Pakistan’s Trump Card

The US will eventually come to the home truth that a strong and vibrant Pakistan is critical to its interests in the region, there is no solution in Afghanistan without Pakistan.  

Repatriation of Afghan refugees has remained one of the many issues that have contributed to Pakistan-Afghanistan relations. (Photo courtesy APP)

Because of US sanctions economic assistance has been suspended before, military sales terminated, etc. Reacting to US President Donald Trump’s New Year tweet, Foreign Minister Khawaja Asif vowed the Pakistani audience telling the Wall Street Journal that “we are no longer allies” and that “Washington had turned Islamabad into a whipping boy for its failures in Afghanistan”. The DG ISPR brought the rhetoric pitch down by responding quite firmly but more prudently, very noticeably keeping the door for cooperation open.

 

Do all the US intelligence resources confirm that Pakistan’s contact with the Haqqanis is now more than a dialogue? An independent verification will find their physical presence on Pakistani soil being eliminated, or almost so.  India played its “trump card” by finally convincing the US that the CPEC is a threat to US long-term interests in the region. With the Afghan government in an advanced stage of disarray because of increased Taliban activity and severe internal Pakistan-Tajik-Uzbek divisions, why is the US persisting in throwing money (and American lives) down this black hole being sensitive to the Chinese presence? We are faced with a double whammy here, with US and Indian interests, unfortunately, coinciding in their strategy to contain China, the US National Security Council is staffed in some strength by US citizens of Indian origin. Not many in the US know that Nikki Haley, the US Ambassador to the UN, being pure Sikh virulently favors Indian intentions.

 

The US is sensitive to sustaining casualties, increasing proportionately coming into harm’s way physically taking part in counter-insurgency operations.  India has successfully clubbed the freedom fighters operating against Indian occupation forces in Kashmir with the militants operating in Afghanistan. Egged on by incessant India and Afghan propaganda, Pakistan is the perfect “fall guy”. To be fair the US has still been very careful describing their primary concern as directed against those militants supporting the Afghan Taliban.

 

Gen David Petraeus the US Commander in Afghanistan before he became Director CIA, publicly stated there was no evidence of Pakistan’s role in destabilizing Afghanistan, Former US Secretary Defence Chuck Hagel confirmed that India was creating problems in Pakistan. As US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton testified in Congress that Pakistan was let down by the US.  The Khawaja Asif knee-jerk reaction notwithstanding, we must keep our cool. While Pakistan should not roll over and play dead, pragmatism and prudence must prevail with the issue being debated by both the National Assembly and the Senate. Spouting jingoistic rhetoric is cheap, but getting into a confrontation with the US on any front political, economic, or military, will be counter-productive. Many of the present US policies have drawn criticism from the American people. The Jan 5 New York Times editorial warned that irrespective of the differences, Trump should reconsider, to quote “President Trump cannot afford to walk away from Pakistan, which has often provided vital intelligence and has the world’s fastest-growing nuclear arsenal. Whether Pakistan will cooperate after the aid freeze remains to be seen. Initially, some Pakistani officials reacted harshly but on Jan. 5 a Foreign Ministry statement talked about the need for mutual respect and patience as the two countries address common threats” Unquote.

 

Confrontation is not an option except in the event of an armed incursion into our territory, self-defense will leave us no choice but to defend ourselves.  The ground route and airspace permissions will then be automatically excluded.  We should be able to convincingly refute the evidence of terror groups the US alleges Pakistan is harboring, on our part, the terrorist activity within Pakistan makes it incumbent in our own interest to get rid of such groups. The US will eventually come to the home truth that a strong and vibrant Pakistan is critical to its interests in the region, there is no solution in Afghanistan without Pakistan.

 

It is alleged Pakistan received US$33 billion in US aid since 9/11, Dr. Hafiz Pasha says, “According to the Washington-based Center for Global Development, almost $22 billion, equivalent to a two-thirds, has been in the nature of security assistance, mostly reimbursements for the Coalition Support Fund (CSF). The remaining $11 billion (or one-third) can be classified as economic assistance or aid. During the Musharraf government, total assistance received was close to $12 billion. The Kerry-Lugar Bill US peaked during the tenure of the PPP government with $16 billion disbursed in five years. Dr. Pasha has a worst-case economic scenario with the only option Pakistan has will be approaching the IMF for a Program. Impossible prior actions demanded by IMF could include steep devaluation, a big hike in tax rates and power tariffs and so on.  Can Pakistan afford these?

 

With 3 million Afghans, including 1.6 million unregistered ones, on our soil, security officials have constantly been warning, about the Da’ish presence in border areas ‘as a threat to national security’. Among other factors, Donald Trump’s promise to deport 11 million illegal immigrants struck a chord among a wide swath of the US electorate. Vociferously supporting his building the “Mexican Wall” to keep immigrants out, they propelled him to the US presidency. The Federal Cabinet on January 3 granted a short extension to the refugees after the expiry of their stay on December 31, 2017. The cabinet members belonging to the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam (JUI-F) – Maulana Amir Zaman and Akram Khan Durrani – who usually support the refugees, also kept mum. Confining refugees to their camps attempted by the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (K-P) government in 2016 led to the repatriation of about 500,000 refugees, the highest-ever figure to date. Afghan Refugees Executive Council Chief Abdul Ghaffar Shinwari said, “We praise Pakistani government for hosting us for several decades but we should not be targeted due to the ongoing disturbances between the two countries.  Pakistan should allow Afghan refugees who were willing to return but in a dignified manner, to stay on its soil”. India should show their “great love” for the Afghan people by taking a million refugees, at least a token 10000?  Given our affinity to the Afghan people, a flexible visa regime is being considered where one or two members of a family would be issued visas on Afghan passports while the rest of the family would be repatriated.

 

Keeping our cool taking and a pragmatic stand, we must try and repair ties with the US without compromising on our self-respect. While it is not something we would like to do but very much in keeping with US President’s absolute determination to deport all illegal immigrants, the repatriation of Afghan refugees happens to be our “Trump card”, pun intended.

 

The writer is a Pakistan-based defense and security analyst.

About Ikram Sehgal

Ikram Sehgal

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