Friday, October 6, 2017
By Hussain Nadim
Following US President Donald Trump's address on Afghanistan policy in August, US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said in a Senate Armed Service Committee hearing that the US is willing to work with Pakistan 'one more time' in Afghanistan. In another hearing, General Joseph Dunford, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, alleged that Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) maintains links with terrorist groups.
For Pakistan, neither calls for 'one last chance' nor allegations of ISI links with terrorist groups are anything new. As such, the same old US policy repackaged by a new administration is likely to get the same old response from Pakistan.
For US policymakers to get results with Pakistan, they must realise two things:
To fix Pakistan, the US must fix its approach to dealing with Pakistan, especially in terms of engaging the security establishment.
US threats are not seen as credible and are unlikely to work, given the safeguards Pakistan has against extreme measures from the US. Pakistan is likely to call the US bluff on its recent threats. From extensive interviews with the members of the security establishment in Pakistan, there are clear indicators that mounting US pressure is seen not as threat to isolate Pakistan, but an attempt to isolate the Pakistan Army in particular and upset the civil-military divide by characterising ISI as a rogue agency. The sense in the Pakistan Army and the ISI is that the US is playing up the civil-military divide in Pakistan to align Pakistan's national security policy with its own. This 'divide and conquer' approach has motivated Pakistan's security establishment to aggressively thwart any US attempts (especially via the civilian government) to change Pakistan's position on the Afghan Taliban and the Haqqani Network.
If the US is looking for security cooperation with Pakistan, it cannot extend an olive branch with one hand while holding a whip in the other. The US needs to find a way to restore trust and working relations with a security establishment that mistrusts not just US adventurism in the region and its negative role in Pakistan's domestic affairs, but also (and perhaps more so) the US approach to solving the Afghanistan issue.
Pakistan's security establishment continues to believe (rightly so, in some ways) that it is squashed between two enemy states in Afghanistan and India. Pakistan wants a peaceful solution in Afghanistan, but not one that compromises its national interest and sovereignty. This is a concern that US policymakers understand on the surface but do very little to resolve on the ground.
Over at least the past decade, Pakistan has become inured to US threats, and has established measures to ensure that the cost of translating those threats into action have increased substantially. With Trump's low global standing and US inability to intimidate North Korea, Pakistan's interest in backing off from its long-held position on Afghanistan is limited. Over the years, Pakistan has created its own safeguards, such as through accelerating the development of its nuclear and missile technology systems. The Pakistani security establishment believes that if it were not for nuclear weapons, Pakistan would have suffered the same fate as Iraq.
Nuclear weapons are not the only safeguard. Through the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), a $46 billion infrastructure project with China, Pakistan has bolstered its security by allowing China to take major stakes in Pakistan. The US-Pakistan issue now is more of a US-Pakistan-China issue, providing Pakistan with another layer of protection.
After billions of dollars of US aid, anti-American sentiment in Pakistan is still abundant. Some of this ill will is America's own doing, but some is also orchestrated by the deep state. There are over 100 million Pakistanis under the age of 25, who often hold very negative opinions about US policies in Pakistan and the Islamic world at large. US attempts to pursue any particularly extreme measures against Pakistan would be a potential time bomb that could have catastrophic results in terms of growth in terrorism and instability in the region.
And then there are the Ground Lines of Communication (GLOCs) that go through Pakistan to provide supply to US troops in Afghanistan. In 2011, Pakistan briefly shut down the GLOCs after the Salala attack and the refusal of the US to apologise for killing Pakistani troops. With the US highly dependent on these GLOCs, Pakistan has some leverage to defy the US.
In a 16 year-long war, the US has gone through several rounds of 'last chances' with Pakistan, facing similar results each time. The problem is that in Afghanistan, the US is looking for a military solution to a problem that is essentially political in nature. With Pakistan, US policymakers expect to coerce a country to give up its long-held national interest for that of the US short-term interests, without any guarantees or assurances. Pakistan has a direct interest to work with the US to resolve the crisis in Afghanistan – but for that to happen the US has to first develop trust and credibility that it wants a long-term solution that works for everyone, not just for the US.
A good way for President Trump to start would be by not threatening its long-standing ally and frontline state in the war on terror, and end the Obama era strategy of 'fixing' the civil-military divide in Pakistan from the inside, in the hope that it serves US strategic interests.
United States secretary of defence Jim Mattis’ tough words on Pakistan, especially on its adverse role in security in the subcontinent and stability in Afghanistan, is reassuring to India. However, these concerns must translate into action.
The security of the larger subcontinent as defined by the United States secretary of defence, Jim Mattis, is a perspective that should give India some comfort. The question is whether his testimony before the US Senate will necessarily translate into policy on the ground in the coming years.
The most important element of his testimony was his unequivocal belief that any US military withdrawal from Afghanistan would be inimical to his country’s security. Kabul must, at the very least, negotiate from a position of strength if it has to come to terms with the Taliban. This will come as music to India’s ears. New Delhi has long argued that any intemperate US withdrawal from Afghanistan would lead to a Taliban takeover — and potentially convert Afghanistan back into a terrorist hub as the Pakistani military had done in the past.
Mr Mattis had a more mixed message regarding Pakistan. While speaking of the double-faced policies of Islamabad — pretending to fight Islamicist terror even while secretly promoting and shielding some of its worst practitioners — he said he was prepared to give Pakistan one last chance. Indian eyes will roll at this, having experienced similar US admissions of Pakistani perfidy followed by a statement of limited forgiveness.
Pakistan is a past expert at exploiting such loopholes and it remains to be seen if the Trump administration will be wise enough to understand when it is being taken for a well-worn ride. He also spoke of how much better Pakistan would be economically if it focussed on trade and investment ties with India. This is an argument grounded in sound reason and economics but wholly irrelevant to the geopolitical drivers of the India-Pakistan relationship.
Mr Mattis also threw in support for India’s official argument against endorsing the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) by noting such projects needed to be sensitive to sovereignty issues. But New Delhi still awaits a more comprehensive statement by Washington accepting the larger Indian concern that the Belt Road Initiative, of which the CPEC is the flagship, is being used by Beijing to financially suborn smaller countries both economically and politically.
Nonetheless, this and similar statements by senior members of the Trump administration are reassuring in that they provide clarity to what remains an otherwise incoherent US strategic vision of the world. They also seem refreshingly politically incorrect in publicly stating what US officials would often admit about Pakistan in private. All that remains is for the words to be converted into deeds.
By Pamela Constable
When Pakistan’s army chief visited the Afghan capital last Sunday, he did his best to disarm his hosts. He offered to train and equip Afghan troops, and he promised to cooperate in peace and counterterrorism efforts. Afghan officials, in turn, received him with a military honor guard and issued an upbeat statement heralding “a new season” in the troubled relationship.
But behind the diplomatic gestures, there was little to indicate that anything had changed. Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, humiliated in previous attempts to mend fences and take Pakistani officials at their word, demanded coolly that monitoring teams and mechanisms be established to ensure all promises and deadlines were implemented.
And even before Gen. Qamar Javed Bajwa’s plane departed, the barrage of criticism had begun. Afghan analysts, politicians and former officials pronounced his visit another attempt by Pakistan to “deceive” their country while secretly supporting anti-Afghan militants. Bajwa had come calling only out of desperation, they said, because of intense pressure from the Trump administration.
“Pakistan is trying to pretend it is changing, but after 16 years of double games, these are only tactical moves,” said Rahmatullah Nabil, a former Afghan intelligence chief. “Pakistan has been using terrorism as a tool of state policy for decades, and Afghanistan has been the victim of terrorism for decades. As long as Pakistan does not change this policy, no equilibrium can be established.”
Pakistan has reason to feel desperate. Faced with the threat of unprecedented U.S. sanctions and fresh accusations that it has not done enough to stop cross-border attacks into Afghanistan, its military has responded with a variety of tactics: indignant denials, aid offers, history lessons, helicopter tours of pacified border zones, condolence messages to Afghan bombing victims and high-profile efforts to build a wall along their 1,800-mile border.
But nothing seems to be working.
Last week in Washington, senior U.S. officials repeated charges that Pakistan is providing sanctuary for an aggressive Taliban faction known as the Haqqani network. Marine Corps Gen. James Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told a congressional panel it was “clear” that Pakistan’s intelligence agency “has connections with terrorist groups.”
At a separate hearing, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said the Trump administration would try “one more time” to work with Pakistan on the Taliban issue, but that if it failed, “the president is prepared to take whatever steps are necessary.” He said that could include revoking Pakistan’s status as a major non-NATO ally, a harsh blow to the former Cold War partner.
Pakistan has consistently denied providing shelter to anti-Afghan militants. Its prime minister told the U.N. General Assembly recently it was “especially galling” to hear such criticism when Pakistan has suffered from years of terrorist attacks. Its foreign minister told another audience in New York this week that Washington had no right to condemn Pakistan for supporting militant leaders it had “wined and dined” during past conflicts.
Asked Thursday about the latest U.S. comments, Pakistan’s Foreign Ministry spokesman said that Pakistan has “successfully erased the footprint of terrorists from our soil” and that most insurgent activities, including attacks on Pakistan, emanate from “ungoverned spaces inside Afghanistan” rather than from Pakistani havens.
Despite their doubts, some Afghan officials say they believe Pakistan’s security establishment is being forced to pivot in its thinking on Afghanistan. They see Bajwa’s visit to Kabul as a sign of this shift — especially his one-on-one meeting with Ghani, which one Afghan diplomat described as unusually candid, “constructive and encouraging.”
Pakistan once backed Taliban rule in Kabul, and it has long sought to keep Afghanistan weak and dependent as a counterweight to India, its powerful neighbor and rival to the east. But now, Pakistan’s region
al partners and investors are echoing new U.S. demands that it help end the 16-year Afghan conflict, which they see as a threat to stability.
“From our past experience, no Afghan should be optimistic about Pakistan supporting our cause. But the new American strategy has created an opportunity that it should explore,” said Javed Faisal, a senior aide to Afghanistan’s chief executive, Abdullah Abdullah. He said Pakistan’s support for militants abroad had backfired.
“If they don’t change, they will face isolation from the world,” Faisal said. “We should work with them to build trust and tackle terrorism together.” Skeptical Afghans point to years of broken promises, failed meetings and peace initiatives that went nowhere. Former president Hamid Karzai made an unprecedented trip to Islamabad a decade ago, carrying a list of Taliban hideouts, and came back empty-handed. Ghani praised Pakistan in 2015 for hosting peace talks, only to be mortified when Pakistan suddenly revealed the death of former Taliban leader Mohammad Omar and canceled the talks.
Within Pakistan, there is also resistance to rapprochement or concessions. Last week, the new interior minister was reprimanded by Parliament for suggesting that the country should “put its own house in order” before seeking foreign support. Even Bajwa, the most powerful official in Pakistan, faced some pushback for his diplomatic foray. The military spokesman, while touting the initiative, noted that “there was some discomfort in security and civil quarters” about it.
Munir Akram, a former Pakistani diplomat with strong nationalist views, wrote recently that efforts to engage with the United States will prove fruitless and that President Trump’s new policy of sending more troops and putting pressure on Islamabad is not aimed at pacifying Afghanistan but at imposing a broad “Pax Indo-Americana” on the region.
“Pakistan should prepare itself to bear the pain of threatened U.S. sanctions. It should draw its own red lines,” Munir wrote in Dawn, a major daily newspaper in Pakistan. “Any sign of weakness will intensify, not ameliorate, US coercion.”
Even if it is in Pakistan’s urgent interest to smooth its relations with Afghanistan, some analysts said, the most intractable obstacle is the gulf between Afghan and Pakistani perceptions of regional reality. Afghans see the Taliban insurgency as the main threat to their security and Pakistan as its backer; Pakistan sees India as a permanent threat to its existence and its friendship with Afghanistan as an extension of that threat.
“For all the complimentary rhetoric on both sides now, there is a total disconnect between how they define the problem,” said Davood Moradian, president of the Afghan Institute for Strategic Studies. “They both face the threat of terrorism, and they have to come to an understanding, but it is not happening. At this point, I can see no positive outcome.”