By Sajjad Shaukat for VT
At present, unbridgeable trust deficit exists between Pakistan and the US because of the fact that America has been playing double game with Islamabad, which has, clearly, been exposed.
In this regard, in an interview to the Arab News, published on October 9, 2017, Pakistan’s Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi said, “The days of Pakistan’s dependence on the US to meet its military requirements have ended…We have major US weapons systems in our military, but we’ve also diversified [our arsenal]. We have Chinese and European systems. Recently, for the first time we inducted Russian attack helicopters…the world should recognise Pakistan’s efforts in fighting the world’s war on terror.”
Responding to various questions, the premier pointed out that US’ newly devised policy to include India for peace-building in Afghanistan will be detrimental for the region. He stated, “We don’t believe that injecting India into the Pakistan-US relationship will help resolve anything, especially in Afghanistan, where we don’t see any role for India. India has a relationship with the US, and that is between them and the US.”
He clarified that Pakistan wants an “equal relationship or partnership with the US, like every other nation” and…nobody wants peace in Afghanistan more than Pakistan.”
He added, “The reality today is that much of the area bordering Pakistan is controlled by the Taliban. The people we’re fighting in Pakistan today, their sanctuaries are in Afghanistan, their leadership is living there, the planning is done there, the logistical bases are there, and they regularly cross the border and attack our installations.”
It is notable that the US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson renewed US support for Afghanistan in a surprise visit to Kabul on October 23, this year, after one of the bloodiest weeks in Afghanistan in recent memory, as the Taliban attacked multiple security installations and Daesh [Also known as The Islamic State group, ISIS and ISIL] bombed a mosque in the Afghan capital. The meeting between Tillerson, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah took place at the heavily protected Bagram Airfield. Tillerson reaffirmed the US commitment to working with the Kabul government and regional partners “to achieve peace in Afghanistan and deny safe havens to terrorists who threaten that goal.”
While reviving the old blame game against Pakistan, and concealing America’s double game with Islamabad, Tillerson stated that Pakistan needs to “take a clear-eyed view of the situation that they are confronted with in terms of the number of terrorist organisations that find safe haven inside the country.” But, at the same time, he remarked, “We want to work closely (with) Pakistan to create a more stable and secure Pakistan as well.”
The US has vowed to deploy more than 3,000 additional troops, on top of the 11,000 already in Afghanistan, to train and advise Afghan security forces as part of a new strategy outlined by the American President Donald Trump Asia on August 21, 2017.
US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson also visited Islamabad on October 24, 2017 and besides other officials, he met with Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, Chief of Army Staff General Qamar Javed Bajwa and Director General of Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) Lt. Gen. Naveed Mukhtar and Foreign Minister Khawaja Muhammad Asif.
Besides asking Pakistan to do more against terrorism, Tillerson also voiced appreciation for the sacrifices Pakistan has made in fighting militancy and for its help in securing the recent release of a US-Canadian family held captive by the Taliban for five years. Earlier, the US President Trump also praised Pakistan in this respect and pledged to work cooperatively against terrorism.
During his trip to India, on October 25, 2017, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson told journalists following talks with Indian Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj in New Delhi that extremist groups pose a threat to the “stability and security” of the Pakistani government…It is not in anyone’s interests that the government of Pakistan be destabilized. At the same time, he also thanked Swaraj for standing “shoulder to shoulder” with the United States in combating extremism in the region.
Tillerson was holding talks with Indian leaders, as the two countries look to deepen relations and counter China’s growing clout.
Earlier, Tillerson has said that Washington wants to “dramatically deepen” cooperation with Pakistan’s archrival India, as it seeks to promote a “free and open” region led by prosperous democracies.
It is mentionable that by ignoring Islamabad, US Defence Secretary James Mattis paid a visit to India and Afghanistan. On September 26, 2017, he met Indian Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman and held talks with her in the South Block. Later, Mattis and Sitharaman addressed a joint media conference where Mattis stated that the focus was on enhancing the defence relations between the two countries, with the US viewing India as a regional stabilizer in an apparent reference to China—indicating the former having disputes with its maritime neighbours in the South China Sea.
And during the trip of Secretary of Defense James Mattis to Afghanistan on September 27, 2017, suspected militants unsuccessfully tried to target him in a massive rocket attack at Kabul’s Hamid Karzai International Airport, where Mattis, along with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, had landed for an unannounced visit to meet with Afghan officials. The Taliban and ISIS and claimed responsibility for the strike. But, two Taliban commanders told NBC News that they had “insiders” in Afghanistan’s security bureaucracy that had informed them of Mattis’s impending arrival.
At a press conference with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and Stoltenberg, Mattis said, “If, in fact, this is what they have done, they will find the Afghan Security Forces continuing on the offensive against them in every district of the country right now.”
The trip of the both America’s top officials came after the US President Donald Trump unveiled his new strategy for South Asia, accusing Islamabad of harboring “agents of chaos” who could attack US-led NATO forces in neighboring Afghanistan. Trump revived the old blame game of his predecessors President Bush and President Obama regarding the cross-border terrorism in Afghanistan by saying Washington could “no longer be silent about Pakistan’s safe havens for terrorist organizations”, and threatened to target the terrorists’ sanctuaries in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
As regards Pakistan’s regional rival India, Trump added, “We appreciate India’s important contributions to stability in Afghanistan…We want them to help us more with Afghanistan.”
In response to the US new strategy in South Asia, in the recent past, a resolution of Pakistan’s National Assembly urged the government to review all cooperation with the United States. On August 27, 2017, Pakistan postponed a planned trip to Islamabad by Alice Wells, the acting US special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Talking to the BBC on October 24, 2017, Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Khawaja Muhammad Asif admitted that “There is a huge trust deficit between Pakistan and the US over the Afghan conflict…Pakistan did not have terrorist safe havens and the US was not buying Pakistan’s narrative, neither was Pakistan buying the narrative of the US.”
Asif was speaking about the meeting with the US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson in Islamabad; Tillerson repeated Trump’s call for Pakistan to do more to eradicate militant groups within its territory. But, Asif insisted that “there are no safe havens in Pakistan…They do not need our territory any more. Almost 40% of Afghan territory is now under the direct control of the Taliban.”
Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Asif stated in the Senate on October 25, 2017, “Afghanistan’s role as a facilitator for India is not acceptable to Pakistan…nearly 45 percent of Afghanistan’s territory was not under the control of Kabul and that Daesh was also present in two or three Afghan provinces located in that territory…terrorists would not need Pakistan for their hideouts as they have ample space available in Afghanistan…Pakistan is not a superpower but is a nation which has sacrificed its people during the fight against terrorism…Pakistan had agreed on reconciliation in the past but it was to no avail…a military solution the Afghan problem had failed and the issue can be resolved politically through dialogue and Pakistan would play its due role in this regard…the country had to make a compromise following the 9/11 attacks, and today the country has to pay a price for it.”
The foreign minister, speaking in connection with the meeting held with US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, also remarked, It was clarified during the meeting that Pakistan won’t fight America’s proxy war in Afghanistan but would continue to play its role for peace and security in the region…US must admit it has lost the Afghan war…Pakistan will cooperate in war against terrorism but not at cost of its sovereignty…We want to expand relations with the United States on the basis of equality and self-respect.”
He added that he further briefed the visiting envoy on efforts taken by Pakistan to control cross-border attacks and asked the US to invest in fencing the porous border from the Afghan side.
Although from the very beginning a gulf existed between Pakistan-US relations, yet American President Donald Trump is widening it due to his political follies.
During the heightened days of the Cold War, despite Pakistan’s membership of the US sponsored military alliances SEATO and CENTO, including Pak-US bilateral military agreement, America did not come to help Pakistan against India which separated the East Pakistan in 1971.
After the end of the Cold War, the US left both Pakistan and Afghanistan to face the fallout of the Afghan war 1. By manipulating the nuclear programme of Islamabad, the US imposed various sanctions on Pakistan.
But, after the 9/11 tragedy, America, again, needed Islamabad’s help and President George W. Bush insisted upon Islamabad to join the US global war on terror. Pakistan was not only facing acute financial crisis, but was also depending upon foreign loans, while all the major financial institutes like IMF and World Bank are controlled by America. Besides, Pakistan also faces hostile factor of India. Taking cognizance of all the related-factors, Islamabad decided to join the US war on terror.
Pakistan was also granted the status of non-NATO ally by America because of the early successes, achieved by Pakistan’s Army and country’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) against the Al-Qaeda militants.
Within a few years, when the US-led NATO forces felt that they are failing in coping with the stiff resistance of the Taliban in Afghanistan, they started accusing Pak Army and ISI of supporting the Afghan Taliban. US high officials and their media not only blamed Pakistan for cross-border terrorism in Afghanistan, but also presumed that a plot to attack the US homeland would be prepared in FATA (Tribal areas) where safe-havens of Al-Qaeda exist. They constantly emphasized Pakistan to do more against the militants and continued drone attacks on Pakistan’s tribal areas by ignoring the internal backlash in the country.
As part of the US double game, America ignored the sacrifices of the Pakistan’s armed forces which had broken the backbone of the Taliban militants through successful military operations, conducted in Swat and Malakand, while ISI had arrested renowned Taliban commanders, including other militants and masterminds of Al-Qaeda, namely Abu Zubaida, Khalfan, Abu Hamza Rabia, Mullah Abdul Ghani Bardar etc.
In this context, on the one side, American high officials admired Pakistan, while on the other; they continued their false accusations against Pakistan’s security forces and primary intelligence agency ISI.
Meanwhile, on 26th of November 2011, two American Apache helicopters and two F-15 Eagle fighter jets deliberately targeted the two Pakistani posts, situated on Pak-Afghan border at Salala in the Mohmand Agency and martyred 24 Pakistani military personnel indiscriminately.
Reacting to the Salala attack, Pakistan blocked the NATO ground lines of communication to Afghanistan and demanded an apology before the supply line would be unblocked.
Pakistan’s other bold steps such as vacation of the Shamsi Airbase, boycott of the second Bonn Conference and rejection of the US investigation report regarding the deliberate attack on Salala Army check-posts accelerated tension between Islamabad and Washington.
After the Salala incident, Pak-US war of nerves continued, and it took the relations of both the countries to the point of no return. On July 3, 2012, Defence Committee of the Cabinet permitted NATO supplies across the country to Afghanistan after the then US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton apologized for the killing of 24 Pakistani soldiers by American air strike on Slalala check posts by saying “sorry”.
It is mentionable that confused in their goals, sometimes US high officials praised Pak sacrifices regarding war on terror, sometimes, admitted that stability cannot be achieved in Afghanistan without the help of Pakistan, sometimes, threatened Islamabad to abandon the Pakistan-Iran gas pipeline project and sometimes, realized that US wants to improve its relations with Pakistan, but at the same time, they accused Islamabad for safe-havens of militants in the country.
During the tenure of President Barack Obama, differences had also increased between Islamabad and Washington, when hundreds of agents of CIA and Blackwater entered Pakistan under the guise of diplomats to destabilize the country. On January 11, 2011, Raymond Davis who was CIA agent killed two Pakistanis in Lahore.
Notably, ISI interrupted covert activities of the American so-called diplomats. ISI thwarted the anti-Pakistan activities of the agents of Blackwater and CIA which had started recruiting Pakistani nationals who were vulnerable. In this respect, with the pre-information of ISI, Pakistan’s police and other security agencies arrested a number of secret agents. On many occasions, ISI helped in stopping the clandestine activities of the CIA spies who were displaying themselves as diplomats. On the information of this spy agency, Pakistan’s establishment expelled several American spies operating in the country. On the other side, US withheld $800 million in military aid to punish its army and ISI.
It is of particular attention that ideal strategic location of Pakistan’s province of Balochistan, its abundant mineral resources such as gas, coal and gold, and Pakistan’s close ties with China pinch the eyes of the US, India, Israel and some Western countries like the UK, who have been destabilizing Pakistan for their collective aims.
In this connection, the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) which infuriates these foreign powers has become their special target.
While, India was openly opposing the CPEC and China’s One Belt, One Road (OBOR) initiative, the US also joined India in this respect. On October 3, 2017, US Defence Secretary James Mattis told the Lawmakers, “The United States has reiterated its support for India’s opposition to China’s One Belt, One Road (OBOR) initiative…the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) a part of which traverses Pakistan-Kashmir.”
America’s support for India’s opposition to the Chinese project was first reflected in the joint statement, issued by the two countries after Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s meeting with President Donald Trump in June, this year.
Pakistan strongly dismissed the statement from the American defence chief that the multibillion-dollar road and rail network CPEC which is part of China’s ‘One Belt, One Road’ initiative, passes through a disputed territory, urging the international community to focus on blatant human rights violations and ‘heinous crimes’ committed by Indian occupation forces in the Indian Occupied Kashmir (IOK), and reminded the US that Washington had also participated in an OBOR summit.”
Earlier, a statement from the Chinese foreign ministry also dismissed Mattis’ statement, saying that the OBOR initiative was backed by the United Nations and that CPEC was an economic cooperation initiative.
It is also of particular attention that being the only nuclear country in the Islamic World, Pakistan was already on the hit-list of the US-led India and Israel, including some Western countries. But, after the shift of the Great Game from Central Asia to Pakistan, American CIA, Indian RAW and Israeli Mossad, including British MI6 have been supporting target killings, suicide attacks, hostage-takings, sectarian and ethnic violence in various cities of the country, while backing separatist elements in Balochistan and Gilgit-Baltistan provinces.
As part of the dual strategy, based in Afghanistan, these intelligence agencies which have well-established their covert networks there and are well-penetrated in the terrorist outfits like the ISIL, the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and their affiliated Taliban groups are using their terrorists to destabilize Tibetan regions of China, Iranian Sistan-Baluchistan and Pakistan’s Balochistan by arranging the subversive activities.
While, Pakistan’s Armed Forces have successfully broken the backbone of the foreign-backed terrorists by the military operations Zarb-e-Azb and Radd-ul-Fasaad which have also been extended to other parts of the country, including Balochistan province and Karachi. Army and top intelligence agency ISI have broken the network of these terrorist groups by capturing several militants, while thwarting a number of terror attempts. Peace has been restored in various regions of Pakistan, including Karachi and Balochistan.
But, these foreign elements have, again, started terror attacks in Balochistan and other regions of the country which show that the US-led India, Afghanistan and Israel want to weaken Pakistan and to damage the CPEC.
Overtly, American high officials remark that they seek stability in Pakistan, but covertly, they continue to weaken it, especially with the assistance of India.
Taking cognizance of the US double game, Islamabad which has already strengthened its relations with China has also been cultivating its ties with Russia. In the recent past, Pakistan’s top officials have paid visit to Moscow. In this regard, Pakistan’s foreign minister has openly stated that Islamabad will prefer Russia over America.
Meanwhile, Pakistan is also improving its relations with Iran. Recently, Pakistan’s Chief of Army Staff General Qamar Javed Bajwa paid a visit to Tehran where he met Iranian civil and military high officials.
It is expected that due to President Trump’s anti-Iranian policy and opposition to the Iranian nuclear deal and the unsuccessful US-Indian partnership which is based on extremism, Iran will abandon the American-backed Chabahar (A transport corridor between Iran, India and Afghanistan) project and will prefer to align with Russian-led China-Pakistan alliance.
Returning to our earlier discussion, we can conclude that it is owing to America’s dual strategy that unbridgeable trust deficit exists between Pakistan and the US
Sajjad Shaukat writes on international affairs and is author of the book: US vs Islamic Militants, Invisible Balance of Power: Dangerous Shift in International Relations