US further sidelines Pakistan on Afghan issue

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Dr. Zafar Nawaz Jaspal
The National Defense Authorization Act 2019, passed recently by the US Congress, is having a slight impact on the Pakistani economy, but will be having a more predictable impact on the Islamabad-Washington alliance in the war on terrorism. It also reinforces India’s strategic significance in the Americans’ South Asia and Indian Ocean policy, which will be disquieting for Pakistani defense planners.
The new law permitted $150 million of security-related aid to Pakistan, which is significantly less than the $700 million that was authorized through the Coalition Support Fund last year. Importantly, it makes “Pakistan ineligible for money from the CSF, but adds it to a list of countries that can receive a related form of assistance designed to help partner nations bolster border security.”
The decreasing trend in American security assistance is a reflection of the deterioration in the Pakistan-US strategic partnership. Many American security analysts, without realizing Islamabad’s limitations, have been questioning Pakistan’s commitment to the Afghan-led, Afghan-owned peace process. They are claiming that Pakistan has been harboring terror groups like the Taliban and the Haqqani network on its side of the border.
US President Donald Trump’s new plan for South Asia and Afghanistan and his New Year’s Day tweet have aggravated animosity between Islamabad and Washington. He tweeted on Jan. 1: “The United States has foolishly given Pakistan more than 33 billion dollars in aid over the last 15 years, and they have given us nothing but lies and deceit, thinking of our leaders as fools. They give safe haven to the terrorists we hunt in Afghanistan, with little help. No more!” From that time, it was obvious Washington’s assistance would be capped.
The Pakistani armed forces need the Americans’ financial and material assistance in combating the menace of transnational terrorism. Likewise, the Americans require the cooperation of Pakistan in stabilizing Afghanistan, particularly in engaging the Afghan Taliban in the dialogue process and destroying the remnants of religiously radicalized militant groups such as Al-Qaeda, who have been residing in the Afghanistan-Pakistan border region and sponsoring terrorist attacks against Afghans and US and NATO troops deployed in Afghanistan.
The current bone of contention is the famous Haqqani network, which is an offshoot of the Taliban. The Americans are convinced that the network keeps sanctuaries on Pakistani territory, while the government of Pakistan denies the Trump administration’s proclamations.
In practice, the Trump administration has effectively frozen security assistance to Pakistan. Nevertheless, both states have occasionally shown flexibility in their stances to prevent gridlock in their bilateral dealings. The recent bill reveals that these contacts did not end the mistrust between the states.
The revealing aspect of NDAA-19 is that it does away with the onerous reporting requirements and certifications, such as action against the Haqqani network, Lashkar-e-Taiba and other terror outfits, for the disbursement of US aid. The legislation ended the Pentagon’s pressurizing leverage, which it had been using on Pakistan since the entry into force of the Kerry-Lugar bill in 2009.
Importantly, NDAA-19 ends the tedious certification process without creating any practical relief for Pakistan. It only makes Pakistan eligible for modest future security assistance, which “will be authorized by the Congress without having to produce detailed reports and make difficult certifications regarding Pakistan’s support vis-a-vis the Haqqani network and other threats to the United States.”
The NDAA-19 will further cement the Indo-US strategic partnership, while emphasizing that such a partnership should enable “strategic, operational and tactical coordination between our (US and India) militaries, and be jointly developed between the countries.” It emphasized exploring additional steps to facilitate military interoperability, information sharing and appropriate technology transfers; and pursues strategic initiatives to help develop India’s defense capabilities and improve its role in the Arabian Gulf, the Indian Ocean region, and the Western Pacific. Indeed, the increasingly strategic role of India in the Gulf and the Indian Ocean is problematic for Pakistan.
The NDAA-19 military assistance and conditionality clauses regarding Pakistan underscore the deviating regional and international positions of both states. The Americans are uncomfortable due to the Russians’ assertiveness and China’s increasing economic clout and military modernization. Trump’s National Security Strategy of 2017 pointed out: “China and Russia challenge American power, influence and interests, attempting to erode American security and prosperity.” Conversely, Islamabad has been increasing its military, economic and diplomatic engagement with Beijing and struggling to improve its military cooperation with Moscow.
In a nutshell, Pakistan’s armed forces destroyed the transnational terrorist organizations’ sanctuaries and established the writ of the state in the Federal Administrative Tribal Areas. Diplomatically, Islamabad has failed to mitigate Washington’s mistrust. Hence, instead of acknowledging Pakistan’s sacrifices and achievements in the war on terrorism, the US has been expressing its serious reservations over Pakistan’s role in Afghanistan and capping its military assistance.
(Dr. Zafar Nawaz Jaspal is an Islamabad-based analyst and professor at the School of Politics and International Relations, Quaid-i-Azam University. E-mail: jaspal_99@hotmail.com)