By Zamir Akram
Currently, Pakistan-US relations are at their lowest ever over the past 70 years. The most obvious reason for this is the divergence between the two sides over the Afghan endgame. But the underlying reason is the global systemic transformation marked by the efforts of a declining US to contain the emergence of a rising China as a strategic competitor. By aligning India as a partner against China, the US has magnified the existential threat from India that confronts Pakistan while undermining Pakistan’s relations with the US itself.
America’s “de-hyphenated” approach to Pakistan and India is a myth, a denial of ground realities, which has now been exposed in Donald Trump’s South Asia policy, which virtually endorses Indian hegemony over this region. Subsequent statements by Secretary of State Rex Tillerson openly expressing US support for Indian role against China and by the American ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley, asking India to help the US by “keeping an eye on Pakistan”, leave no ambiguity about Washington’s strategic direction. Such policies are nothing short of dangerous delusions. They will gravely destabilise the region and ultimately harm the US itself.
It is delusional for Trump to expect Pakistan’s support to deal with the Afghan Taliban while simultaneously encouraging India to expand its influence in that country. This is contrary to Pakistan’s security interests — it simply will not accept Indian encirclement on both its western and eastern fronts. Moreover, with Indian support to anti-Pakistan terrorist groups based in Afghanistan, proof of which is the recent killing of Jamaatul Ahrar leader Khorasani in Afghanistan, it is becoming increasingly imperative for Pakistan to align with the Taliban or at least not to provoke their hostility. In any event it would be suicidal for Pakistan to fight the Afghan war on its own territory as America wants.
Another American delusion is to believe that once the Taliban are denied their alleged sanctuary in Pakistan, they will be easily defeated in Afghanistan. The fact is that the Taliban control vast areas of their own country, as even the Americans admit, and, therefore, do not need safe havens in Pakistan. Even if the American allegations are correct, then the answer is to ensure effective border controls to prevent movement in either direction. It is intriguing as to why Washington and Kabul do not cooperate with Pakistan to do this.
Pakistan has already demonstrated that given credible and actionable intelligence, it will take action as in the rescue of the Canadian-American family recently. But here as well the American intention is to undermine Pakistan by contradicting their own initial version that they tracked the hostages being taken from bordering Afghan area into Pakistan, but then subsequently alleging, as done by CIA Director Mark Pompeo, that those hostages were held by the Taliban in Pakistan for four years. Such contradictions are obviously meant to deny any credit to Pakistan as it contradicts the negative American narrative about Pakistan.
In the broader strategic context, Americans want India to “manage” Pakistan. The simple fact is that Pakistan is a nuclear-weapon state, exercising effective nuclear deterrence against India. It is also a resource-rich country of 200 million people, situated in a pivotal geo-strategic location, and defended by highly professional armed forces that are the fifth-largest in the world. Pakistan also has a valuable strategic partnership with China which is now a global superpower. For the Americans to believe that such a country can be bent to their will through their Indian touts, no matter how powerful, is a prime example of dangerous delusions. Americans, even of Indian origin like Nikki Haley, need a reality check.
Not to be outdone in pandering to India, Tillerson also joined the delusional coterie around Trump by expressing preference for relations with “rising” India as a “responsible power” but downgrading China as a global player. Such comparisons are puerile. China’s incremental economic growth every three years is the size of the Indian economy. It has taken 700 million Chinese out of poverty whereas 70% of Indians still live below the poverty line. Indeed, Americans should also worry about themselves. By 2030, China’s economy will be larger than that of the US. Already China is the world’s largest manufacturer and has overtaken the US in super-computers, Robotics and Artificial Intelligence. If the Chinese were to cash in their US bonds worth 1.15 trillion dollars, the American economy would collapse.
When America deliberately kept China out from the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and the Asian Development Bank, the Chinese created their own development bank whose assets are larger than those of these three combined. Therefore, challenging China by building up their Indian clients will only harm American interests. It would be far better for the US and global stability to engage with China and to manage the emerging strategic co-relation of forces.
Pakistan also must avoid the delusional trap by believing that the positive American reaction to our help in securing release of the hostages and Tillerson’s visit mark a positive change in US policy. We must not clutch on to such straws since this will not change America’s strategic direction. We must recognise this reality instead of deluding ourselves any more. The pro-American mindset of our ruling elite, therefore, needs to change. Instead of harping on the 70 years of “friendship” with America, which was always purely transactional, we need to re-calibrate our relations with the US on the basis of existing realities. In the emerging global balance of power, our strategic partnership with China and opportunities for improving relations with Russia are for more important than any “friendship” with an unreliable and delusional America.