- Not much elbow room
Pakistan’s core thinking right now revolves around how to wriggle out of the war on terror. Each visit of an official of the United States (US) reminds Pakistan of the compulsion of countenancing the war.
On December 4, US Defence Secretary Jim Mattis visited Pakistan for one day and met government officials, both civilian and military, and reportedly asked the hosts to “redouble” their efforts to rein in militants attacking Afghanistan from across the border. Though it is not known what exactly the reply was of the hosts, it is known that the hosts were ready to rebuff any such request asking for “do more”. Pakistan claims that it has done enough and now the country stands clear of the militants. In essence, asking Pakistan to redouble its efforts was the flip side of asking “do more” expressing that Pakistan’s efforts though praiseworthy were short of meeting the required targets. The words were changed but the demand persisted, do more, much to the chagrin of Pakistan. Nevertheless, it is interesting to watch “redouble” replacing “do more”.
On arrival, Mattis told reporters that during his visit he would look for “common ground” between the US and Pakistan. The ominous part of this statement is that it recognises the absence of common ground (or a diminishing common ground) between two countries at a time when the war on terror has not ended, as acknowledged by both Pakistan and the US from their resolves to continue fighting it. After the meeting, Mattis issued a statement saying that his visit was meant for keeping long-term ties between the two states. The portentous part of this statement is that the US is thinking of reviewing the kind of ties – short term or long term – with Pakistan, or perhaps no relations. In fact, through the statement Mattis clearly said that if Pakistan wanted to enjoy long-term ties with the US, it had to conform to the US demands. Mattis has not conveyed the measure the US uses to judge whether or not Pakistan had been doing more by redoubling its efforts.
Apparently, the US has been trying to fathom the performance of Pakistan from the intensity of or occurrence of conflict ravaging Afghanistan. This is where the US is prone to making a misjudgment. At this point, what the US is overlooking is that, given the limited number of forces deployed, neither the US nor the Kabul government can stop the movement of Afghans from Afghanistan to Pakistan and vice versa. Nevertheless, one thing is now shared between Pakistan and Afghanistan: terrorist attacks.
From the hierarchy in the US administration that kept visiting Pakistan and demanding “do more”, the status of Mattis is at the top. This point shows that the glass of US’ patience is full to the brim. Apparently, this visit added nothing more to the knowledge of US officials except reminding them that Pakistan had done enough and that now it was the turn of the US to ask the Afghan government to wipe out terrorists taking hide there. It was like a counter demand. With Mattis, Pakistan reiterated its demand of giving workable intelligence to act, as Pakistan wanted act on its soil on its own. This is Pakistan’s conditions-based approach to deal with the US, which is left with two options. First, repose trust in Pakistan, provide actionable intelligence and see if Pakistan delivers on its promise. Second, disregard Pakistan and attack targets falling into the category of safe heavens.
Apparently, the US has been trying to fathom the performance of Pakistan from the intensity of or occurrence of conflict ravaging Afghanistan
Interestingly, like “do more”, “redouble” also entails recognition of Pakistan’s efforts and this is what Pakistan requires: Pakistan’s past sacrifices in the war on terror have to be recognised. The same point also implies that Pakistan is a willing partner in the war. The tyranny is that despite all objections to “do more” or “redouble”, Pakistan is in no position to end its participation in the war. The continuation of war is an oppression Pakistan has to endure willy-nilly. Nevertheless, the message hidden in “do more” or “redouble” is this: Pakistan is fighting a half of the war and its efforts are not helping the US, the main partner in the war. That is, the complacency achieved by Pakistan to revel in is shy of meeting the objectives set by the US in the war.
The kind of achievements Pakistan claims are not commensurate with the kind of achievements the US expects or demands from it. One of the reasons for that is this: Pak-US relations personifying Pakistan’s defence and economic dependence on the US did not start in 2001. The major objection of India in the 1965 war was that the weapons, which Pakistan obtained from the US to ward off the communist threat in the region, were used against India. Pakistan’s delight to have given a tough time to India in 1965 was having the contribution of American weapons. Similarly, if the invasion of Afghanistan by the former USSR in 1979 was perilous to Pakistan’s integrity, it was the stinger missiles supplied by the US turning the course of war against the communist threat to Pakistan.
In short, it is not easy for Pakistan to say “no more” or “no redouble” just because Pakistan is sovereign to do so. Secondly, the war on terror is not to persist for an indefinite span of time, compared to the length of Pakistan’s relations with the US. Thirdly, Pakistan is no position to pressurise the US to exclude the role of India from Afghanistan. Fourthly, Pakistan cannot wriggle out of the war on terror unless it is finished. That is why, Pakistan needs to make its choices and select its priorities carefully.