‘Cooperation only way forward for US, Pakistan’, concludes CRSS Symposium

US is stuck in a learning trap – where military solution repeatedly takes precedence when it comes to Afghanistan; Pakistan, on the other hand, continues to press for a political settlement. Owing to this divergence in approaches, the present relations between Washington and Islamabad are increasingly becoming dysfunctional. It has to be understood that the notion of Washington having considerable leverage over Islamabad is a misperceived one; this is due to US’ own conflicting policies. Thus, cooperation is the only way out.

The US and Pakistan are stuck in a blame-game-trap where Islamabad perceives that Washington is not committed to Afghanistan, while the US in turn disagrees with Islamabad’s approach towards Afghanistan. The cause of the continuing conflict in the region is that short-term goals are prioritized over long-term stability, according to former US Marine and Policy Research Analyst Adam Weinstein, who was speaking at a symposium organized by the Center for Research and Security Studies (CRSS)at Marriott Hotel in Islamabad on Monday. There are fundamental problems that cannot be attributed only to Pakistan, he said; for example, the trust deficit between the US military and its Afghan partners which makes it challenging to counter insurgency on the ground.

Moreover, there doesnot appear to be any possibility that the US would withdraw from Afghanistan any time soon, Weinstein affirmed. If President Trump will not do it, then no one else will probably do it. Neither the US nor Pakistan have a clear foreign policy, nor a clear solution for the conflict in Afghanistan, because both countries are bound by the policies of frequently changing governments and their own agendas. Furthermore, the veteran was of the view that the defense department and industry certainly have a leverage in crafting the foreign policy and in this regard, the US military industrial complex as a stakeholder in the Afghan imbroglio cannot be overlooked.

As far the Syrian and Yemeni crises in the Middle East are concerned, Pakistan is placed in a difficult situation as it enjoys friendly relations with both Yemen and Syria. According to former Ambassador Asif Durrani who has served as the Ambassador of Pakistan to Iran, UAE and Afghanistan, when crisis erupted in Syria, Pakistan followed the principle of sovereign equality. In the case of the Yemeni conflict, Pakistan can offer bilateral security assurances to KSA and other GCC countries; as has been the practice in the past; however, it has so far kept a neutral stance without taking any sides. The neutral stance of the country has been appreciated in the international community, despite KSA & UAE’s annoyance. Being a Nuclear Weapon State, Pakistan would negate its own UN resolutions supporting negative security assurances, if it were to go against a third country. The resolution being that nuclear weapon states should give assurances to non-nuclear weapon countries that their nuclear weapon states would not be used against them.

The conflicts in Syria and prolonged instability in Iraq and Lebanon have also provided strategic advantages to Iran which, as a result, have posed bigger challenges to the US, Israel, Saudi Arabia, and the GCC countries, and thus, further perpetuated the conflict. For Americans, the purpose appears to be a regime change in Syria. Whether that is going to happen seems to be an optimistic guess by the US, the former diplomat stated.

In the view of Pakistan’s National Security Advisor Gen. (retd) Nasser Khan Janjua, United States, China and Russia can collectively make the world a better place if only they come together in a cooperative engagement. If only the US could have a better understanding of how the superpower’s outlook has made the South Asian region fragile; it may lead to better engagement of US with China and Russia. Pakistan should not be termed as a fragile or failed state, keeping in view despite having fought two major wars with its main neighbouring adversary, while remaining in a 40-year long conflict in the region, the country is still thriving.

Towards the end of the symposium, speakers were of the view that there are highly competent people on both sides – US and Pakistan – who at the end of the day do want normalized relations. We can only hope that we will be able to turn that around as we have in the past, panelists concluded.

Published in Daily Times, October 30th 2018.


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