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Saturday, February 17, 2024

Will US acknowledgement of Pakistan’s concerns over Indian influence in Afghanistan change anything?

Top spymasters in the US have admitted that Pakistan deems increasing Indian footprint in Afghanistan detrimental to its interests and hence it will go in the Chinese camp to offset the influence.

A detailed discussion on Pakistan took place in a congressional hearing on the Afghan War. It must be noted that deliberations and debates on the war and the role of Pakistan have increased. This is in wake of a likely military-heavy and Pakistan-centered policy for Afghanistan.

Director National Intelligence, Daniel R Coats pointed out. “Pakistan is concerned about international isolation and sees its position through the prism of India’s rising international status, including India’s expanded foreign outreach and deepening ties to the United States,”

The assertions by Coats are quite reflective of Pakistan’s actual threat perceptions and something which Pakistani strategic fraternity has time and again reasoned out with the US.

“Pakistan views Afghanistan or desires for Afghanistan some of the same things we want: a safe, secure, stable Afghanistan. One addition  one that does not have heavy Indian influence in Afghanistan.” Lt General Stewart

“They view all of the challenges through the lens of an Indian threat to the state of Pakistan. So they hold in reserve terrorist organizations. so that — if Afghanistan leans towards India, they will no longer be supportive of an idea of a stable and secure Afghanistan that could undermine Pakistan interests,” the general said further

Ties between the two countries are anything but healthy at a time when close cooperation is required to bring upon a negotiated end to an otherwise unwinnable war in Afghanistan.

Last week, a Republican Congressman, Adam Kinzinger said that pressure must be exerted on Pakistan to take stern measures against terrorism.” Ultimately we have to make it clear that we are going to cross the border if necessary because they  are not doing enough.”

Read more: With rising trouble in Afghanistan, US Congressman calls to ‘strike’ Pakistan

” Ultimately we have to make it clear that we are going to cross the border if necessary because they  are not doing enough.” Adam Kinzinger

Seemingly, US understanding of Pakistan’s most fundamental concerns about Afghanistan may hint at much-needed cooperation. The briefing gave a fair idea that a close-knit association with Pakistan is not out of the equation as yet.

When asked about how to deal with Pakistan, Daniel Coates said: “I think certainly an evaluation of how we work with Pakistan to address the situation of the harboring of terrorist groups would be essential to a strategy that affects Afghanistan.”

We’ve got to convince Pakistan that if they’re harboring any of the Haqqani network members that it is not in their interest to continue to host Haqqani network,” said General Stewart

Is the US Paranoid from Pakistan?

The Taliban are holding about 58% of Afghan territory and are attacking Afghan and foreign forces with impunity. After the deadly attack on 209 corps headquarters last month which claimed lives of 150 Afghan soldiers, the Taliban carried out two attacks on military installations in Kandhar this week claiming the lives of  25 soldiers.

The brazen rise of the Taliban has compelled the US to mull over a military heavy policy which applies to Pakistan as well. This was alluded to by Lt Gen McMaster this month.

“And so what we’ll have at the end of the next few weeks here is an opportunity for a much more effective strategy for the problem set in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and the region broadly,” Gen McMaster told a White House news briefing earlier this month.

Here it must be accentuated that the US has already started to twist Islamabad mainly due to the ever-worsening situation in Afghanistan. There has been a $190 cut in financial aid to Pakistan this year by the Trump Administration. It has proposed $344 million in financial assistance to Pakistan including $100 million in foreign military funding, a massive $190 million reduction in the grant as compared to the 2016 fiscal year.

Read more: Implications of US cold-shouldering Pakistan by reducing military aid

In addition, in order to further squeeze Islamabad the  administration has proposed the $800mn- a cut of US $100 million compared to the previous time – in its annual budget proposals under the Coalition Support Fund (CSF), a Pentagon program to reimburse US allies that have incurred costs in supporting counter-terrorism and counter-insurgency operations.

The US has linked the disbursement of aid to Pakistan with actions against the Haqqani Network, something which has been oft-repeated by the US and vehemently denied by Pakistan.

The US and its tactical and strategic lapses

“The Department recognizes the significant sacrifices the Pakistan military has made in the fight against terrorism and appreciates Pakistan’s continued support for the transit of materiel to coalition forces in Afghanistan,” the deputy secretary of defense

It could be argued that the US is putting much of its tactical and strategic lapses on Pakistan. The Us is also looking at a  reasonably-powerful nuclear-armed Muslim Country through the prism of Kabul. In the process, it is circumventing the failure to win Afghan hearts and minds. It has also outsourced COIN to only the Pentagon without the promulgation of a wholesome strategy for Afghanistan.

Read more: General McMaster creates a new worry for Pakistan

The US has to understand that healthy relations with Islamabad are essential for its extrication from the Afghan swamp. There is an old military saying that never reinforce a failure. The US besides lacking strategic acumen employed a wrong war-fighting concept against the warring factions in Afghanistan.

Disproportionate force application did little to target the Taliban’s center of gravity. The results are conspicuous and there for all to see. Taliban’s war-waging capability has got a new nibble and hence they continue to take swathes of territory; they are a military and a political force much stronger than the unstable  Afghan government. It is difficult to hope that a military surge would compel the Taliban to come back in the fold especially when the mainstay of their resurgence is their resistance to foreign intervention. Indeed, if the 2010-upsurge is any guide, then this new policy is likely to be counterproductive.

The US has to support an Afghan-owned and Afghan-led peace process if it wants a negotiated end to the war in Afghanistan. Needless to say, it has to engage Islamabad and assuage its fears vis-à-vis Afghanistan. Pakistani concerns are well documented and elicit from its long-held fears of encirclement through  Indian influence in Kabul.

Does Pakistan have any influence on the Taliban?

In the weekend briefing, General Stewart also was cognizant of the need to talk with Islamabad. Gen Stewart said he believed Pakistan still had some influence in bringing Taliban to the table.

“So we’ve got to get them to think about reconciliation, that the status quo is not in their best interest,” General Stewart

In order to elicit the support of Islamabad, the US has to stop blaming Pakistan for something which is owed to a lackluster  US strategy. Besides, the US should distance itself from purely bilateral matters between India and Pakistan, especially when the spymasters recognize that India is Pakistan’s Achilles heels. A good start can be taken if the US ends its opposition to TNWs.

Read more: Where does Pakistan fit in the emerging US-Russia conflict in Afghanistan

The US concerns on an issue which only deals with New Delhi does not go down well with Islamabad. Trump’s statement of sympathy for India in the Riyadh Summit will make many in Islamabad less at ease. A verbal recognition of the sacrifices rendered by the people of Pakistan can help create a feeling of goodwill between the two countries  A Washington-Islamabad tussle is detrimental to a peaceful and stable Afghanistan.