President Trump’s new Afghan Policy and finger-pointing at Pakistan has widened the gulf of differences between the two old allies. He said, “We can no longer be silent about Pakistan’s safe havens for terrorist organisations, the Taliban, and other groups that pose a threat to the region and beyond. Pakistan has much to gain from partnering with our effort in Afghanistan. It has much to lose by continuing to harbor criminals and terrorists.”
Pakistan’s Army Chief Qamar Javed Bajwa, in a meeting with US Ambassador David Hale, responded in kind: “We are not looking for any financial assistance but trust, understanding and acknowledgement of our contributions.”
Trump’s statement unified political and military leadership on the same page. A meeting of Pakistan’s National Security Committee urged the US to carry on with military operations against the terror networks operating from Afghanistan against Pakistan.
The pot is boiling in Afghanistan where President Trump wants an enhanced role for India – which is unacceptable for Pakistan. In this tense situation China and Russia have also supported Pakistan, rejecting accusations of the US.
The US-Pakistan’s five-decade strategic partnership is in danger. If they break it, both will suffer losses. Pakistan fought proxy against the Soviet Union for the US and contributed to the creation of a unipolar world by defeating Russia in Afghanistan. To fight that strategic war, then titled ‘Jihad’ by the US and allies, Pakistan trained half a million jihadists on its own soil. When the Afghan War was over in 1989, the US and allies abandoned those five hundred thousand warriors in Pakistan and Afghanistan with their sanctuaries. What remained were next generations with the same mindset.
While Pakistan was suffering the outcomes of its Afghan Jihad Policy in form of terrorism, extremism, sectarianism, weaponizing of society and heroin-addicted youth, the US again demanded Pakistan’s role in its War on Terror in 2001. Pakistan joined the war and helped the US topple the Taliban government. Backlash from this decision continues in Pakistan as it has lost, according to rough estimates, 70,000 troops and civilians in terror attacks on Pakistan’s soil.
President Trump intends to continue the US military presence in Afghanistan with increased number of troops. It will not be possible without Pakistan’s assistance. He looks toward India for a military role in Afghanistan, but India cannot do that effectively because it has no ground link to Afghanistan. The US cannot seek assistance from Iran, China or Russia in this regard. Other countries – Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan – which border Afghanistan are not in a position to play any role. If the US uses any of the three central Asian states as its military base camp, it would be extremely expensive for her.
Pakistan still is the best choice for the US in taking the war on terror in Afghanistan to its logical end. And Pakistan’s military, economic and foreign policy interests also lie in a trusted relationship with US. Both allies must revisit their recent policies towards each other.