US strategic objectives and perceived Pakistani role
Dr Muhammad Khan
Pakistan has been a key state in the Asian Continent which helped the United Sates in its contemporary super-power status. During the cold war, it was the most significant country which supported US containment policy against Communism. In this regard, the decade of 1980 was the most decisive era, where Pakistani geopolitics and its strategic manoeuvring forced Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan after a crushing defeat. The demise of Communist Soviet Union as a challenge to Capitalism in 1991 brought an end to bi-polar world order, embarking United States to lead the world with absolute power. Instead of rewarding Pakistan, US put sanctions on it and left the region in haste. After the incident of Twin Towers (9/11) in US, Pakistan again played a decisive role, assisting United States in its so-called war against terrorism as a front line state. In the process Pakistan suffered 80,000 human losses, $123 billion economic losses with evident social fault-lines.
In 2011, during her visit to Pakistan former US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton accepted the fact that the United Sates had left Pakistan in lurch at decisive stages in their bilateral relationship. She also promised that history will not be repeated in future. But, the US has its own national interests and priorities, therefore, did the same. Under President Trump, Pakistan was deprived of its due share in the Coalition Support Fund (CSF) and other financial assistance, US has been rendering since 2001 to support war against terrorism. Indeed, Trump Administration created complications in the Pak-US relationship which is continuation of US strategy or else part of its national interest.
Many writers, analysts and academicians have written extensively about this complex nature of Pak-US relationship. Daniel Markey, a long-time observer of Pak-US relations, wrote in his book, “No Exit from Pakistan: America’s Tortured Relationship with Islamabad”, that despite all the problems and trust deficit that the US had with Pakistan and its military – the answer lay in managing the problems rather than finding a solution. Why managing problems and why not a permanent solution? It’s because the US civilian leadership thinks differently from Pentagon. The recent example of Pentagon managing the damage caused by Trump’s anti-Pakistan tweets is illustration of the same complexity. US Establishment understands that for gaining headway in South Asia and Afghanistan, Pakistani support is essentially required.
Pentagon has been advising President Trump that such discriminatory acts would harm the US interests in Asia, particularly in Afghanistan. It was in the same backdrop that President Trump wrote a letter to Prime Minister of Pakistan, Mr Imran Khan, for assistance in brokering a deal with the Taliban. Besides, there has been a desire at the level of State Department as well as at Pentagon for a re-engagement with Pakistan. Re-engagement with Pakistan is not because of US love with Pakistan, but for the attainment of its strategic objectives, while being in Afghanistan.
Currently, United States has five major objectives in the region. These strategic objectives are: One, to have a check on the rising power of China, which US consider as its peer competitor in the international politics. While being in Afghanistan, US can conveniently engage China on multiple grounds; strategic, economic and political. Two; countering resurgent Russia, where President Putin is openly challenging the United States and its absolute power. Russian efforts for stabilization of Afghanistan involving Taliban and other regional actors are indeed aimed at countering US presence in Afghanistan. Three: to have a close watch on Iran, its expanding power in the Middle East and particularly its nuclear programme. Fourth: to keep pressure on nuclear Pakistan and contest Pak-China relationship. US would like a politically instable, economically ruined and militarily weak Pakistan, which can act as its tool in Asian politics. Fifth: to have an influence in the Central Asian region, this entails two aspects; denying Russian and Chinese involvement and paving ground for its own influence there. Indeed, as a super power US would always like to counter any effort by rising and resurgent powers. Therefore, the geopolitics of Pakistan and Afghanistan is significant in this regard, which US would never like to lose. The above mentioned US strategic objectives can be achieved only if US is able to prolong its military stay in Afghanistan which needs Pakistani backing and reconciliation with Taliban.
The recent change in US attitude and its attempt to re-engage with Pakistan is indicative of the fact that the super-power has once again realized the significance of Pakistan in the implementation of its strategic objective. In this regard, the two statements of President Trump need careful analysis. Trump’s New Year tweet of January 1, 2018, seriously criticised Pakistan with dire consequences. However, his New Year statement of January 2, 2019, he seems pacifying Pakistan. He said in his statement, “he looks forward to meet the new Pakistani leadership with the desire to have a great relationship with Pakistan.”
This sudden change at Washington has not come up because of US love for Pakistan, but aims at attainment of above-mentioned US strategic objectives, where Pakistan is envisioned as a linchpin. At this decisive stage of global and regional strategic realignment, Pakistani leadership needs to be farsighted in deciding its future role. Pakistan must safeguard its long-term national and strategic interests, its economic interests and above all its national sovereignty and integrity. Therefore, let’s not repeat the historical mistakes.