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Afghanistan from Obama to Trump

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It is although conspicuous, (that) there is no crystal clear difference between, the Obama and Trump strategies in Afghanistan. The strategies based on, to dismantle the momentum of the Al-Qaida and its affiliates and to attain the strategic interests of the America worldwide.  What differ, are the approaches of Obama and Trump in relation to Afghanistan. Thus, it makes sense to briefly touch the issues, pertaining both Obama and Trump approaches for Afghanistan.

Obama’s approach

In the event of, announcing his strategy for Afghanistan, in March 2009 Obama said, “so I want the American people to understand that we have a clear and focused goal: to disrupt, dismantle, and defeat al-Qaida in Pakistan and Afghanistan, and to prevent their return to either country in the future. That is the goal that must be achieved. That is a cause that could not be more just. And to the terrorists who oppose us, my message is the same: we will defeat you”.

Obama added the US required a “stronger, smarter and comprehensive strategy,” but said that it would not “blindly stay the course” if the new strategy did not succeed.

The key to the new strategy was to build up the Afghan army and police force. He announced an extra 4,000 US troops to help with training, with the intention of doubling the Afghan force (the Afghan troops number in 2009 was around 65.000). He said this might have to be increased again as power was transferred to Afghanistan. This was a relatively cheap option for the US as the pay of each Afghan soldier is quite small. This will be accompanied by a “surge” in US civilians to Afghanistan, doubling numbers to 900, to help rebuild the country’s infrastructure.

Obama in February 2009 also ordered 17,500 US combat troops to Afghanistan to reinforce the 38,000 already there. But US military commanders were concerned that those would not be enough, anticipating a big Taliban push ahead of the country’s August election.

To achieve its goals, the US must recognize the “fundamental connection between the future of Afghanistan and Pakistan,” Obama said.

In addition to the renewed focus on Afghanistan, the Obama administration was to step up pressure on Pakistan to tackle the al-Qaida and Taliban safe havens in the tribal areas along its border with Afghanistan.

Obama said that the days of the US giving Pakistan a blank check were over. He said he would ask Congress to increase aid to Pakistan but in return he expected Pakistan to tackle the safe havens.

“Pakistan must demonstrate its commitment to rooting out al-Qaida and the violent extremists within its borders. And we will insist that action be taken – one way or another – when we have intelligence about high-level terrorist targets,” he said.

The last element of the policy was to try to engage Afghanistan’s regional neighbors, including Russia and Iran, in helping to pacify Afghanistan.

Obama endeavored a lot, to convince Pakistan to abandon Haqani-network, Taliban and Al-Qaida. He sent a couple of times, his foreign secretary Hilary Clinton to Islamabad, in order to change the mindset of the military establishment of the country. During her speech in Islamabad the former foreign secretary said “it is the time that Pakistan to act in days and weeks not months and years”.  But no green lights were observed from Pakistan; on the contrary Islamabad perused its deadliest strategy in Afghanistan.  In total of eight years of his two terms, Obama failed to make Pakistan rally, its obligations in order to bring peace and stability to the war torn Afghanistan.

Albeit, he was unable to push Pakistan to comply with American strategy for Afghanistan, he continued Washington’s military aid to the country, which Pakistan used to finance the big bullies in Afghanistan.

Secondly, Obama’s strategy was based on counter terrorism approach, mostly resembles traditional counter terrorism doctrines. Counter Terrorism strategies, are used to disrupt, dismantle, and defeat organizations that employ terrorism by military and security means. These strategies include drone strikes, special-forces operations, and increased policing and intelligence operations. His strategy did not focused on insurgencies and their outside sanctuaries mainly in Pakistan. Furthermore, his negligence to deal with countries, which sponsored, harbored, trained and armed the deadliest cells in Afghanistan. In addition, he fell short to assemble efforts with India, despite Zalmay Khalilzad the former United States ambassador to Kabul attempted to sideline Pakistan.

At some stage in his tenure US forces contested its offensives on Taliban/insurgency with what Obama called on special operation troops, known as ‘surge’. Many US Non-Official Cover (NOCs) or espionage activities decreased. Furthermore the CIA and US intelligence community reduced their Afghan ‘Snitches’ and minimized their operations all over Afghanistan. This called for lessening of CIA Official Cover Spies (OCS). Moreover, the Pentagon and US intelligence community minimized the area of their maneuver in Afghanistan. They only focus on Drone operations and Global Hawks. In other words, technological warfare is used to manage the bustles of Taliban.

Finally, the fixing and specifying date to draw down US combat forces was an unforgivable failure, which the insurgences took advantage, to expand their territories from 20 % to 55% in the country and round up almost all provinces even the capital Kabul itself.

Trump’s initiative

In a nationally televised prime-time speech to troops at Fort Myer, Va., Trump said there would be no “blank check” for the American engagement in Afghanistan. But in announcing his plan, Trump deepened American involvement in a military mission that has bedeviled his predecessors and that he once called futile.

“My original instinct was to pull out, and historically I like following my instincts,” Trump said. “But all my life, I’ve heard that decisions are much different when you sit behind the desk in the Oval Office.”

After what he described as a lengthy and exhaustive deliberation culminating in a meeting with his war cabinet at Camp David, Trump said that he had been convinced that “a hasty withdrawal would create a vacuum for terrorists, including ISIS and Al Qaeda.” Speaking to a military audience at a base outside Washington, Trump declared, “In the end, we will win.”

He portrayed the strategy as a stark break with the Obama administration, arguing that while his predecessor set artificial timetables for American involvement in Afghanistan, his strategy would be a comprehensive, conditions-based regional approach that would aim for a political solution there.

Part of the plan is to deploy more American troops to Afghanistan to continue to train Afghan forces there, with the goal of convincing the Taliban — which has recently gained substantial ground in the war — that they could not win on the battlefield.

Trump said that the United States would put significant new pressure on Pakistan to crack down on the terrorist sanctuaries that line its border with Afghanistan. His comments opened a turbulent new chapter in relations with Pakistan, which has veered since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks from being an ally in the fight against terrorism to a haven in which Osama bin Laden hid out until he was killed in 2011.

The president heaped contempt on his predecessor’s strategy, promising that he would avoid President Barack Obama’s mistakes.

But in substance, Trump’s strategy was not all that different from Obama’s, relying on a mix of conventional military force and diplomatic pressure on Pakistan. However officials conceded that there is to be no major change in the mix of American forces operating in Afghanistan, and that the priorities would remain training Afghan forces and conducting counterterrorism operations.

“We are not nation-building again,” Trump said. “We are killing terrorists.”

Whatever the echoes, Trump projected a far more bellicose tone than Obama. He promised that he would loosen restrictions on American soldiers to enable them to hunt down terrorists, which he labeled “thugs and criminals and predators, and — that’s right — losers.”

“The killers need to know they have nowhere to hide, that no place is beyond the reach of American might and American arms,” the president said. “Retribution will be fast and powerful.”

Trump’s reference to a strategic partnership with India also has implications for Pakistan, which has a deeply antagonistic relationship with its neighbor. He said he would include new steps to pressure neighboring Pakistan to shut down the sanctuaries there for the Taliban and other militants. However officials conceded that there is to be no major change in the mix of American forces operating in Afghanistan, and that the priorities would remain training Afghan forces and conducting counterterrorism operations.

But in my eyes, the Trump’s initiative has a significant difference with that of his predecessor; he almost shifted from traditional counter terrorism approach to counter insurgency, which is a major step to break the stalemate in Afghanistan. In relation with his regional policy, he made noteworthy developments his administration works now closely with New Delhi. He has put off a 900 million military aid to Pakistan meanwhile issuing visa ban on some elements within the Pakistani Government.

Moreover, he sanctioned about 6 Pakistani companies. He included Pakistan in the gray list of FATF or countries not doing enough to dump terrorism on their soil. Financial Action Task Force (FATF) is the global watchdog on money laundering and terrorism financing. By taking all said measures, Pakistan has yet to change its policy towards Afghanistan. There are more options on the table; United States can cut economic aid to Pakistan, America can label Pakistan a Terror-sponsoring state.

Conversely, it will be extremely tough for the US to get the UN behind such a move, the Trump administration can still unilaterally designate Pakistan a state sponsor of terrorism. One important point regarding Trump in Afghanistan even though, he faces a lot of critics worldwide but he is a hero in the country. Some new born Kids named after him, even a group of people in Logar province of the country esteem him with a golden medal. Being blunt Trump in comparison to his predecessor, he is really very popular in Afghanistan.

The way towards stability

Seeing that, the precarious security situation in Afghanistan is likely to become an even greater threat as Afghanistan remains relevant following ISIS losses in Iraq and Syria. In order to triumph over terror, America will need to overcome challenges and transition from its current counterterrorism efforts to a full-fledged counterinsurgency campaign.

Adopting Counter Insurgency strategies is necessary when a state realizes that a military response alone will not constitute a workable solution to a violent conflict. Counter Insurgency, is an all-encompassing political, military, and civilian solution to challenge irregular insurgent warfare. Counter Terrorism strategies are not abandoned but are implemented within a Counter Insurgency approach where the counterinsurgent (the government) also pursues support and legitimacy from the local population by promoting good governance and providing continued security after government forces have expelled the insurgent group. This population-centric strategy involves denying the insurgency its civilian-support networks, external support, and outside sanctuary, while simultaneously improving political participation and economic opportunities for civilians.

The Counter Terrorism measures used so far have been only semi-effective, and have fallen short of destroying the terrorist organizations or acquiring the Afghan population’s support for the government. Civilians have been caught in the crossfire during operations, straining state relations with the tribes, and offensive tactics alone have not deterred local youth from joining jihadist groups that offer better economic opportunities. Militant interpretations of Islam sometimes won “the battle for hearts and minds” and tempted the young local population to join jihadist groups. According to unofficial estimates, America has lost around 3000 security personnel since 2001 till this stage of the conflict, with many civilian casualties that are under-reported. These losses are unsustainable and hasten the transition towards a Counter Insurgency campaign.

America should set the groundwork to move towards a Counter Insurgency campaign on military, economic, and political fronts.  United States should begin involving local tribes in fighting terrorism, by gathering intelligence and other military activities. In the non-military fronts, first, America should promote a moderate form of Islam among the youth of Afghanistan by using the Afghan state religious apparatuses and international Islamic tools. America should take additional measures to stifle extremism by establishing American-Afghan Council to Confront Terrorism and Extremism. The council would help build a Counter Insurgency policy through strategizing, mobilizing resources, amending existing legislation, and increasing economic opportunities in areas with high levels of extremism.

America should detail long-term plans for development of Afghanistan with goals of increasing investments and focusing on population-centric projects. A first step would be to provide compensation for damages from military operations. The military should also aim to win greater support and legitimacy by sending reconstruction missions to the conflict-ridden areas.

America should head in the right direction towards a Counter Insurgency campaign, by overcoming various challenges to solidify its strategies. Washington must better formulate a Counter Insurgency doctrine that will enable a transition from Counter Terrorism to a full-fledged, integrated, and effective Counter Insurgency operation.  America should lead a determined and powerful fight against terrorist strongholds; while at the same time avoid harming uninvolved civilians. If the latter is not prioritized, the military may alienate the local population and damage Trump’s administration image in the international arena. To this end, the adoption of appropriate methods of combat that minimize collateral damages—including the use of accurate weapons that will target only the terrorists—is required. In addition, while integrating local tribes in fighting terrorists, America must pay close attention not to hurt the Afghan sovereignty and governance.

On the economic level, America should carefully plan its investments to ensure that improving the welfare of the Afghan population. Additionally, America must balance its efforts between addressing short-term economic distress and the promotion of long-term economic goals.

On the political level, America should adopt a “carrots and sticks” policy towards the civil-population of Afghanistan. The use of authoritarian practices, such as emergency laws, must be well measured in order to avoid alienating local tribes from the Kabul regime.

Finally, the international community should have a vital interest in supporting the Trump administration in shifting from Counter Terrorism to Counter Insurgency, by providing military assistance and targeted economic aid, while encouraging good governance and political participation of the Afghan population. The eradication of the insurgency in Afghanistan will be a desirable achievement not only for the 33 million inhabitants of Afghanistan but also for the global war on terror.

Ajmal Sohail is Co-founder and Co-president of Counter Narco-terrorism Alliance Germany and he is National Security and counter terrorism analyst. He is active member of Christian Democratic Union (CDU)as well.

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S. Jaishankar’s ‘The India Way’, Is it a new vision of foreign policy?

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S. Jaishankar has had an illustrious Foreign Service career holding some of the highest and most prestigious positions such as ambassador to China and the US and as foreign secretary of India. Since 2019 he has served as India’s foreign minister. S. Jaishankar also has a Ph.D. in international relations from JNU and his academic background is reflected in this book.

His main argument is simplistic, yet the issues involved are complex. Jaishankar argues that the world is changing fundamentally, and the international environment is experiencing major shifts in power as well as processes. China is rising and western hegemony is declining. We are moving away from a unipolar system dominated by the US to a multipolar system. Globalization is waning and nationalism and polarization is on the rise (p. 29). The old order is going away but we cannot yet glimpse what the future will look like. This is the uncertain world that Dr. Jaishankar sees.

Dr. Jaishankar also argues that India too has changed, it is more capable and more assertive. The liberalization program that began in 1991 has made the Indian economy vibrant and globally competitive and it is well on track to becoming the third biggest economy in the world, after China and the US.  The war of 1971 that liberated Bangladesh, the liberalization of the economy after 1991, the nuclear tests in 1998 and the nuclear understanding with the US in 2005, Jaishankar argues are landmarks in India’s strategic evolution (p. 4). So given that both India and the system have changed, Jaishankar concludes, so should India’s foreign policy.

But his prescription for India’s foreign policy, in the grand scheme of things, is the same as before – India should remain nonaligned and not join the US in its efforts to contain China. India will try to play with both sides it seems in order to exploit the superpowers and maximize its own interests (p. 9). But he fails to highlight how India can find common ground with China other than to say the two nations must resolve things diplomatically. He also seems to think that the US has infinite tolerance for India’s coyness. In his imagination the US will keep making concessions and India will keep playing hard to get.

Jaishankar has a profound contradiction in his thinking. He argues that the future will be determined by what happens between the US and China. In a way he is postulating a bipolar future to global politics. But he then claims that the world is becoming multipolar and this he claims will increase the contests for regional hegemony. The world cannot be both bipolar and multipolar at the same time.

There is also a blind spot in Jaishankar’s book.  He is apparently unaware of the rise of Hindu nationalism and the demand for a Hindu state that is agitating and polarizing India’s domestic politics. The systematic marginalization and oppression of Muslim minorities at home and the growing awareness overseas of the dangers of Hindutva extremism do not exist in the world that he lives in. He misses all this even as he goes on to invoke the Mahabharata and argue how Krishna’s wisdom and the not so ethical choices during the war between Pandavas and Kauravas should be a guide for how India deals with this uncertain world – by balancing ethics with realism (p. 63). Methinks his little digression in discussing the ancient Hindu epic is more to signal his ideological predilections than to add any insights to understanding the world or India’s place in it.  

One aspect of his work that I found interesting is his awareness of the importance of democracy and pluralism. He states that India’s democracy garners respect and gives India a greater opportunity to be liked and admired by other nations in the world (p. 8). Yet recently when he was asked about the decline of India’s democratic credentials, his response was very defensive, and he showed visible signs of irritation. It is possible that he realizes India is losing ground internationally but is unwilling to acknowledge that his political party is responsible for the deterioration of India’s democracy.

This is also apparent when he talks about the importance of India improving its relations with its immediate neighbors. He calls the strategy as neighborhood first approach (pp. 9-10). What he does not explain is how an Islamophobic India will maintain good relations with Muslim majority neighbors like Bangladesh, Maldives, and Pakistan.

The book is interesting, it has its limitations and both, what is addressed and what is left out, are clearly political choices and provide insights into how New Delhi thinks about foreign policy. So, coming to the question with which we started, does India have a new foreign policy vision? The answer is no. Dr. Jaishankar is right, there is indeed an India way, but it is the same old way, and it entails remaining nonaligned with some minor attitudinal adjustments.  

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India’s open invitation to a nuclear Armageddon

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Army chief General Manoj Mukund Naravane said that “India was not averse to the possible demilitarisation of the Siachen glacier ,  the world’s highest battleground and an old sore in India-Pakistan ties , provided the neighbour accepted the 110-km Actual Ground Position Line (AGPL) that separates Indian and Pakistani positions. Acceptance of AGPL is the first step towards demilitarisation but the Pakistan side loathes doing that”. He said, ‘The Siachen situation occurred because of unilateral attempts by Pakistan to change status quo and countermeasures taken by the Indian Army’ (Not averse to demilitarisation of Siachen if Pak meets pre-condition: Army chief, Hindustan Times January 13, 2022).

Reacting to the Indian army chief’s statement, Pakistan’s former foreign secretary Riaz Mohammad Khan reminisced that the Siachen could not fructify into a written agreement because India wanted Siachen and Kashmir to be settled together. India’s approach ‘nothing is agreed until everything is agreed’ scuttled the agreement. As for Kashmir, “a simultaneous effort was made through the backchannel …in what is commonly known as the Four-Point Formula” (Siachen recollections, Dawn January 16, 2022). Riaz laments Indi’s distrust that hindered a solution.

Shyam Saran, a voice in the wilderness

Shyam Saran, in his book How India Sees the World (pp. 88-93) makes startling revelations about how this issue eluded solution at last minute. India itself created the Siachen problem.  Saran reminisces, in the 1970s, US maps began to show 23000 kilometers of Siachen area under Pakistan’s control. Thereupon, Indian forces were sent to occupy the glacier in a pre-emptive strike, named Operation Meghdoot. Pakistani attempts to dislodge them did not succeed. But they did manage to occupy and fortify the lower reaches’.

He recalls how Siachen Glacier and Sir Creek agreements could not fructify for lack of political will or foot dragging. He says ‘NN Vohra, who was the defence secretary at the time, confirmed in a newspaper interview that an agreement on Siachen had been reached. At the last moment, however, a political decision was taken by the Narasimha Rao government to defer its signing to the next round of talks scheduled for January the following year. But, this did not happen…My defence of the deal became a voice in the wilderness’.

Saran says, `Kautliyan template would say the options for India are sandhi, conciliation; asana, neutrality; and yana, victory through war. One could add dana, buying allegiance through gifts; and bheda, sowing discord. The option of yana, of course would be the last in today’s world’ (p. 64, ibid.).

India’s current first option

It appears that Kautliya’s last-advised option,yana, as visualised by Shyam Saran, is India’s first option nowadays. Kautlya also talks about koota yuddha (no holds barred warfare), and maya yuddha (war by tricks) that India is engaged in.

Cartographic annexation

By unilaterally declaring the disputed Jammu and Kashmir its territory does not solve the Kashmir problem. This step reflects that India has embarked upon the policy “might is right”. In Kotliyan parlance it would be “matsy nyaya, or mach nyaya”, that is big fish eats the small one. What if China also annexes disputed borders with India?  India annexed Kashmir presuming that Pakistan is not currently in a position to respond militarily, nor could it agitate the matter at international forums for fear of US ennui.  

India’s annexation smacks of acceptance of quasi-Dixon Plan, barring mention of plebiscite and division of Jammu. . Dixon proposed: Ladakh should be awarded to India. Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (including Gilgit and Baltistan) should remain with Pakistan. Whole Kashmir valley should have a plebiscite with no option to independence. Jammu should be divided on religious basis. The river Chmab should be the dividing line. Northern Jammu (Muslims dominated) should go to Pakistan and Hindu majority parts of Jammu to remain with India.

In short Muslim areas should have gone with Pakistan and Hindu-Buddhist majority areas should have remained with India.

India’s annexation has no legal sanctity. But, it could have bbeen sanctified in a mutually agreed Kashmir solution.

India’s propaganda

India portrays the freedom movement in Kashmir as `terrorism’. What about India’s terrorism in neighbouring countries?

The world is listless to accounts of former diplomats and RAW officers about executing insurgencies in neighbouring countries. B. Raman, in his book The Kaoboys of R&AW: Down Memory Lane makes no bones about India’s involvement up to the level of prime minister in Bangladesh’s insurgency.

 Will the world take notice of confessions by Indi’s former intelligence officers and diplomats?B. Raman reminds `Indian parliament passed resolution on March 31, 1971 to support insurgency. Indira Gandhi had then confided with Kao that in case Mujib was prevented from ruling Pakistan, she would liberate East Pakistan from the clutches of the military junta. Kao, through one RAW agent, hijacked a Fokker Friendship, the Ganga, of Indian Airlines hijacked from Srinagar to Lahore.

India’s ambassador Bharath Raj Muthu Kumar, with the consent of then foreign minister Jaswant Singh, `coordinated military and medical assistance that India was secretly giving to Massoud and his forces’… `helicopters, uniforms, ordnance, mortars, small armaments, refurbished Kalashnikovs seized in Kashmir, combat and winter clothes, packaged food, medicines, and funds through his brother in London, Wali Massoud’, delivered circuitously with the help of other countries who helped this outreach’. When New Delhi queried about the benefit of costly support to Northern Alliance chief Massoud, Kumar explained, “He is battling someone we should be battling. When Massoud fights the Taliban, he fights Pakistan.”

Death of back-channel

In his memoirs In the line of fire (pp.302-303), president Musharraf had proposed a personal solution of the Kashmir issue.  This solution, in essence, envisioned self-rule in demilitarised regions of Kashmir under a joint-management mechanism.   The solution pre-supposed* reciprocal flexibility.

Death of dialogue and diplomacy

Riaz warns of “incalculable” risks as the result of abrogation of Kashmir statehood (Aug 5, 2019). Both India and Pakistan are nuclear powers. In the absence of a dialogue on outstanding issues, war, perhaps a nuclear one,  comes up as the only option.

Concluding remark

Sans sincerity, the only Kashmir solution is a nuclear Armageddon. Or, perhaps divine intervention.

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Major Challenges for Pakistan in 2022

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Pakistan has been facing sever challenges since 1980s, after the former USSR’s invasion of Afghanistan. The history is full of challenges, but, being a most resilient nation, Pakistan has faced some of them bravely and overcome successfully. Yet, few are rather too big for Pakistan and still struggling to overcome in the near future.

Some of the challenges are domestic or internal, which can be addressed conveniently. But, some of them are part of geopolitics and rather beyond control of Pakistan itself. Such challenges need to pay more attention and need to be smarter and address them wisely.

Few key areas will be the main focus of Pakistan in the year ahead. Relations with China and the US while navigating the Sino-US confrontation, dealing with Afghanistan’s uncertainties, managing the adversarial relationship with India and balancing ties between strategic ally Saudi Arabia and neighbor Iran.

Pakistan has to pursue its diplomatic goals in an unsettled global and regional environment marked by several key features. They include rising East-West tensions, increasing preoccupation of big powers with domestic challenges, ongoing trade and technology wars overlying the strategic competition between China and the US, a fraying rules-based international order and attempts by regional and other powers to reshape the rules of the game in their neighborhood.

Understanding the dynamics of an unpredictable world is important especially as unilateral actions by big powers and populist leaders, which mark their foreign policy, have implications for Pakistan’s diplomacy. In evolving its foreign policy strategy Pakistan has to match its goals to its diplomatic resources and capital. No strategy is effective unless ends and means are aligned.

Pakistan’s relations with China will remain its overriding priority. While a solid economic dimension has been added to long-standing strategic ties, it needs sustained high-level engagement and consultation to keep relations on a positive trajectory. CPEC is on track, timely and smoothly progress is crucial to reinforce Beijing’s interest in strengthening Pakistan, economically and strategically. Close coordination with Beijing on key issues remains important.

Pakistan wants to improve ties with the US. But relations will inevitably be affected by Washington’s ongoing confrontation with Beijing, which American officials declare has an adversarial dimension while China attributes a cold war mindset to the US. Islamabad seeks to avoid being sucked into this big power rivalry. But this is easier said than done. So long as US-China relations remain unsteady it will have a direct bearing on Pakistan’s effort to reset ties with the US especially as containing China is a top American priority. Pakistan desires to keep good relations with the US, but, not at the cost of China. In past, Pakistan was keeping excellent relations with US, while simultaneously very close with China. When the US imposed economic blockade against China and launched anti-communism drive during the cold war, Pakistan was close ally with the US and yet, keeping excellent relations with China. Pakistan played vital role in bring China and the US to establish diplomatic relations in 1970s. Yet, Pakistan possesses the capability to narrow down the hostility between China and the US.

Pakistan was close ally with the US during cold war, anti-communism threat, war against USSR’s invasion of Afghanistan in 1980s, and war on terror, etc. Pakistan might be a small country, but, possesses strategic importance. As long as, the US was cooperating with Pakistan, Pakistan looked after the US interest in the whole region. In fact, Pakistan ensured that the US has achieved its all strategic goals in the region. Since, the US kept distance from Pakistan, is facing failure after another failure consecutively. The importance of Pakistan is well recognized by the deep state in the US.

US thinks that withdrawal from Afghanistan has diminished Pakistan’s importance for now. For almost two decades Afghanistan was the principal basis for engagement in their frequently turbulent ties, marked by both cooperation and mistrust. As Pakistan tries to turn a new page with the US the challenge is to find a new basis for a relationship largely shorn of substantive bilateral content. Islamabad’s desire to expand trade ties is in any case contingent on building a stronger export base.

Complicating this is Washington’s growing strategic and economic relations with India, its partner of choice in the region in its strategy to project India as a counterweight to China. The implications for Pakistan of US-India entente are more than evident from Washington turning a blind eye to the grim situation in occupied Kashmir and its strengthening of India’s military and strategic capabilities. Closer US-India ties will intensify the strategic imbalance in the region magnifying Pakistan’s security challenge.

Multiple dimensions of Pakistan’s relations with Afghanistan will preoccupy Islamabad, which spent much of 2021 engaged with tumultuous developments there. While Pakistan will continue to help Afghanistan avert a humanitarian and economic collapse it should not underestimate the problems that may arise with an erstwhile ally. For one, the TTP continues to be based in Afghanistan and conduct attacks from there. The border fencing issue is another source of unsettled discord. Careful calibration of ties will be needed — assisting Afghanistan but avoiding overstretch, and acknowledging that the interests of the Taliban and Pakistan are far from identical. Moreover, in efforts to mobilize international help for Afghanistan, Islamabad must not exhaust its diplomatic capital, which is finite and Pakistan has other foreign policy goals to pursue.

Managing relations with India will be a difficult challenge especially as the Modi government is continuing its repressive policy in occupied Kashmir and pressing ahead with demographic changes there, rejecting Pakistan’s protests. The hope in establishment circles that last year’s backchannel between the two countries would yield a thaw or even rapprochement, turned to disappointment when no headway was made on any front beyond the re-commitment by both neighbors to observe a ceasefire on the Line of Control.

Working level diplomatic engagement will continue on practical issues such as release of civilian prisoners. But prospects of formal dialogue resuming are slim in view of Delhi’s refusal to discuss Kashmir. This is unlikely to change unless Islamabad raises the diplomatic costs for Delhi of its intransigent policy. Islamabad’s focus on Afghanistan last year meant its diplomatic campaign on Kashmir sagged and was limited to issuing tough statements. Unless Islamabad renews and sustains its international efforts with commitment and imagination, India will feel no pressure on an issue that remains among Pakistan’s core foreign policy goals.

With normalization of ties a remote possibility, quiet diplomacy by the two countries is expected to focus on managing tensions to prevent them from spinning out of control. Given the impasse on Kashmir, an uneasy state of no war, no peace is likely to continue warranting Pakistan’s sustained attention.

In balancing ties with Saudi Arabia and Iran, Pakistan should consider how to leverage possible easing of tensions between the long-standing rivals — of which there are some tentative signs. With Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman keen to use economic power to expand his country’s diplomatic clout by making strategic overseas investments, Pakistan should use its political ties with Riyadh to attract Saudi investment through a coherent strategy. Relations with Iran too should be strengthened with close consultation on regional issues especially Afghanistan. The recent barter agreement is a step in the right direction.

In an increasingly multipolar world, Pakistan also needs to raise its diplomatic efforts by vigorous outreach to other key countries and actors beyond governments to secure its national interests and goals.

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