What explains Washington’s diplomatic row with Islamabad? | Pakistan Today

What explains Washington’s diplomatic row with Islamabad?

US has tried to force Pakistan’s hand but to no avail

The row between Pakistan and the United States, which began a few weeks ago with the latter placing travel restrictions on Pakistani diplomats, is worsening as Pakistan has also imposed similar restrictions on US diplomatic staff posted in the country.

Among other things, the growing diplomatic confrontation shows that bilateral relations are anything but normal. Moreover, it’s expected that in the coming weeks the existing distrust and hostility may widen with Pakistan unlikely to give in to US pressure to amend its regional security policy. On the other hand, however, Islamabad should be expected to speed up its efforts to diversify its foreign policy, to further decrease its dependence on the US.

Trump’s policy of undercutting Pakistan’s interests in the region and internationally has already backfired. Not only the policy makers in Pakistan have openly said that their country should not be expected to make any accommodations to Washington in an environment where Islamabad’s strategic interests are put to risk but should be expected to do everything to make sure that the country’s regional security and economic interests are protected. There are two major aspects which the current administration in Washington is trying to target to force Pakistan not only into changing its regional security policy, but also to send a clear message that Islamabad’s aim to open up to Washington’s enemies is not welcome.

The war in Afghanistan is entering another vicious phase whose end unfortunately doesn’t appear foreseeable. During the last few weeks, the Islamic State has carried out some of the bloodiest suicide bombings in Afghanistan. The group which also poses a direct challenge to Pakistan has not been targeted by the US and its allies as swiftly as the alliance is focused on containing the Taliban. Pakistan has been continuously targeted by the US for its alleged inability to bring the Taliban to the negotiating table. While Pakistan has made it clear that the country doesn’t have any influence over Taliban to force them into making any concessions to Washington, the latter believes that it is Islamabad which is responsible for the militant group’s survival in Afghanistan. Understandably, Pakistan should be expected to force Taliban into making any concessions when the former’s own regional security interests remain a direct target of the current government in the White House.

The policy makers in Islamabad believe that Washington is not targeting IS as forcefully as it should be; there are already reports that Washington directly or indirectly assisting the militant organisation in Afghanistan in an effort to undermine Pakistan, China, Russia and Iran’s security interests in the region which are directly under threat from IS. Apparently Pakistan as well as its allies in the region consider Taliban an important factor in Afghanistan and prefer a peace process which accommodates the group in Afghanistan’s political set up. Washington on its part considers the group a direct threat to its regional security and economic interests for the Taliban have always asked for Washington’s withdrawal from Afghanistan for any meaningful peace process to begin.

The demand of the Taliban that US should withdraw its forces from Afghanistan doesn’t sit well with the policy makers in Washington as leaving Kabul at a time when regional geopolitics is in flux would mean offering its foes an open field to shape the region’s future as they deem fit to their interests.

The war in Afghanistan is entering another vicious phase whose end unfortunately doesn’t appear foreseeable. During the last few weeks, the Islamic State has carried out some of the bloodiest suicide bombings

In this context, Washington has tried to force Pakistan’s hand but to no avail as the latter has put in place efforts to reach out to other regional states, particularly Russia, to counter US pressure. While Pakistan doesn’t want to see its influence decreasing in Washington, Islamabad has no option but to open up to other regional states. It’s likely that Pakistan and US’s current confrontation will continue as it sits on the back of a disagreement that is strategic in nature and both states are unlikely to make any concessions.

Any concession which can come out of this crisis is a joint diplomatic outreach which should take place behind closed doors and away from the gaze of media, for any game of point scoring from any side would make the cooperation difficult. Washington needs to check its policy of isolating Pakistan for the latter still remains a major actor in South Asia. The current environment can only be reversed if Washington also takes into account Pakistan’s concerns rather than making gains at Islamabad’s expense. Pakistan’s decision to limit US’s diplomat’s movement shows that the country is willing to counter Washington’s actions, a choice which Islamabad has made for it feels emboldened due to its growing outreach toward China and other regional states.

Umair Jamal

Umair Jamal is a graduate of the School of Government and International Affairs, Durham University. He is a research fellow with the Centre for Governance and Policy. He regularly writes for various media outlets. He can be contacted on Twitter: @UJAmaLs.