During the Cold War, at the time of US anti-Soviet policies and US attacks on Afghanistan, Pakistan was recognized as a US ally.
However, for Pakistan, this alliance was a means of acquiring arms, and receiving financial assistance and political support against India. The interests of the United States and those of Pakistan have always been at odds and sometimes even contradictory in South Asia. Thus, it could be said that their alliance was expedient.
Military assistance provided for Pakistan has strengthened this country’s military capability and relying on this same military might, Pakistan has adopted an aggressive approach in the Kashmir Region. The financial and military assistance provided by the US has led Pakistani decision-makers to believe that it is the US which is in need of Pakistan, and that the United States is not quite serious about Pakistan’s protecting terrorism and the lack of democracy in this country and the country’s human rights abuses.
Americans opine that their strategy towards Afghanistan will be successful if they pressure Pakistan to coordinate its actions with US plans. In fact, the current US administration believes that the previous US strategy has not been effective and has even been counterproductive. In his speech on August 21st, Trump said “The next step in our new strategy is changing the approach and the way we deal with Pakistan. The United States can no longer tolerate the fact that Pakistan is a safe haven for terrorists. We are giving billions of dollars to Pakistan to fight against terrorism. However, the groups against which we are fighting are based in Pakistan. This should not go on “.
The next day, Rex Tillerson pointed out in his speech, “Pakistan is one of our most important military partners, and if it wishes to maintain this position, it must radically change its approach towards the terrorist groups that operate in the country.”
In his speech, Trump said that the US is open to the prospect of a political solution with the Taliban, and Tillerson reiterated this message. Although the US short-term strategy is fighting against the Taliban and preventing this group from gaining a foothold in Afghanistan, nevertheless in the long run, it will try to be close to striking a peace deal with it. At the time being, given the fact that the Taliban sees itself as having the upper hand in talks with the Afghan government (i.e., as it dominates relatively large areas of Afghanistan), the United States is trying to change Taliban’s supposedly superior position in the talks by confronting the group, and then to engage in an interaction with it.
It is necessary to note that the Bush administration gave $12.4 billion and the Obama administration $21 billion in aid to Pakistan. Now, the Trump government intends to change this policy, which it deems inconclusive. The US may reduce its financial aid to Pakistan even more, although it has already fallen by 40% since the beginning of the current fiscal year. Apart from the reduction of financial aid, the US will prevent Pakistan from accessing US military technology, unless Pakistan makes a radical shift in its behavior.
Afghans also believe that Pakistan’s policy is making its neighboring countries insecure. They believe that Pakistan is supporting ISIL in Afghanistan, and that every day, many terrorists and most of their equipment enter the country from the Pakistani border. This claim is rooted in reality. The former Taliban leader, Mullah Omar, died at a hospital in Pakistan in 2013, and his successor, Mullah Akhtar, was killed by a US attack in Pakistan’s Balochistan Province. These incidents all confirm the claims by the Afghans. Afghans believe that if Pakistan was serious about the fight against terrorism, it would not allow these to happen. For this same reason, for the purpose of confronting these Pakistani actions and for the purpose of sending a clear message to Islamabad, the Afghan government has requested India to train Afghan military forces.
Given the discussion so far, it seems that the Trump government will adopt several approaches toward Pakistan:
1. Some congressional recommendations suggest that, if pressuring Pakistan is not effective, and Pakistan continues to support Haqqani Network and the Taliban, it should be temporarily included in the list of governments harboring terrorism.
- The United States will no longer consider Pakistan as an ally; rather as a country that is cooperating with the US on certain issues.
3. Distancing from the Pakistani government and engaging with Pakistani civil society leaders, increasing social, civil and humanitarian assistance and introducing the moderates in Pakistan (political or social activists, academics, etc.) to the international community.
4. Engaging with moderate military leaders and implementing IMEI, rather than supporting the military and providing military assistance for it.
5. Approaching China and the Persian Gulf countries and using diplomacy in expressing US concern over Pakistan’s support for terrorism in US interaction with these countries to undermine Pakistan.
6. Highlighting the dangers of China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) in talks with Chinese.
7. Setting pre-conditions for providing military and financial assistance for Pakistan.
8. Targeting Taliban’s positions in Pakistan unilaterally, if the need arises.
9. Carrying out US drone operations in Khyber and Pashtun Kawhi Provinces to hit Haqqani Network.
10. Changing the route for the transfer of logistics and military equipment to Afghanistan (instead of Pakistan, the alternative route could be through Turkey, Georgia, Azerbaijan, and Turkmenistan)
11. Efforts to increase intelligence sharing between India and Afghanistan.
12. Setting a timetable for Pakistan for counter-terrorism measures (imprisoning the heads of terrorist groups named by the US, preventing the formation of terrorist groups).
13. Chasing up peace talks with the Taliban and preventing Pakistan’s interference.
14. Exercising caution to make sure that relations with Pakistan are not severed and that US relations with Pakistan should continue under any circumstances.
Pakistan may also consider the following to counter US:
- Preventing US aid to its troops in Afghanistan through Pakistan.
- Political, economic and military closeness to China.
- Attack on US procurement route to Afghanistan.
- Closeness to Moscow and attempts to pressure Turkmenistan to prevent the transfer of logistics and weapons from this country to Afghanistan.
- If needed, ostensibly arresting several Taliban leaders and intelligence sharing with America to avoid a crisis in relations with the US.
US close relations with Pakistan during the Cold War was a geopolitical necessity. At that time, given the Soviet presence in Afghanistan, the US had to cooperate with Pakistan to contain USSR. In addition, Pakistan also needed US support to counter India. However, after the Cold War and the reduction in the threat posed by Communism and the disappearance of the Soviet threat, Pakistan gained less and less importance in American politics. This continued until the US attack on Afghanistan, which, once again, made Pakistan important in the Americans’ views. Following the US attack on Afghanistan, by providing financial aid, the US tried to distance Pakistan from the Taliban, a policy which failed. Now, Trump is trying to achieve the same thing by intimidating Pakistan. Indeed, it could be said that the importance of Pakistan’s position in the US geopolitical thinking has been greatly diminished so much so that the US clearly threatens its ally by trying to impose economic sanctions against it if it does not comply with US policies. Given that the US needs India to counter China and given the disputes between India and Pakistan, it seems that future developments will bring about more rifts in relations with these two allies and that Pakistan will try to pave the way for closer cooperation with China and Russia. Of course, this could be accomplished only when the United States puts into practice its threats for imposing sanctions on Pakistan. It is also important to note that the US attitude toward Pakistan has been instrumental and not based on US accepting Pakistan as an ally or even as a partner.