By Aditya Aamir
It is no longer business as usual between United States and Pakistan as it has not been between India and Pakistan. With US President Donald Trump’s tweet and subsequent US actions, US-Pak ties went into a “tailspin”, as had Indo-Pak relationship after the Narendra Modi government took over in 2014.
Whatever little warmth was there in Indo-Pakistan relationship went south after India chose not to hold talks with Pakistan until and unless cross-border terrorism stopped. Now, the United States has suspended aid to Pakistan unless and until Pakistan dealt with terror emanating from Afghan Taliban and the Haqqani Network.
With both countries, Pakistan has chosen not to change policy citing national interest. Army calls the shots in Pakistan. The civilian government merely echoes. Nawaz Sharif would have resisted the Army but he has been removed. The Pakistan Army does not want an end to the Kashmir dispute and conflict and it believes Afghanistan is “its” for better or worse.
A Pakistani foreign policy expert says the decision to cut US assistance to Pakistan had been in the works for some time and that there was “chatter about giving Pakistan a year” to come level. The year is almost up but US actions against Pakistan began before that.
Did the Trump administration take a cue from the Narendra Modi government? The answer could be ‘yes’ because Trump has been pushing Modi to join the party in Afghanistan and Pakistan has been treating the US more or less like it behaves with India.
Trump has an advantage over Modi. He can do things to Pakistan which Modi cannot. Trump can take the attack into Pakistan with drone and surgical strikes. If India strikes Pakistan with a drone it will be war and India has never attacked first. But if the US does, and China intervenes, then what?
With China making the right noises, Pakistan has not responded like the US would want it to. Pakistan has now threatened to cut off all ties with the United States. The principal US demand was that Pakistan take action against the Afghan Taliban and Haqqani network. Pakistan cannot and will not take action because both have been fed and feted by it. They are Pakistan’s creation and Pakistan’s Afghan policy hangs on the exploits of the Afghan Taliban and the Haqqani Network in Afghan.
Neither the US nor Pakistan wants a complete breakdown of ties, but it is game of nerve. Trump risks ridicule at home if he caves in first and the build-up to suspend aid to Pakistan took months. It is too late to withdraw. The US is already on the escalation ladder and in no mood to step off.
Unlike India, the United States has several options to punish Pakistan, which is under the impression that the money that the United States would have given to Pakistan if there was no Trump tweet would have been somewhere in the $500-900 million range and Pakistan can live without it.
“The Trump strategy is seeking to cut the Taliban to size on the battlefield before talking,” writes the foreign policy expert. “Pakistan isn’t a sideshow in their calculus. Rather… Pakistan is a key impediment in the US’s ability to make solid military gains.”
It is somewhat similar to what prevents Indo-Pak ties to get better. Pakistan is an “impediment” in India’s ability to contain cross-border terrorism. The United States is doing exactly what India did. But unlike India, as far as “brinkmanship” goes, the United States has more cards to push Pakistan to relent and fall in line. If push comes to shove, the United States might take the battle into Pakistan and if then all-weather friend China hesitates to walk the talk, Pakistan’s brinkmanship will boomerang. Pakistan’s isolation will be complete.
The opposition in India wants to prevent just that. The CPM has already signalled its intention with the praise for North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un and the Congress Party wants imposition of Governor’s rule in J&K and reduction of Army in the Valley leading to resumption of talks with Pakistan but with the BJP and the Congress sounding the bugle for the 2019 general elections, Modi is unlikely to give up his “muscular militaristic” Kashmir policy. Maybe Trump will not want him to. (IPA Service)