Pak-US ties
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Syed Ali Zia Jaffery|

The US National Security Advisor (NSA), General McMaster is on a visit to South Asia, where he will meet top officials in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and India. The visit is being considered significant by analysts and pundits alike; they see him spelling out the Trump Administration’s policy brief for the region. Many are of the opinion that a toolkit to deal with Pakistan will be dished out.

As of now, briefings, television interviews and minutes have indicated that the new regime realizes the importance of cooperating with Pakistan to eliminate the scourge of terrorism. Albeit, the former three-star general also conveyed long-held misgivings about Pakistan. Indeed, a policy shift is impending; the tactical aspects will decide the future course of Pak-US relations. Given the importance of Pakistan in the region and its clout in Afghanistan, the health of ties between the two countries is of utmost significance. Hence, there is a need to look how things may transpire in the near future.

Read more: Trump’s first drone strike inside Pakistan: What does it mean?

Stumbling Blocks to US-Pakistan relations

The US has a conundrum to resolve in Afghanistan. After 15 years of war in the land-locked country, stability, good governance and peace are a far shot. The Taliban have emerged as a stronger and more ruthless force and the state institutions are proving to be ineffective.

It is safe to say that over the past 7 decades, ties between both countries have oscillated with the change in events. Bouts of friendliness have alternated with those of open disregard such kind of a tactical relation is prone to ebbs and flows. There have been no real altercations over the past few years, but apprehensions and mistrust have hampered the establishment of a strong strategic partnership.

The US has a conundrum to resolve in Afghanistan. After 15 years of war in the land-locked country, stability, good governance and peace are a far shot. The Taliban have emerged as a stronger and more ruthless force and the state institutions are proving to be ineffective. There are reasons for the mess which are beyond the purview of this piece. However, Afghanistan and the US accuses Pakistan of espousing militants which are creating ruckus and mayhem for the Kabul regime and “American vital security interests“. Besides, the US has openly raised concerns regarding Pakistan’s development of the tactical nuclear weapons (TNWs), out of fears of them falling into the hands of non-state actor’s. Due to these two conspicuous reasons, there are voices in the United States which call for strictly dealing with Pakistan. US frustrations are expressed in the appeal to “Do More“.

Read more: Will the United States 3D Policy for Pakistan Work Against China’s rise

Like India, the US is looking for policy actions which can “deter” and “compel” Pakistan to change its allegedly disruptive behavior.

The Way Forward

Like India, the US is looking for policy actions which can “deter” and “compel” Pakistan to change its allegedly disruptive behavior.

Pakistan is located in a pivotal position and also has ethnic, religious and cultural affinities with Afghanistan. This merits her an important status in the overall US strategy in the region. Therefore, the US has to first understand that Pakistan has legitimate interests in the future dispensation in Afghanistan. It must be stressed that Islamabad’s Afghan policy is made out of the fear of encirclement: A hostile eastern border and a New Delhi-dominated Afghanistan. There is a history to the development of this security thought, something which is well documented.  The US must be cognizant of this fact and hence efforts must be made to assuage these apprehensions. In other words, the US must address Pakistani concerns regarding Indian influence in Afghanistan.

Moreover, the US must also appreciate Pakistan’s counter-terrorism drive which has been successful in largely eliminating terrorism. Indeed, Pakistan has been the biggest victim of terrorism but despite this fact, it has fought the menace with unflinching resolve. The loud and smear campaign aimed at undermining Pakistani endeavors against non-state actors will create anti-American sentiments in Pakistan. Confidence must be built. Forces which are targeting the Pakistani state from sanctuaries inside Afghanistan must be rooted out with US support since the Afghan security apparatus does not have the capacity.

Read more: Is Trump under pressure to adopt tougher approach towards Pakistan?

The strength of future ties will depend upon US attitude towards Islamabad and New Delhi. Tensions simmer between the two nuclear-armed neighbors. The US needs to act on certain issues while remaining aloof on some. It should play a mediatory role in the Kashmir issue, which lately has again surfaced with India upping the stake inside Indian held Kashmir.

If the US stays out of the matter concerning battlefield nuclear weapons, for example, it would be a much-needed confidence building measure (CBM) between the US and Pakistan.

On the contrary, if the US stays out of the matter concerning battlefield nuclear weapons, for example, it would be a much-needed confidence building measure (CBM) between the US and Pakistan. The development and even deployment of the tactical nuclear weapons are not a security threat to the US. Hence, if a purely Indian-centric weapon is considered unfriendly to US interests, Pakistan would mistrust the US in more ways than one.

Read more: Pakistan and the Strategic Chessboard in 2017

Trust can be built if the US, as a world power brings about an amicable end to long-standing disputes between India and Pakistan. In the short term, Pak-US relations can be improved by mutual cooperation and understanding. Attempts to coerce or deter the Pakistani state would lead to confrontational ties, which in all seriousness would be unsettling for US interests in the region.

Syed Ali Zia Jaffery is a Research Associate at the Center for Strategic and Contemporary Research (CSCR), Islamabad. He frequently writes on defense and strategic affairs of South Asia. The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Global Village Space’s editorial policy.

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