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Threat perception’s role in Pak-US relations

The political relief offered by the recent rescue operation means more Pak-US collaboration on the anti-terrorism front

By Dr.  Qaisar Rashid

If recent developments offer a means to judge, one can say that Pak-US relations are now at their lowest. The beginning of the lowest ebb of relations is marked by both overt and tacit threats coming from the US to its (now former) ally, Pakistan.
In his August 21 policy speech on Afghanistan and the South Asia region, US President Donald Trump said that there were terrorist hideouts were present in Peshawar and Quetta and that the US would destroy these sanctuaries. Trump also invited India to ‘do more’ in Afghanistan. Pakistan reacted to the policy speech vehemently and started looking around in the region to have a counterbalancing force on its side.
Trump’s speech also swayed Pakistan internally and expanded the already existing fissure between the civilian leadership and the military. The incumbent civilian government is disinclined to part ways with the US (or the perceived US camp) whereas the military craves for a course of action independent of the US.
On October 6, US Defence Secretary James Mattis appeared before the Senate Armed Services Committee and briefed the legislators on the latest in the Pak-Afghan region by mentioning two main points. First, the US opposed the Chinese One Belt, One Road (OBOR) policy in principle because in a globalised world, there were many belts and many roads, and no one nation should put itself into a position of dictating any such policy. Second, the US opposed OBOR traversing Pakistan also because it passed through a disputed territory. Never before had the US officials raised objections to Pakistan’s relations with China. This time the US is insensible to Pakistan’s sentiment on the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) and Pakistan’s relations with China.
On October 11, the Pakistan army intercepted and rescued an American-Canadian couple and their children from the grasp of the Taliban and the Haqqani network when the Taliban were transporting the hostages from Afghanistan to Pakistan. The family was in custody of the Taliban for five years and they used to take the family across the border. This time the Taliban had sensed that the US drones were monitoring the compound where the captives had been imprisoned.
Apparently, the Taliban were moving them to one of their sanctuaries in Pakistan. The US authorities tipped the Pakistan army off to intervene, before the US itself intervenes. The event oozes two messages. First, if the captives had not been rescued, they would have been moved to some sanctuary in Pakistan as was the practice in the past, thereby meaning that some kind of sanctuaries in Pakistan still exist.
Secondly, Pakistan’s intelligence agencies failed to catch whiff of the hostages and their movements for years, thereby meaning that they are failing at the local intelligence gathering process compared to the mechanism laid by the US in Pakistan, that is unless there is still a deal of complicity between the Afghan Taliban and the Pakistani establishment.
On October 12, Trump thanked Pakistan’s cooperation and said that the US was “starting to develop a much better relationship” with Pakistan and its leaders. Interestingly, the success of the rescue operation offered both the US and Pakistan an opportunity to rebuild their mutual relations.
In the wake of the shifting of the hostage family, the demarcated area of Afghanistan such as Paktia and Khost (bordering Kurram Agency and North Waziristan) is experiencing drone strikes again, the reverberations of which are also felt in Pakistan. Drone strikes mean that America is involved in the region again.
When Major General Asif Ghafoor of the ISPR said that the Pakistan army is not ready to launch any joint operation with the US army inside Pakistan, the statement offers a leeway to the US to predicate on the drone technology. This also means resurfacing of drone strikes in the border areas of Pakistan. Nevertheless, the issue of hideouts deep inside Pakistani territory (where the rescued family would have been kept) still sticks out like a sore thumb.
On October 17, Nimrata Nikki (Randhawa) Haley, the permanent representative of the US to the United Nations, said that the UN was open to reforms to expand the permanent membership of the Security Council (SC). She also said that India could also a member of the UNSC if India did “not touch” the issue of veto power that current members were unwilling to share or give up.
This is also an interesting development. The presence of Nikki (who has Indian origin, as her parents, Ajit Singh and Raj Kaur Randhawa, immigrated from India in the 1960s and her husband, Michael Haley, is a Christian American) at the helm of affairs indicates the influence of India’s expatriate and next generation community in the US. Certainly, India’s interests are watched.
In the next breath, Nikki also said that the Trump administration was urging India to keep an eye on Pakistan, as President Trump had “taken a tougher approach to Islamabad harbouring terrorists.” The attached development is that instead of expressing it’s yearning for seeking veto power, India astutely demanded withdrawal of veto powers to make all members veto-less whenever the permanent membership of the SC expanded to include India. Former US President Barack Obama and incumbent US President Trump have encouraged India to join the UNSC as a permanent member.
In short, the political relief offered by the rescue operation means more Pak-US collaboration on the anti-terrorism front. Secondly, Pakistan army’s reluctance to undertake joint military operations inside Pakistan means more drone strikes in the bordering region and perhaps occasional strikes on the supposed hideouts of the Taliban inside Pakistan.
Third, the overarching Indian influence on both Afghanistan and the UN means Pakistan is cornered both regionally and internationally. While Pakistan is deciding about the winner and loser in the ongoing civil-military conflict, the world is not waiting for the outcome. Instead, the world is cornering Pakistan.
The writer is a freelance columnist and can be reached at qaisarrashid@yahoo.com
‘Courtesy Daily Times’.

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