Cutting Pak To Size

Source: The Hitavada      Date: 09 Jan 2018 11:06:58

By FAZAL MEHMOOD,

Never before in the history of US-Pakistan relations has there been such a barrage of coercion from US leaders on Pakistan to act on “specific things we have asked Pakistan to do” as relations with it will now be ‘conditions based’. Vice-President Pence, on a visit to Afghanistan last week, is the latest in the queue to warn Pakistan about harbouring terrorists on its soil.


PRESIDENT Donald Trump’s first National Security Strategy document released last week defines the Commander-in-Chief (CinC)’s strategic objectives in which both China and Russia are clubbed as adversaries and revisionist powers. The policy document follows his numerous warnings to Pakistan issued recently through his South Asia and Afghanistan Strategy speech in which he flayed Pakistan for harbouring agents of chaos and condemned it in the strongest terms that no previous US President has done.


China, one can make out, is US’ real adversary, which is solace from India’s perspective following the Doka La stand-off. But Trump also named Russia with which India had signed the first and only strategic treaty of Peace and Friendship prior to the 1971 war to mind its military and diplomatic flanks. Further 80 per cent of India’s military equipment is sourced from Soviet Union/Russia and its dependence on Moscow is irreplaceable. So India which likes to sit on the fence has to make choices: Choices of alignments and partnerships, not alliances. Yet, its dependence on Russia is well-understood by the US though its hedging of China will be more complex, given that US expectations from India in the Indo-Pacific are high though New Delhi is not ready yet to take positions.


For India, its immediate concern is Pakistan, which, if it is able to subdue or decouple from China, will give it the required elbow room on the China front. The NSS paper does not factor the two front war scenario that India faces and the collusion between China and Pakistan. Cerebral Generals in US ignore this strategic reality and expect India to make choices without pressing Pakistan seriously on
the ground. Meanwhile, US Defence Secretary Mattis is make-believing he will be able to coerce Pakistan to rein in the terrorist groups.


Never before in the history of US-Pakistan relations has there been such a barrage of coercion from US leaders on Pakistan to act on “specific things we have asked Pakistan to do” as relations with it will now be ‘conditions based’. Vice-President Pence, on a visit to Afghanistan last week, is the latest in the queue to warn Pakistan about harbouring terrorists on its soil. No blank cheques to Rawalpindi anymore, said a retired US General adding: “all options are on the table: Withdrawing MFNNA, declaring Pakistan a State sponsor of terrorism, sanctioning specific entities in ISI, curtailing coalition support funds and enlarging drone strikes.” Defiantly last month, Air Force Chief Sohail Aman ordered shooting down of US drones violating Pakistan airspace.

They have carried out 426 strikes in Pakistan since 2004. Hundred days after the high on rhetoric and decibels, Trump’s policy speech deeds have not followed words. An unnamed US Administration official told PTI that “we had not expected any breakthrough so soon.” As a veteran convenor of India-Pakistan interactions since 2003, I can confidently say that while the fractured elected Government has taken the Trump and Mattis missives seriously, the establishment has not.


A retired Pakistani General speaking on one of the panels delivered the tired line of ‘70,000 terrorism martyrs, RAW perfidy and ‘we do not take dictation from the US...we have
nuclear weapons.”


The Americans on their part have been consistently fickle. In the recent National Defence Authorisation Act 2017, Pentagon removed the LeT from a congressional rider that required Pakistan to act against Haqqanis and LeT to qualify for Coalition Support Fund. If Mattis is still finding ‘common ground’ with Pakistan and acclaiming Pakistan’s self-inflicted wounds as those of victims of terrorism, he has lost the plot. Last month, terrorism charges against Saeed and JuD were withdrawn for lack of hard evidence. Saeed has not only been released but like other religious parties, is being brought into the political mainstream.


Army Chief General Bajwa, leave alone ordering his re-arrest, has given him a clean chit to stand for elections. This is the clearest defiance of the US brief on a US and UN acclaimed global terrorist on whom US put a $10 mn reward for justice.


Clearly, Pakistan has decided to take on the US on the Saeed issue. Mattis’ “one last chance to Pakistan” holds no meaning and is only wishful thinking. Pakistani Generals know US needs Pakistan more than the other way round. For Rex Tillerson seeking a 100-year partnership with India and Trump coopting Modi as a crucial player in the Indo-Pacific, US has to pass the litmus in Pakistan. Joint patrolling in the Indo-Pacific as suggested by Admiral Harris of the Pacific Command is way above the horizon. It is useful to remember that all through the 73 days of the Doka La confrontation, US did not utter a word of comfort or support.

The only country that did so was Japan. Even the biggest optimist in India knows US cannot force Pakistan to act against Lashkar which hurts India though it could eventually persuade it to punish the Haqqanis who kill US soldiers in Afghanistan. The hard truth is that Mattis is no Richard Armitage, the pugilist former US Assistant Secretary of State who, following 9/11 was sent to tell Gen. Musharraf: “either you are with us or against us’’ and left issuing the threat of reducing Pakistan to the Stone Age. Musharraf followed US diktat letter and word. In this instance, Mattis may have to eat his words. Only once US leashes Pakistan, can India actively deter China to promote Trump’s NSS.