By Moonis Ahmar
Addressing a gathering at the Vivekananda International Foundation in New Delhi on October 25, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani ruled out his country’s participation in China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) unless Kabul is given access to Wagah crossing on the Indo-Pak border for its trade with New Delhi. He threatened to block Pakistan’s access to Central Asia if his country’s demand for a land entry via Pakistan for trade with India is not granted. Earlier, the Afghan President lauded Donald Trump’s new policy on South Asia as a ‘game changer’ and welcomed India’s new role in Afghanistan.
The possibility of Indo-US-Afghan nexus is not superficial but real as American tilt towards India and Afghanistan is not a new phenomenon. Since quite long, particularly after Trump’s election as president, growing Indo-US-Afghan understanding on dealing with what they perceive terrorist safe havens in the tribal areas of Pakistan tends to raise serious concerns in Islamabad.
Indo-US nexus is also talked about in terms of growing defence cooperation and dealing with China and Pakistan. But, if US-Indo-Afghan nexus is in offing, it would mean three major implications for Pakistan. First, deepening of strategic pressure on Pakistan as its two major neighbours and a global superpower will coordinate their policies to further limit time, space and options for Islamabad.
After concluding his week-long visit to Europe, Middle East and South Asia, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson made it clear that, “Pakistan is a key partner for the stability of the region. We have a long history of positive partnership with Pakistan, but Pakistan should do more to eradicate militants and terrorists operating within its country.”
Indo-US-Afghan nexus would further deepen Pakistan’s dependence on China and to lesser extent on Russia for meeting its defence needs. In an interview to Arab News on October 9, Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi made it clear that his country will diversify the sources of its defence needs instead of remaining dependent on the United States by seeking Chinese, Russian and European sources of defence equipment.
It is yet to be seen how far and to what extent the military establishment of Pakistan can distance itself from the United States. Since early 1950s till the recent past, military to military relations between Pakistan and the US remained on a strong footing as Islamabad, albeit phases of rupture, remained a major recipient of American military aid and training.
Furthermore, it is not only the matter of Pak-US defence cooperation since the day of alliances till the post-9/11 Pakistan’s tilt towards American led war on terror, the interests of civilian elites including bureaucracy and politicians also clicked with Washington as America provided them ‘safe haven’ in the form of good quality of life and better opportunities for them and their children. And it is not only the United States which promises a ‘safe haven’ to the elites of Pakistan, but it is the entire West which provides the elites of Pakistan, like many of the counterparts in the third world countries, opportunities for a better present and future life.
In view of the ground realities, it is rightly asked by those who question the rationale of periodic assertions by Pakistani political, bureaucratic and military circles about their defiance with the US the contradiction in theory and practice of their so-called anti-US and anti-West rhetoric. Third, age-old American influence in Pakistan means that the US has access to the individuals and institutions involved in formulating and designing what the Prime Minister, Foreign Minister and Chief of Army Staff assert a policy of not acquiescing to American pressure of ‘doing more’ to eradicate ‘safe havens’ of alleged terrorist networks in Pakistan.
In a hard hitting speech which he delivered in the Senate of Pakistan in a briefing session on October 26, Foreign Minister Khawaja Asif made it clear that, “we have not succumbed to the threat made by Trump from Fort Myer. We stood tall and will keep the posture before any power of the world. We are ready to help them, but will not become their proxy.”
One can appreciate what the Foreign Minister stated in his Senate briefing about Pakistan not becoming proxy of the US and his severe criticism on the past regimes who used to hand over suspects to the United States for dollars, but how far the present regime of Pakistan, no matter how defiant it is, can restore respect, sovereignty and integrity is yet to be seen.
In view of strategic consensus which exists between India, United States and Afghanistan on the alleged existence of ‘safe havens’ of terrorist networks in Pakistan, and Islamabad’s denial of American-Indian and Afghan allegations, there is a remote possibility of any transformation in the existing standoff between Pakistan on the one hand and Washington-New Delhi and Kabul on the other.
Surprisingly, the Afghan allegations against Pakistan continue unabated despite the goodwill which was created as a result of the visit of Chief of Army Staff to Kabul last month and the recent holding of four tier talks among Afghanistan, China, Pakistan and the United States in Muscat, Oman. Kabul’s hard line stance on Pakistan has become more visible after Tillerson’s visit to Afghanistan and the holding of talks between the Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and Indian Prime Minister Narandra Modi. It means that the pressure on Pakistan by the three countries that want Islamabad to follow their line of action on Afghanistan and regional security concerns particularly on terrorism is deepening.
For Pakistan, it is like a devil and a deep blue like situation: sandwiched between unfriendly India and Afghanistan and unabated American pressure to weed out what it calls the infrastructure of terrorist and militant groups, the only viable option is to put its own house in order by focusing of human and social development; eradication of corruption, nepotism, extremism, intolerance, radicalisation, militancy, violence and terrorism from society. Good governance, effective justice system and the rule of law will also go a long way in pulling Pakistan out of multiple crisis like economic, political and the crisis situation as far as the Indo-US-Afghan nexus is concerned.
Daily Times, November 3, 2017