.

 

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