Pak-US ties amid Trump speech and Pakistan’s reaction – Dr Huma Baqai

Pakistani-Shi-ite-supporters-of-Imamia-Students-Organization-ISO-chant-slogans-and-carry-signs-during-a-protest-rally-against-the-U-S-President-Donald-Trump-s-while-marching-towards-the-

(Source: REUTERS/Akhtar Soomro)

By Dr. Huma Baqai

Pakistan has finally took the route of public retaliation to United States’ constant use of public diplomacy in attacking and humiliating Pakistan. The US is actually taken aback by the strong rejection of the Trump’s speech by the establishment, politicians and the street in Pakistan. Just recently, the US ambassador to Pakistan claimed that Trump had not explicitly criticised Pakistan for its failure in Afghanistan .

“The additional US troops in Afghanistan will also act against Pakistan’s enemies,” said US ambassador David Hale, adding that the US is aware of Pakistan’s concerns over India’s role in Afghanistan. He also said that Washington is ready to help reduce Pakistan-India tensions. Hale also said the US president did not blame Pakistan for [US] failure in Afghanistan. “President Trump didn’t speak of military solution to Afghan issue; it is a component of the regional policy.”

The US law makers’ past practice, of saying all the right things to appease Pakistan and then by negating it to continuously criticise Pakistan, stands rejected. More importantly, the rejection this time is not confined to public statements for local consumption. Pakistan has sent a not so subtle message to the US, where it has categorically said that business as usual cannot continue, where we keep doing your difficult work and also constantly be treated as an errand boy, who is scolded now and then.

The carrots that the US offers are something Pakistan can do without. Chief of Army Staff General Bajwa categorically said that Pakistan was not looking for any financial assistance from the US but rather trust, understanding and acknowledgement for its contributions in the war on terror. The tough talking came right after US President Donald Trump, in a new strategy to win America’s longest war, accused Pakistan of housing the very terrorists it was fighting.

This was further endorsed by the rescheduling of two important visits, one of Khwaja Asif – Foreign Minister of Pakistan to the US – the others perhaps more important of Acting Assistant Secretary Alice Wells who was scheduled to visit Islamabad to clear the air.

The way things are shaping up, a third rescheduling is all set to happen, that of a delegation led by senior White House National Security Council, Lisa Curtis. Ms Curtis played a key role in the formulation of the new US strategy for South Asia and was expected to arrive in Islamabad next week. The proposed talk on three levels, cabinet, foreign affairs and security were aimed to explore the overall regional situation with reference to Pakistan.

Pakistan can see through the need-based engagement that both Afghanistan and US seek from it, time and again. It also now engages more out of compulsion than choice and is more comfortable in its relations with Turkey, Iran, China and Russia than perhaps the US.

There is a major transformation that is going on in Pakistan. The transition is from being a geo-political state Pakistan is fast becoming a geo-economic one, largely because of its engagement in China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). The rising convergence between Pakistan and China is bringing about profound changes in Pakistan’s foreign policy. Pakistan’s commitment to CPEC is unquestioned; the mindset of 1990’s has ceased to exist. The strategic assets of the past are now viewed as a liability and a hindrance to achieving larger economic growth and connectivity.

Pakistan is actually looking for functional relations and peaceful borders with all its neighbours, so that CPEC becomes operational. The doctrine of strategic depth in Afghanistan for Pakistan is dead.

However, Pakistan remains anxious of the strategic vulnerability ensuing out of Afghanistan because of rising Indian influence, especially now that its proven that it is being used to mitigate trouble in Pakistan. The US engagement with Pakistan can only be productive if it chooses to play a proactive role to address Pakistan’s anxieties which are real, also a balance its relations with India and Pakistan, not de-hyphenate them.

Peace in Afghanistan is intrinsically linked to better relations between Pakistan and India and a fair resolution of the Kashmir issue, and not by pitching India and Pakistan against each other in Afghanistan. Something a former US envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan till June 2017 endorsed, saying US decision to give a greater role to India in Afghanistan would “significantly antagonise the Pakistanis” as it pushes the Pakistan’s “most sensitive buttons.”

The refusal to connect the dots between violence in Afghanistan and the conflict between Pakistan and India is an oversight which must be addressed. India and Afghanistan both use this against Pakistan for their own selfish ends. Pakistan is all for an Afghan-led and Afghan-owned peace process, but not a India-driven Afghan policy.

The author, Dr. Huma Baqai, is an Associate Professor, Director Public Affairs and Communication and former Chairperson, Department of Social Sciences, IBA, Karachi. She has remained associated with the media for the past several years both as an analyst and anchorperson. She has also remained a part of CRSS’s Pakistan-Afghanistan Track 1.5/ II initiative titled Beyond Boundaries.

© Center for Research and Security Studies (CRSS) and Afghan Studies Center (ASC), Islamabad.

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