The ‘stop-over ally’

Pakistani officials met US visitors led by Pompeo on September 5, 2018

M Ziauddin September 08, 2018
The writer served as executive editor of The Express Tribune from 2009 to 2014

From the most ‘allied ally’ of the Cold War days to the ‘Non-Nato ally’ of the post-9/11 years we have now been relegated to the ‘stop-over ally’. As the Afghan war entered the stalemate mode and Washington started wooing India, top US officials on their way to Afghanistan or India would, on occasions, make a stopover in Islamabad just to read us the riot act. Most of the time the short and sweet message would be ‘do more or…”.

Fed up with the mantra some years down the line we started responding with our own mantra of ‘no more’ to rhyme with ‘do more’. And by the time it was President Trump’s turn to define relations between Pakistan and the US the language of the riot act had turned too insulting, too abusive forcing Pakistan to throw up its arms in utter frustration making it difficult for Pakistan to maintain a dignified relationship with the US.

The two were found disagreeing even in what was said or not said in what was actually a courtesy call by US Secretary of State Pompeo to PM Imran Khan. And a more devastating difference was detected between Pakistan’s version of what had happened during the interactions between Pakistani officials and the US visitors led by Pompeo on September 5, 2018 and that of the US State Department readout about the same interactions. Contrary to our version, the US State Department readout claimed to have said the US team conveyed to Pakistan the need ‘to take sustained and decisive measures against terrorists and militants threatening regional peace and stability.’

Of course, there was no reiteration of ‘do more’ mantra in the talks but as one could see this phrase was spelled out in more detail and to add insult to the injury the advice was not confined to terror threat to Afghanistan alone but to the whole region which meant threat to India as well.

And true enough, after the US-India talks the next day, Sushma Swaraj, India’s foreign minister addressing a joint press conference, asserted that counterterrorism cooperation between India and the US “has acquired a new qualitative edge and purpose and the two have agreed to deepen ties in international forums like the UN and the Financial Action Task Force”.

“We welcomed the recent designations of Lashkar-e-Taiba terrorists by the US. They underscore the international community’s scrutiny over the threat of terrorism emanating from Pakistan, which has affected India and the US alike. On the 10th anniversary of the 26/11 attacks, we recognised the importance of justice and retribution for the masterminds behind this terrorist attack,” Swaraj said.

“India supports President Trump’s South Asia Policy. His call for Pakistan to stop its policy of supporting cross-border terrorism finds resonance with us,” she added.

The two sides also discussed the ongoing efforts by India and the US in promoting an Afghan-led, Afghan-owned and Afghan government-controlled reconciliation process in the country.

All of this was waiting to happen. And as usual we seem to have sleep-walked into enemy territory. Of course, we can bank on our all-weather friend, China, to counterbalance the Indo-US pressure. But having its own battles to fight China is already engaged in a trade war with the US and it has just been able to cool off a very hot border crisis with India.

Therefore, we should be fighting our battles on our own rather than depending on others. To start with, we need to revisit our Afghan and India policies. In the case of Afghanistan, it would be in the interest of Pakistan to redesign the policy on the assumption that the US is not leaving the war-torn country in a hurry. Next, we should permit Afghanistan and India to trade over land via Pakistan. And at the same time, we should establish mutually beneficial economic relations with India. This will help us in getting integrated with the regional economy. This policy would not only yield massive peace dividends but would also accelerate allround inclusive growth lifting millions out of poverty in the region.

Published in The Express Tribune, September 8th, 2018.

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