It was not expected. It was sudden. Even Pakistani diplomats, citizens did not realise that their government will take such an ‘extreme’ step and that too against the all powerful United States of America. Pakistan has suspended talks and bilateral visits with the US as a mark of protest over the recent anti-Pakistan diatribe by US President Donald Trump.
The reality is soon they will talk as there is no other alternative. Earlier, the US was Pakistan’s close friend. It will be incorrect to say that the US is no more Pakistan’s friend. It is said there are no permanent friends or foes in diplomacy, there are only permanent interests.
Khwaja Mohammad Asif, new Foreign Minister of Pakistan, communicated the government’s major decision to the Senate on Monday. He was to travel to the US last week and Alice Wells, US Secretary of State for South and Central Asia, was to visit Islamabad on Tuesday. Asif cancelled his US visit. US embassy’s spokesperson in Islamabad said that at the request of the government of Pakistan, Well’s trip has been postponed to a mutually convenient time. It is clear that Pakistan has taken Trump’s comment seriously.
While announcing his policy on Afghanistan and South Asia, Trump had criticised Pakistan in a big way. He had accused Pakistan of providing ‘sanctuaries’ to terrorists. Asif will visit China and Russia in a couple of days. China is an all-weather friend of Pakistan and Russia is gradually becoming a friend of Pakistan. These two countries do not have a great equation with the US. They are seen as a critics of the US and its policies.
Both of them have defended Pakistan against Trump’s criticism. Pakistan preferred regional diplomacy. China said that one should not forget the ‘great sacrifice’ of Pakistan in countering terrorism.
Pakistan is aware that collapse of Afghanistan will help militants based in Pakistan big way. The militants will start claiming that soon they will win in Pakistan. So, Pakistan will not want a collapse of Afghanistan. At the same time, they will not like a government with strong India connection. But, they will prefer a government which they can influence. Pakistan should not see India as a rival in Afghanistan. A proxy war in Afghanistan will be against the interest of Afghan people and also against the people of the region. Even India is affected by the rising militancy in Afghanistan and Pakistan. So, it needs to be tackled at a regional level and for that coordination between these nations is a must.
Trump said, “We can no longer be silent about Pakistan’s safe havens for terrorist organisations, the Taliban, and other groups that pose a threat to the region and beyond.” He said it’s a ‘fight-to-win’ strategy. He also asked Pakistan to cut support for militants who find a haven along the Afghan border and warned Pakistan would have ‘much to lose’ if it did not comply. The US President’s request to India to play a pro-active role in stabilizing Afghanistan also did not go well with the Pakistan.
Gen John W Nicholson is the senior-most US military commander in Afghanistan tasked with implementing the American administration’s strategy. He alleged that Afghan Taliban leaders continue to enjoy sanctuary and freedom of movement inside Pakistan. He told Afghanistan’s Tolo News that the Quetta shura, Peshawar shura, are identified by cities inside Pakistan and Afghan Taliban leaders are in these areas.
Rex Tillerson, Secretary of State, had warned Pakistan that it could lose its status as a privileged military ally if it continues giving ‘safe haven’ to Afghan militant groups. Generating anti-US sentiment in the country will not help Pakistan. It will only help militant organisations and Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI). They have been taking an anti-US stand for a long time. There is a sizable anti-US sentiment in Pakistan and there are reasons for it. But, snapping dialogue and cancelling bilateral visits will not help in curtailing the influence of militant organisations. The priority should be to free the region from militancy and it can happen only if there is some understanding between these countries. Mere rhetoric will not lead anywhere.
The US established relations with Pakistan, on October 20 1947, immediately after it came into existence. In 1971,
Pakistan helped US in establishing close connections with China. Indians remember US had mobilised their 7th fleet in the Bay of Bengal during 1971 India’s war with Pakistan and liberation of Bangladesh. Pakistan was a close ally of the US during the cold war.
Militancy is a major issue and it cannot be resolved unless Afghanistan, Pakistan and the US come together and strategise. India can play a crucial role as Afghans have great respect for India. The differences among them will and help terrorists to consolidate themselves. The sooner Pakistan resumes dialogue with the US the better.