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Tillerson returned empty-handed from Pakistan

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Adam Garrie |

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has met with Pakistan’s Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, Foreign Minister Khawaja Asif and other cabinet members in Islamabad. The meeting takes place during an awkward time in Pakistan-US relations and today’s meeting only solidified these existing trends.

Pakistan’s pivot away from the US and closer to China, a long-time ally that has now become a supremely important economic and geo-strategic partner, has not been lost on the United States. Nor has it been lost on Washington that Pakistan’s relations with Russia are at an all-time high. Pakistan’s deeper integration into a so-called ‘eastern alliance’ was solidified this year when Pakistan joined the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO). India, of course, joined at the same time, demonstrating that Russia in particular, is very eager to see tensions between India and Pakistan, be resolved through an international mechanism focused on pan-Asian security.

Pakistan does not need to respond to US provocations, including Donald Trump’s threats to withdraw aid to the country if Pakistan doesn’t blindly follow US orders.

Pakistan for its part will have noticed the very public closeness between India’s radical Prime Minister Narendra Modi and US President Donald Trump. The United States is clearly exploiting the hyper-nationalist and religious extremist tendencies of Premier Modi, in order to drive further space between New Delhi against both Beijing and Islamabad. Thus far, the response from both China and Pakistan has been one of maturity tinged with caution. This is the only correct response given the ‘bluff’ like quality to America’s newfound fondness of India.

Read more: Tillerson asks India to improve ties with Pakistan: too little too…

In reality, the US is not particularly interested in investing in India, whereas China could be and would be interested, under the right conditions. Likewise, the US does not offer India economic outlets tailored for its economy in the way that China’s One Belt—One Road could easily do if India stopped seeing itself as a rival to China, but like Russia and Pakistan and even increasingly South Korea, begin to understand that China is a potential partner, one which in no way threatens the national sovereignty of its partners.

The competition for influence in Afghanistan that the US hoped to engineer between Pakistan and India has failed to come to fruition as even the Modi government is not quite as foolhardy as the US envisaged it would be.

Far from putting money into India, the US is selling India expensive weapons, whose equivalents could be purchased from either Russia or China for a much more affordable price.

Were the current Indian government not so hostile to Pakistan, one could imagine Pakistan feeling some sympathy for an Indian state that is being used by the US for its own geo-strategic and military purposes. For decades, the US used Pakistan in similar ways and to a degree is still trying to do so. The difference is that Pakistan and the world around Pakistan have changed and Islamabad’s leaders are well aware of this long overdue advantage.

Read more: Moscow tells US Secretary Tillerson not to strike Syria again

Pakistan’s economic future lies with China. No one but an ideologue could now disagree with this. The China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) is just the crowing tower of a relationship that is both deep and wide. Pakistan has likewise found Russia to be far more respectful of Pakistan’s security concerns than the US, in spite of frosty relations during much of the Cold War.

Afghanistan has a lucrative poppy sector as well as untapped minerals worth millions. While the US will find it hard to get its hands of all of Afghanistan’s wealth as perpetually unwanted “visitors”.

During America’s nearly 17-year long war in Afghanistan, Pakistan has paid the ultimate price for the nature of its US ‘alliance’. Pakistan has been asked to shoulder much of the burden of regional security operations which have intensified due to the instability the US caused in Afghanistan. The sacrifices of Pakistan in terms of military lives, civilian lives and logistical and monetary costs, have all been great.

In spite of this, the US has failed to engage in the transformative economic projects in Pakistan that China is engaging in and to add insult to injury, the US consistently blames Pakistan for harbouring terrorism, when in reality, Pakistan has been a victim of terrorist atrocities for years, while the US does little more than point fingers.

Read more: Tillerson’s Islamabad visit: Still miles to travel

Terrorism: The Real Flashpoint

Against this backdrop, Rex Tillerson, a moderate by US standards, flew into Islamabad for what were always going to be tense meetings. While the US has in the past, openly criticised CPEC, Tillerson recently stated that the US does not specifically oppose CPEC, a statement which can be viewed as a concession to the new reality of Pakistan, a reality which no amount of US carrots or sticks can now change.

Terrorist attacks are not planned on or executed from Pakistani soil; there are no terrorist safe havens in Pakistan, and we made this clear to the US delegation today.

Because of this, the general trajectory of Tillerson’s meetings involved security issues. According to a press release from the US Embassy in Islamabad, Tillerson emphasized that his country feels that Pakistan should do more to fight terrorism on its soil, while also expressing gratitude for what Pakistan has accomplished. Tillerson, after all, is something of a natural diplomat, unlike Donald Trump or Nikki Haley, who both seem far better at angering foreign powers than treating them with anything amounting to respect.

However, Pakistan hit back at the accusations about harboring terrorism, just as Pakistan defended its record on the matter during the recent opening of the UN General Assembly. Shortly after his meeting with Tillerson Foreign Minister Khawaja Asif spoke to the press affirming Pakistan’s position. He said,

“Terrorist attacks are not planned on or executed from Pakistani soil; there are no terrorist safe havens in Pakistan, and we made this clear to the US delegation today.

Tillerson recently stated that the US does not specifically oppose CPEC, a statement which can be viewed as a concession to the new reality of Pakistan, a reality which no amount of US carrots or sticks can now change.

We emphasized again and again that their [US] assessment [about Pakistan] is wrong. We are not responsible for the increase in the drug trade in Afghanistan or the increasing [Afghan] territory occupied by terrorists.

Our armed forces and law enforcement agencies have taken action; we have yielded results and will continue to do so but not for Afghan or American interest. Our fight against terrorism is our own and the results we yield are our win”.

Assuming the language Asif and his colleagues used behind closed doors was at least as strong as the public statement, the US should be in no doubt about Pakistan’s position.

Read more: Why Delhi needs to be cautious in ties with Washington?

While Pakistan, China, and Russia all benefit from stability in Afghanistan, the US is uniquely placed to benefit from prolonged and somewhat manageable chaos in Afghanistan. As I wrote previously,

Pakistan’s pivot away from the US and closer to China, a long-time ally that has now become a supremely important economic and geo-strategic partner, has not been lost on the United States.

“Afghanistan has a lucrative poppy sector as well as untapped minerals worth millions. While the US will find it hard to get its hands of all of Afghanistan’s wealth as perpetually unwanted “visitors”, what the US can do is prevent Afghanistan from becoming a safe and prosperous state, one which borders key areas along China’s One Belt–One Road. Indeed, Afghanistan could potentially be part of One Belt–One Road were the situation to stabilize. While America cannot win the war in Afghanistan, they can attempt to make sure that others, namely China, lose out. This is the key element behind America’s strategic dissonance in Afghanistan. On the one hand, they want a good clean win for US business interests. On the other hand, knowing such a thing is next to impossible, they want to proverbially salt the earth before China or any other potential economic partner can reap any benefits from Afghanistan”.

A Cautious Delhi

India has not responded to the US calls for involvement in Afghanistan with the enthusiasm that some in Washington had expected. The competition for influence in Afghanistan that the US hoped to engineer between Pakistan and India has failed to come to fruition as even the Modi government is not quite as foolhardy as the US envisaged it would be. While Modi is happy to engineer new troubles for his country whether it be on its borders with China or by taking an increasingly militant line on Jammu and Kashmir, Modi did not jump head first into the US made conflict in Afghanistan.

In this sense, the US can only rely on India to provoke others, when India is in no real danger of being forced to back up these provocations. Likewise, Pakistan does not need to respond to US provocations, including Donald Trump’s threats to withdraw aid to the country if Pakistan doesn’t blindly follow US orders and take insults from the State Department regarding “harbouring terrorism”, without rhetorically fighting back.

Pakistan’s period of being a junior partner to the US, while paying the lion’s share of the price, is over and the US implicitly knows this. Because of this, the US will likely continue its destabilizing war in Afghanistan while simultaneously continuing to encourage India to become more provocative towards Pakistan, something which will likely produce mixed results. Pakistan must, therefore, concentrate on her allies in China, Russia and beyond.

Read more: Tillerson hints at Air strikes in Pakistan; will the US find…

Rex Tillerson’s visit to Pakistan was not only meaningless, it was of little use, as it only reaffirmed the new status quo that the US can attempt to tarnish, but ultimately will not be able to change.

Adam Garrie is the managing editor at The Duran and is a frequent guest on RT, Press TV, and Digital Divides. He is an expert on Asia/Eurasian, Middle Eastern, Russian and US history and politics. He tweets:@adamgarriereal..The views expressed are author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Global Village Space’s editorial policy.


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