A study by the Council of Foreign Relations, a US think tank, has revealed the extent of US bombings in various countries around the world and shifting trends in the country’s counter-terrorism priorities. Whereas earlier years of the Obama administration saw bombings in Pakistan’s tribal areas every time there was a rise in cross border activity or an attack on US military personnel posted in Afghanistan, 2016 has seen a sharp decline in such aerial attacks. This is partially attributed to the military offensive launched against terrorist strongholds by Pakistan since 2014 but also due to the focus which Syria and the rise of the Islamic State (IS) have commanded in the last few years. There were over 26,000 bombings in 2016 of which only three took place in Pakistan and a vast majority in Syria and Iraq. These bombings have formed a crucial part of the US military strategy during the Obama administration, however the study questions their usefulness in terms of reducing the threat posed by extremist elements.
While the decline in US military interventions in Pakistan is good for our country in terms of paving the way for an improved relationship, the inauguration of President Trump is a factor whose impact is as yet indeterminable. He has proved himself to be unpredictable, often changing his stance on key policy matters and issuing contradictory statements which leave room open for interpretation. Mr Trump has also loudly proclaimed his disdain for the US intelligence agencies which have led the war against terror for the past decade.
The US security and intelligence landscape could be vastly different under his leadership or it may continue along the same path as the Obama administration once the dust has settled. However, whichever way the board is set from 2017 onwards, Pakistan has shown itself willing to maintain cordial relations with the new administration regardless of any personal misgivings. It is, however, too early to tell whether 2016’s statistics will reflect a long-term trend in US anti-terror strategy towards Pakistan, given that the IS is reportedly finding footholds in our country as well.
Published in The Express Tribune, January 10th, 2017.