- Peace in Afghanistan means peace in Pakistan
A country’s foreign policy helps determine its position in the international arena. It is an extension of a country’s domestic policy and highlights what the country wants to be known for. Sweden has spent a decade or so in introducing a feminist foreign policy; which calls for women’s rights, representation and resources for a systematic gender equality perspective. But this is a case for matured democracies and countries outside of active conflict. In Pakistan, the situation is a little more complicated.
Pakistan has always had an externally-dominated foreign policy, creating decades of bittersweet Pak-US alliances on a range of matters. With concerns to Afghanistan’s liberation, cross-border insurgency, and the role of Pakistan’s civil-military leadership in negotiating peace in Afghanistan, Pak-US ties have always been in hot water.
With concerns to the future of Taliban and western diplomacy, Pakistan has always been at the focal point of all international debate, especially after 9/11 when Pakistan had to opt for ‘with US’ as a bargaining chip of reaching out to the world. However, it has been more than a decade and Pakistan has been successively unable to generate a consensus in the international community for its sacrifices that it had to bear for its active role in the war on terror.
It’s an ignominy that the Pakistani diplomats haven’t been able to foster international support for efforts aimed at rooting out terrorism and maintaining border controls at the Durand Line when it is only acknowledged on the eastern side. While Pakistan hasn’t completely rooted out the problem of terrorism, it needs to reiterate its sacrifices so that the 17 year-long devastation can be penned down to better words.
This can be a starting point for this government’s dialogue with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo for his first official visit. Falling short of this, is going to be in line with old precedents, but rising above it, might salvage a better negotiating position for Pakistan.
PM Imran Khan is already known for his bias towards the Taliban. But his earnest for creating space for dialogue is in line with western thought
Since taking office, US President Donald Trump, aside from repeating the mantra of “do more” for targeting militant sanctuaries in the country, hindered International Monetary Fund’s bailout that can ease out pressure from Pakistan’s economy, has announced to cut USD 300 million payment under Coalition Support Fund (CSF) ahead of Pompeo’s official visit, thereby suspending all military aid to Pakistan. Cutting aid ahead of the visit is a decisive strategy for US, one that has already set the tone for this meeting; Trump’s attempts at casus belli will serve a counterproductive blow to Pakistan, but this won’t be as dire as his stance on foreign policy decisions with other states.
The drastic cut in aid is perhaps what the US will make Pakistan negotiate against; get promises for an all-out strategy for “doing more” in targeting militant sanctuaries within Pakistan, and also across the border. With no matter how much assertion, Pakistan won’t be able to get this aid, not right away any way. With any luck, this would be cut up into much smaller portions and distributed over some time, with attached pre-requisites that would need to be fulfilled within stipulated timelines, in order to avail the full amount.
For us, this aid is the sustenance for Operations Zarb-e-Azb and Radd-ul-Fasaad, and various other counter-insurgency measures which include extensive border controls, as well as rehabilitation programs for the Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs). For such vast operations, USD 300 million is already too small an amount, and US’ idiosyncratic tilt towards installing extensive checks is a derogation and downplays the efforts Pakistan has made thus far in curbing the problem of terrorism in the country.
However, analysing this in terms of Pakistan’s geo strategic location and the desperation of the Trump administration to drive a concrete hard bargain for exhibiting its grip in Afghanistan; Pakistan would be able to fare up better this time. The recent explosions in Kabul and Jalalabad are an indication that even after 17 years of constant shredding and rebuilding and attempts at negotiated peace, the US is largely unfamiliar with the territory and the enemy it has been fighting an endless war with. This position can be exploited by Pakistan, but with the right terms.
PM Imran Khan is already known for his bias towards the Taliban. But his earnest for creating space for dialogue is in line with western thought that is seeing negotiated peace with insurgents as the move forward in diplomatic channels. This government’s approach of having constructive dialogue with the Taliban can be an idea that can point towards a new direction to Pak-US’ engagement in Afghanistan.
Countries like Russia, Iran and Turkey have already adopted a pre-dialogue approach with the ISIS and, especially Russia which has tried to get Taliban at the negotiating table, wouldn’t shy away from doing so again. For China and its multi-billion dollar China Pakistan Economic Corridor too, peace in Afghanistan is a necessity. This primarily stems from the fact that peace in Afghanistan means peace in Pakistan. Cold US ties this time around mean that this is an opportunity for Pakistan to cosy up to other states such as China, Russia and Iran.
But such an outright diversion in foreign policy can’t be expected from a government that is only now taking its first steps. For now, the best Pakistan can do is to create a Pakistan-friendly narrative, and get it across. This is the time that we can drive a better bargain, and that can only come from sound policing.