If there is blockade in US grants on other fronts too, Pak continues to be at receiving end
By Mridu Kumari
Disconnect between America and Pakistan is growing. With this, so depressed has become Pakistani leaders that they see every non-favourable development in their country with conspiratorial angle. Khwaja Asif in his first press conference in Islamabad, after being appointed as Pakistan’s new Foreign Minister, accused India and the US of being involved in an international conspiracy to sabotage the Indus Water Treaty. His response came in the background of the World Bank’s recent stand that the Indus Water Treaty’s clause permits India to build hydropower plant on Indus rivers’ tributaries.
But without being conversant about the Treaty he lashed out at New Delhi and America’s Trump administration for such development. This is described by some experts as ‘psychological spasm’ which has resulted in following America’s move to keep Pakistan away from years of its care and grooming. Just a few days ago the Donald Trump administration blocked transfer of $350 million as coalition support fund to Pakistan because Islamabad failed to take sufficient actions against Haqqani network.
This is second year in a row when the US has stopped money to Pakistan for not taking steps against the Haqqani group. In 2016 also, then US President Barack Obama, frustrated over Islamabad’s unwillingness to act against the Afghan Taliban and Haqqani Network, withheld $300 million in reimbursement to Pakistan. If there is blockade on the economic assistance issue, on other fronts too Pakistan continues to be at the receiving end of the US’ ire. There is already significant 40 per cent drop in grant of visas to Pakistan nationals by the US, which earlier refused to invite Pakistan’s former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif for a meeting with President Donald Trump despite the fact that he had expressed his desire to see him in Washington.
Further adding salt to Pakistan’s injury, the US administration denied a chance to Sharif for a meeting with President Trump on the sideline of Islamic countries’ conclave in Riyadh in May. Even as both leaders could not avoid exchange of greetings and pleasantries during the conclave which was attended by Islamic countries’ leaders from 55 countries. In fact, the US is consistently pushing and shoving Pakistan to corner, indicating that trust level between the two sides has gone very down. And it is happening since 2011 when the US killed Al Qaeda supreme leader Osama bin Laden in Pakistan’s Abbottabad, a garrison town which is located a few miles away from Islamabad. Contradictory narrative is given by some experts over growing gap in relations between the two countries. They say Pakistan has lost its utility to the US.
Their argument is that since the US has withdrawn majority of its forces (only a rump remains) from Afghanistan, there is much less in the US’ political and diplomatic coffer for offer to Pakistan. Others argue that Pakistan’s growing closeness with China is the reason why Americans have no love lost with Islamabad. This argument is not completely baseless. China which is engaged in building China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CEPC) has already committed to invest over $55 billion US dollar in the game changer project. In fact, Pakistan is also helping Beijing in entrenching its position in Afghanistan, the land locked nation which has received significant military aid from China also.
There is a fear among experts that Pakistan which clandestinely developed nuclear weapons with help from China could become another rogue state like North Korea. Writing in his book ‘Neighbours in Arms: An American Senator’s Quest for Disarmament in a Nuclear Subcontinent’, former US Senator from South Dakota Larry Pressler said, “Pakistan should be treated like North Korea-like a rogue state. The only reason Pakistan is not a totally failed state is because countries like China and the United States continue to prop it up with massive amounts of foreign aid.” The book that hid the US market recently, reveals what went on behind the scenes in the years when the Pressler Amendment was in force.
“We let Pakistan use US taxpayer money to build their nuclear weapons programme. Why do we now let them use US taxpayer money to harbour terrorists? Without our money and military supplies, Pakistan would be powerless. Why do we continue to call Pakistan an ally? Why do we continue to be blackmailed,” Pressler asked.
The book actually serves as a critique to the US’ policy towards Pakistan. Needless to say, Washington has not been able to make Pakistan do what the former wants. Even the Trump administration appears to be a bit confused as to how Pakistan should be tackled. According to some experts there are two main reasons of this confusion: First, the US doesn’t want to pull out its troops from Afghanistan because of Russia and China factor, second, to remain positioned in Afghanistan, Islamabad’s utility can’t be completely ignored. Yet, however, fact is that the Pentagon and the Department of State are not on the same page on Pakistan.
While the Department of State’s view is that without support from Pakistan, it would be impossible for the US to rid Afghanistan of violence and blood bath. But the Pentagon’s stand is, as per its report to Congress, the Pakistan government is supporting Afghanistan-focused militant groups, including the Taliban and the Haqqani network. If diplomats are to be believed, several Pentagon officials are in league with former US ambassador to Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad’s view that Pakistan should be designated as a state that is sponsoring terrorism.
Even Pakistan’s former ambassador to the US, Hussain Haqqani has a piece of advice for Trump. “For Pakistan, the alliance has been more about securing weapons, economic aid and diplomatic support in its confrontation with India,” Haqqani wrote in an op-ed column in The New York Times. “The Bush administration gave Pakistan $12.4 billion in aid, and the Obama administration forked over $21 billion. These incentives did not make Pakistan more amenable to cutting off support for the Afghan Taliban…. Trump must now consider alternatives,” Haqqani wrote. Growing frustrations in Pakistan over the US’ move to keep Islamabad out of its physical embrace should be seen in the light of alternatives being used by Washington against Islamabad.