Pakistan-United States relations: mutual mistrust continues

On July 21st, the US Defense Secretary James Mattis stated that the Pentagon will not make the remaining military reimbursements to Pakistan for the fiscal year 2016 as he believes that Islamabad had not taken sufficient action against the Haqqani network.

The United States had allotted $900m in military aid to Pakistan under the Coalition Support Fund (CSF), a US Defense Department program to reimburse allies that have incurred costs in supporting counter-terrorist and counterinsurgency operations. The country has already received $550 million through this fund; however, after the latest statement from the US defense department, $50 million will be withheld. This is not the first time the Pentagon has decided not to make military reimbursements. Last year, the Pentagon withheld $300 million of funds for Islamabad for not acting against militants fueling violence in Afghanistan.

Relations between the United States and Pakistan have remained low over the past decade, with US officials vexed by what they term as Islamabad's unwillingness to act against the Haqqani network. The relations reached the nadir point after the newly elected President of the United States declared to harden his approach towards Pakistan to crack down on terrorists launching strikes in neighboring Afghanistan. The possible responses from Trump’s administration in this regard is could include expanding U.S. drone strikes and perhaps eventual downgrading the Pakistan’s status as a major non-NATO ally.

What is Haqqani Network?

The Haqqani Network is an Islamic nationalist insurgent group that emerged in the early 1970s in Afghanistan. Though the group was originally formed to overthrow Mohammad Daud Khan, a former Afghani Prime Minister who seized power in a 1973 coup, after the USSR’s invasion of Afghanistan in 1978, the focus of the group has remained to outcast the Soviets from their land. While working with the CIA and ISI during the cold war in the 1980s, the Haqqani network has played a formidable role in combatting USSR. Later in the 1980s, Haqqani Network played an important role in the growth of Al Qaeda and became a component of the Taliban, which emerged in the early 1990s from a network of madrassas in the tribal areas of Afghanistan and Pakistan.

After the American invasion and the collapse of the Taliban government in 2001, the Haqqani network relocated its headquarters to North Waziristan, Pakistan, where it regrouped with Al-Qaeda and Taliban to fight against the government of Afghanistan and the US-led forces of NATO. Afghan officials and international terrorism authorities consider it the most lethal terrorist group in Afghanistan. It has been declared responsible for some of the deadliest violence in the country, including attacks on embassies in Kabul, the Afghan parliament building, local residents and U.S. military bases.

US and Pakistan’s row over the Haqqani Network:

The United States has repeatedly blamed Pakistan for providing ‘safe heavens’ to the Haqqani network in North Waziristan and has deliberately not done enough to oust then out despite the Operation  Zarb-e-Azb and Operation Radd-ul-Fasaad, which are meant to disrupt militant sanctuaries from North Waziristan. The US also views Pakistan as the most influential external actor affecting Afghanistan's stability and the outcome of the missions in this war-torn country. Former US top military officer, Admiral Mike Mullen has also stated in 2012 that the Haqqani network was a "veritable arm" of Pakistan's premier intelligence agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI).

Pakistan has repeatedly rejected the US claims and has emphasized that it has taken indiscriminate and all out action against terrorists. The Foreign Office of Pakistan has contested the US claim, insisting that most of the militants fled to Afghanistan after Pakistan’s successful Operation Zarb-e-Azab and Operation Radd-ul-Fasadd in the tribal areas. Foreign Office has further rebutted the US charges, emphasizing that media reports have confirmed that a considerable number of leaders and senior commanders of the Haqqani network and other terrorists have been killed in Afghanistan. Pakistan has further defended itself by arguing that it has done a great deal to help the United States in tracking down terrorists and has suffered hundreds of deaths in Islamist militant attacks in response to its crackdowns.

Is the current US policy towards Pakistan plausible?

The US current shift in policy towards Pakistan might actually be drastic for the Pakistani military, because it would probably translate into major reductions in military assistance and arms sales. Furthermore, if US decide to downgrade the Pakistan’s status as a major non-NATO ally, it will affect Pakistani establishment relations with the US defense, which might be devastating for the stability of Afghanistan. The US continues to have troops in Afghanistan, and in fact the Trump administration is poised to send more. So long as the US has troops in Afghanistan, it will need to depend on Pakistan to provide supply routes for US troops. Taking a harder line against Pakistan would likely prompt Pakistan to shut down these supply routes, obliging the United States to use more circuitous and expensive routes. This could make the US war effort in Afghanistan even more difficult than it already is.

Is Pakistan tilting more towards China and Russia?

In retrospect to the harder US statement, Pakistan might be impelled to deeply embrace China and Russia. Pakistan is already irked by the Trump’s administration cordial relations with the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his vows to strengthen ties, combat terrorism, grow strategic convergence and promote free and fair trade with India. Trump on this occasion also directly addressed Pakistan to ensure the detainment of the terrorist and terrorist organizations from its territory. He further called on Pakistan to expeditiously bring to justice the perpetrators of the 26/11 Mumbai, Pathankot, and other cross-border terrorist attacks perpetrated by Pakistan-based groups. This has not only ignited new fury in Islamabad, but also has imbued in it the feeling of mistrust for the United States as it is influenced by India. In this endeavor, Pakistan has recently turned its face towards world's next superpower and discernible enemy of the United States, China, and with the world's most dangerous revisionist powers Russia.

Conclusion

The US-Pakistan relations have always been termed as a “forced marriage plagued by ever-deepening distrust”. Although they teamed up to fight terrorists after 9/11, their mutual trust has been steadily eroding ever since. Pakistan believes that the US policy towards Pakistan is influenced by India whereas, the US believes that Pakistan has been surreptitiously motivating militants against the United States in Afghanistan.

As for the United States, it has to realize that strategic policy in Afghanistan cannot be dealt with through a merely transactional relationship with Pakistan. There is a need to build a strong strategic relationship between the both countries for which both countries have to take a step forward. The United States needs to understand and acknowledge the security concerns of Pakistan as it has a strategic importance for Washington for stable relations with Afghanistan and India.

Pakistan, for its part, must understand that if it wants a strategic relationship, it will have to earn it. While national interests may diverge in some cases, but where it is possible, Pakistan needs to bring its policies closer to those of Washington, especially when it comes to addressing America’s core security concerns. Jihadists have to be dealt with without distinction not only for America’s sake, but also Pakistan’s as well. It is crucial that Pakistan explains its position and policy responses on this issue unambiguously and effectively from the high echelons of the civil-military leadership.

Maria Amjad

Maria Amjad has graduated from Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS), Lahore, Pakistan, with a Political Science degree. Her interests include the history and politics of the South Asian region with a particular interest in India-Pakistan relations. The writer can be reached at mariaamjad309[at]gmail.com

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