The US State Department’s Country Reports on Terrorism 2016 further reinforced the idea that Pakistan and the United States have had a most complicated relationship since 9/11. Perhaps the light-hearted description of the bilateral relationship as being one of “frenemies” has some significant basis in fact. Let us consider the contours of this relationship, especially when it comes to issues of security.
The report acknowledged that civilian deaths due to terrorist strikes inside Pakistan had reduced significantly—from 3,000 in 2012 and 2013 to 600 in 2016—and that Pakistan has eliminated safe havens for organisations such as the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) from its territory. But it also claimed that Pakistan continues to allow extremist organisations such as the Lashkar-i-Tayyiba and Jaish-e-Mohammad to operate within the country.
Certainly the report does not bring anything new to our understanding of the situation. The twin realities of Pakistan’s role in the global War on Terror are well known in most important capitals of the world. The first aspect of that reality is that Pakistan has paid a significant price for its role in the fight against religious fundamentalist terrorism. And it is also true that Pakistan has turned a blind eye towards certain organisations which — at least in the calculations of its policy-makers –give it the ability to implement what is unfortunately described as ‘strategic depth’ in Afghanistan.
In any case, it is but inevitable to wonder if the timing of the State Department’s report has anything to do with the ongoing American review of its policies towards Afghanistan and Pakistan. Most reports suggest the review will advise a harsher approach towards Pakistan.
The 2016 Country Report’s findings, therefore, align perfectly with Washington’s strategy of saving face in Afghanistan. Moreover, the recent troop surge supported by the Pentagon reveals that President Trump believes a military solution is the only way to achieve peace in Afghanistan. The success of this military-led effort will naturally rely on Pakistan’s ability to rein in organisations such as the Haqqani network. While it is important that Pakistan must not promote organisations that destabilise its neighbours, the American policy of relying on military might is misplaced and cannot address Afghanistan’s security woes.
The fact is that the United States must significantly re-evaluate its policies towards the region. But this re-evaluation must rely on political reconciliation and on bringing Pakistan into the fold, not ostracising it. Pakistan, for its part, must show genuine solicitude when it comes to achieving peace in Afghanistan. Any pretensions of ‘strategic depth’ and becoming the arbiters of Central Asia’s future must be abandoned.
And the US, for its part, will have to start looking at Pakistan from outside the prism of terrorism in Afghanistan, and as more of a regional stakeholder whose ultimate interests lie in a stable Afghanistan.
Daily Times, July 21, 2017