By Durdana Najam
Pakistan-US relationship has largely been transactional. Even a slight swing right or left by either country is viewed as a breach of faith which usually triggers another spell of sanctions and diplomatic spats. It has happened so often and returned to normal, as if in a marriage of convenience, wherein neither can afford a permanent divorce. The US is forced to maintain some semblance of normalcy with Pakistan due to its geo-strategic location in the Asia Pacific, and more so for the country’s influence in Afghanistan, where the US has been fighting the longest war of its history. After unveiling its Afghanistan Strategy in August a year ago, the Trump administration has gradually truncated the bulk of the security-related to Pakistan.
In the latest of such moves, the US has also discontinued the training programme for Pakistani military officers. The US justifies the reduction in assistance to Pakistan by saying it is not doing enough to pursue Afghan Taliban into talks with Kabul. The wish list also includes demands for actions against Jamaat ud dawa.
This has pushed Pakistan to turn to regional players such as China and Russia, both undeniable regional powers to reckon with in a complex Asia, with a heavy footprint of India, a US ally. Interestingly, however, it is not only Pakistan who has to bear the heat of broken ties, the US is at logger’s head with almost all of its allies, causing the faith in American leadership to plummet.
Russia and China are now the rising powers, with Pakistan getting closer to the both of them. Had it not been for both these countries, the Middle Eastern turmoil, triggered on the back of allegedly US-supported terrorists, would have thrown the region into further chaos. Now with the Belt and Road Initiative hinging on the success of the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), China will ensure that Pakistan’s security is not compromised due to US disenchantment.
With world confidence in the US leadership, under Trump, at an all-time low, what options does Pakistan have? Is it a moment of crisis or a moment of opportunity? Should Pakistan delve into self-pity or work towards consolidating its new and true alliances?
Lt. Gen. (R) Amjad Shoaib believes that the answers to these questions are not as simple as they might seem.
“Pakistan cannot afford any antagonism with the US and neither could any other country in the region. Even though Pakistan has built militarily relations with Russia, the expectation to secure weapons or arms from it is unrealistic. There are many reasons to it. The first reason is Russia’s economy. Since the Crimea annexation and Russia’s alleged meddling in the US elections, Russia has been in the cross-hairs of sanctions and economic embargoes from the US and its western allies, because of which Russian markets tumbled 11 per cent on April 6, 2018, alone. The second reason is Pakistan’s economy, which is heavily dependent on foreign debts to replenish its fast depleting current account. Pakistan cannot afford to buy weapons and arms in cash and Russia cannot afford to sell arms and weapons to Pakistan on debt. The third reason is India, which buys 60 per cent of its military spare parts and weapons from Russia. Russia will come as much close to Pakistan as it would not disturb Russian relations with India”, said Gen. Shoaib, while talking to the CRSS.
As far as China was concerned, Gen. Shoaib believes that it would certainly aid the Pakistani military, however not at the cost of irritating India, which is an important piece in China’s jigsaw in controlling the South China Sea in future. Moreover, Gen. Shoaib also believes that “Iran and Turkey may as well weigh all options, before committing themselves with Pakistan against the US.”
With such complicated scenarios, Pakistan’s primary goal should be to consolidate its economic position. It is increasingly important that Pakistan comes out of its ‘debt trap economy’ and introduce long term reforms. In order to achieve this, there are numbers of issues that need immediate attention. One, of course, is to get rid of corruption. Second, which is even more important, is to allow civilian governments to complete their tenures without straining them to face the prospect of extra-constitutional interventions.
Pakistan is on the trajectory of improvement and progress with a new government soon assuming power. The Pakistani army has done a good-enough job to eliminate terrorism, providing the civilian setup with the room to build and strengthen institutions and democratic norms. The time, perhaps, has come to shift the paradigm and focus from ‘security’ to ‘economy and development’.
Let us move on; from a state of self-pity to a state of self-healing, translating into a Pakistan standing high economically in the comity of world nations. A fiscally strong Pakistan will be more intimidating than a Pakistan with the ability to tear down half of Asia with a few military strikes.
The writer is a freelance journalist based in Lahore. She can be reached at email@example.com