Why ‘do more’, if USA acknowledges Pakistan has sacrificed the most?

US delegation led US Defence Secretary James Mattis calls on PM Shahid Khaqan Abbasi among other high-level officials in Islamabad on Monday. PHOTO: PID

Pentagon’s spokesperson recently acknowledged Pakistan’s sacrifices stating that the country had lost most number of troops in the Global War on Terror. However, this acknowledgement contradicted the official position that the White House has maintained over the past few years asking Islamabad to do more whenever Pakistan came under any security policy discussion in Washington and elsewhere.

Pakistan – during US Secretary Defence James Mattis’s recent visit – has already made clear that Islamabad will no longer accept Washington’s redundant do more mantra without evidence, and that proof of presence of terrorists in FATA should be shared before any finger pointing.

This change of attitude in Islamabad towards Washington was also evident when Pakistan’s Air Chief Marshall, Sohail Aman, recently threatened to shoot down drones that violated the country’s sovereignty. Previous ultimatums on drones by Pakistan – since 2004’s first strike – have meant little, however, with Pak-US ties on the verge of hitting rock bottom, it won’t come as a surprise if Pakistan finally shoots down a drone in the near future.

Pakistan believes that the US – with glaring failures in Afghanistan – has found, in Islamabad, a convenient scapegoat; wherever anything happens in Afghanistan, Pakistan is the only country blamed by both Washington and Kabul.

In response to these accusations – in November this year – DG ISPR, in a series of tweets, argued that Pakistan, even after doing its bit in the war on terror, was still a victim of security vacuum in neighbouring Afghanistan after two of its soldiers were killed in a cross border attack.

However, things are not as rosy as Pakistan might claim them be in terms of its domestic security situation. Even with claims of eradication of terror camps and bases from FATA, the country has faced periodic terror attacks; albeit according to Pakistan, many of them originating from Afghanistan.

Recent attacks on Agricultural Training Institute in Peshawar and IED attacks in North and South Waziristan suggest that a lot still needs to be done. Pakistan maintains that most of these attacks are planned in Afghanistan – orchestrated by TTP and its head Maulvi Fazlullah. Pakistan also believes that the US and Afghan forces are doing little to hunt and eliminate Fazlullah and his aides.

From what it seems, the Pak-US marriage of convenience is heading towards a bitter divorce; especially with new partners – China and Russia – in town.  Even though China solidified its interest in Pakistan with its China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) under its flagship Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), Russian interests are more strategic in nature.

Moscow fears that a growing threat of ISIS in Afghanistan might end up spilling over to Central Asia, and ultimately present a challenge in its own backyard. Therefore, Russia sees the Taliban as means to counter ISIS in Afghanistan.

Russia has also made recent efforts, especially organizing the Moscow meet in April this year, attended by senior diplomats from Afghanistan, China, India, Iran, Pakistan and ex-Soviet Central Asian. The aim of this summit was to support the Afghan government in finding a long term peaceful settlement of the Afghan war.

Pakistan’s regional policy syncs– in some way – to that of Russia in terms of both wanting inclusion of the Afghan Taliban in the long-term reconciliation process. However, both the US and India are opposed to this idea, leading to a low-key participation from both these countries in Russia and China-led Afghan peace initiatives.

With new regional players and geo-strategic dynamics, Pakistan, for once, can afford to go on equal footing with the US and confidently respond to allegations that carry little weight or substance. Additionally, with the lure of Coalition Support Fund (CSF) already thrown out of the window, Islamabad’s financial reliance on Washington is declining, hence making it easier to fend off unrealistic demands from the White House.

Also, Pakistan is now in a situation – with peace more or less achieved in FATA – to act a self-respecting nation and not only say No to financial support offered by the US (which results in demands of do more), but also address regional and global security concerns.

Only after doing so, would Pakistan ensure its territorial sovereignty, and, in response, convey to Washington that its superfluous narrative of do more has lost its utility.

Finally, Pakistan also needs to learn from its past mistakes committed during its alliance with the US. Islamabad needs to address Russo-Chinese security concerns vis-à-vis Islamabad’s past support of ‘some’ banned groups, or else, the country might end up facing similar demands from its new allies.

Originally Posted on Express Tribune Blogs

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