Spearhead Analysis – 16.03.2018

The Secretary of State of the US was sacked by the President of the US through a tweet. Earlier on New Year’s Day the US President had tweeted the new policy for South Asia that included a scathing indictment of Pakistan in totally undiplomatic language. The US and indeed the world has accepted these tweeted changes as the new norm. Analysts within the US have welcomed the ouster of Mr.Tillerson who is now being called a ‘disaster’. On his watch the State Department suffered a near fatal cut in its budget and most positions remained vacant putting US diplomacy out to pasture with all the importance going to the generals who were brought in. Eliot Cohen in his article ‘The Worst Secretary of State in US History’ has used some remarkable phrases to describe events that have taken place and more that may take place in the future—‘eviction by sustained humiliation’ is how he has described the ouster of Jeff Sessions, and the Tillerson exit has been described as ‘getting unceremoniously muscled over the window ledge before a crowd of gaping onlookers’ a fate that may await others in his opinion. These are matters that the US will no doubt follow with interest because according to Cohen the US administration is divided between those— “willing to sell their souls completely and at a discount in the service of a man who is doing great damage to American norms and traditions, and those who are trying to get something for their country in return for the slices of honor and integrity that every day they consign to the flames–.”

Mike Pompeo is being cheered and welcomed because he comes with a wealth of bureaucratic experience. He is expected to rehabilitate US diplomacy by shoring up the sagging State Department. More important is the fact that if President saw Tillerson as dithering and not delivering then the new Secretary of State will be expected to act and deliver. His views on most major issues are well known and are generally in line with what President Trump wants and expects. Pakistan needs to note that this probably means a revving up of the situation in Afghanistan on both the military and dialogue tracks, and far less patience with Pakistan on demands made by a string of visitors in the wake of the new policy. In this context it is interesting to note that General Mattis has said that he sees a ‘change in Pakistan’s behaviour’ and he referred to the fatwa by more than 1600 Islamic scholars in January against the use of violence, including suicide bombings for religious purposes. Mattis also praised President Ashraf Ghanis recent offer to negotiate with the Taliban without preconditions.

Far more important are the recent remarks attributed to Pakistan’s Chief of Army Staff—“the security of the country is supreme, and prevention of subversion is the primary duty of the armed forces—we have managed to fight and defeat monsters (in KP, FATA, and Balochistan), who had been threatening the very existence of the country—let’s not resurrect them for personal agendas. — national security far outweighs individuals’ interests. Everybody shall have to perform his/her function with honesty and integrity—–we will sequence all counter-terror actions according to our own timeline and considerations—we are doing our best to woo Afghan Taliban into talks—we have told them to either talk or leave us alone—-the Taliban letter, with offer for talks to US president Donald Trump, was also part of those efforts—- but we certainly don’t have a 100 percent control over the Taliban or the Haqqanis— we have our leverages but will carefully deploy them because we can’t afford to burn our fingers all over—-.also, we will deal with all Afghan militants in a non-kinetic way to avoid a boomerang effect on our soil—- the world should know that the Afghan Taliban or the Haqqani network are not regular armies– You can defeat an army but not an ideologically inspired non-state actor such as the Haqqani network or the Taliban – also recently acknowledged as a political entity by President Ghani,—lastly, we cannot allow internal political strife to disrupt Pakistan’s present upward trajectory–we have suffered a lot for blunders committed by all the leading lights in the past—- it’s time to rectify those mistakes and that is what we are doing.”

His words require detailed analysis but were obviously carefully chosen to deliver the message that there was going to be a drastic change from past policies and that national security interests were supreme implying that no one with their own agenda would be allowed to disrupt security. The fact that past mistakes were acknowledged speaks volumes for the confidence, maturity and insight that the military has gained. Implicit in his remarks is the conviction that the sacrifices made by the military shall never be overlooked in future policies and that actions will be taken in carefully considered timelines and not under coercion or pressure.

There will be all sorts of speculations and much skepticism but the fact is that the Pakistani narrative is undergoing change. It may not be a tight u-turn but it is going to be a turn. With Mattis being the first to sense change and Mike Pompeo coming in eager to act, it is time for the US to seriously engage with Pakistan without pressures and threats and it is also time for Pakistan to interact and explain their blue-print for reform and action. Afghanistan also needs to note that it is time for dialogue with Pakistan as interests converge. India could also respond positively to Pakistan’s offer for a dialogue and top of the list could be a resurrection of the cease fire along the Line of Control to end the needless loss of lives. The danger of the US-Iran deal (JCPOA) being derailed is real and has grave implications especially after the statement by the Saudi Crown Prince that if Iran makes a bomb then Saudi Arabia will also have a bomb as soon as possible. The offer by the Iranian Foreign Minister to enhance connectivity with Pakistan is another positive step in the overall ongoing economy oriented regional evolution that includes CPEC.

(Spearhead Analyses are collaborative efforts and not attributable to an individual)