How not to ask for Pakistan’s cooperation
Prime Minister Imran Khan in a recent interview to the Washington Post said that “I would never want to have a relationship where Pakistan is treated like a hired gun — given money to fight someone else’s war.” Khan was answering a question related to Pakistan’s deeply troubled relationship with the United States. Furthermore, he accused Washington of pushing away Pakistan with its inconsistent and flawed policies towards Pakistan which were only focused on making security gains at Pakistan’s expense.
Khan’s response underlines his deep resentment against Washington’s policy of exploiting Pakistan’s influence in the region for their own gains while Islamabad continues to pay with blood with costs that have had grave implications for the country’s economy. If one is to dissect Khan’s disapproval of Pakistan and the US’s bilateral relationship in which the former considers Pakistan’s treatment as unfair, one should also explore the growing discomfort of Pakistan’s civilian and military leadership with this relationship.
As Khan said during his interview that we prefer to have a good working relationship with the US and we prefer a relationship which is not one dimensional. For decades, Pakistan and the US’s bilateral relationship has been defined by both countries respective security needs and interests. However, Pakistan on its part, has, for decades pushed to open the bilateral relationship beyond security calculus which has not been fully encouraged or welcomed by Washington. For the US, Pakistan’s entire utility has primarily remained concerned with having, by and large, a security-focused relationship with the country. While Pakistan has worked closely with the US to tackle growing militant challenges in the region, Pakistan is the only country in this relationship that has paid the actual price of taking on extremist forces operating along the Durand Line.
For decades, there has been an understanding in Islamabad that Washington is an unreliable ally. This has been one lesson in Pakistan which has remained an irrefutable truth: the moment Washington realizes that its own security goals are fulfilled, it shuts down its commitments with Islamabad. The withdrawal during the late 90s from Afghanistan without resolving the mess which Washington had created while fighting against the Soviet Union, not only became a reason for the US to come back to the same country to fight its longest war in history but also became a reason which brought back the US’s interest in Pakistan.
For decades, Pakistan and the US’s bilateral relationship has been defined by both countries respective security needs and interests.
Moreover, what has also damaged US’s influence and credibility in Pakistan’s policy-making circles is the former’s swipe on Pakistan’s security apparatus’s willingness to work with Washington to at least keep afloat a military to military relationship between the two countries. President Trump’s decision to cut Pakistan’s security assistance which Islamabad has claimed for offering space, logistical support and cooperation to assist the U.S. in the region and to shut down military training programs with Pakistan only cement the assertion that Washington is an unreliable ally. While we are not there yet, one needs to float this question: would the U.S. be interested in having any relationship with Pakistan if the former has completely exited from Afghanistan? If with a deep engagement in Afghanistan, Washington claims that Pakistan has not done anything for the US, what will they be saying when they have left the region in terms of Pakistan’s security utility? These are some considerations which Pakistan’s policy-making circles should have on their minds.
Now, with this situation in place, while Pakistan wants peace and stability in Afghanistan as Islamabad stands to gain most from reconciliation next door, the country is not going to help the US achieve its withdrawal from Afghanistan if it harms Pakistan’s national interests. If the US believes that Pakistan is going to undermine its own security and national interests because they do not align with Washington’s interests in the region, the former needs to reorient its policy towards Islamabad. Moreover, while a letter from President Trump, asking Pakistan for help in Afghanistan may be a good gesture, it doesn’t do anything in terms of rearranging Pakistan’s own understanding and assessment of the situation in Afghanistan and what the military, which remains on the front lines for decades concerning the situation in Afghanistan, needs to do in order to keep Pakistan’s interests at the epicenter.
Pakistan’s civilian and the military leadership appear to have developed consensus concerning Washington relationship with Islamabad: while Pakistan would like to have a good working relationship with the U.S., the latter should not expect cooperation when it’s not even ready to recognize Pakistan’s efforts. Washington’s inconsistent policy towards Pakistan has only left space for confusion, mistrust, and suspicion which is not encouraging when it comes to asking Islamabad for assistance in Afghanistan while blaming the country at the same time.
Washington may be frustrated with its position in Afghanistan but that’s not a position Pakistan has created.