Despite the fact of Pakistan actively patronizing terrorism for decades, Biden administration is showing special enthusiasm in deepening relations with this failed state. Meanwhile, pro-Pakistan articles are being published in a number of media outlets in the United States.
Commenting on Washington’s willingness of deepening relations with Islamabad, political analysts said: “Both sides are keen to move forward after a decade of contentious engagement that brought the relationship to one of its lowest points in history”.
Meanwhile, Touqir Hussain, a former Pakistani Ambassador and Diplomatic Adviser to the Prime Minister, is an Adjunct professor at Georgetown University and a Visiting Senior Research Fellow at the Institute of South Asian Studies, National University of Singapore in an article wrote:
For the past two decades, the US-Pakistan relationship derived its strengths and weaknesses primarily from the war in Afghanistan. Pakistan provided the US military with critical logistics support and valuable intelligence, for which it received significant American aid and security assistance. But Washington’s failure in Afghanistan rendered Pakistan’s help futile. And as Pakistan suffered major blowback from the war, it made American aid to Islamabad inconsequential.
Pakistan’s successful efforts to bring the Taliban to the negotiating table also became immaterial, as the Trump administration’s deeply flawed, one-sided deal helped the Taliban win the political battle without a military victory.
Then, former Pakistani prime minister Imran Khan’s jubilation over the Taliban’s victory and criticism of US policies in the American media added insult to injury, provoking backlash in Washington. Senate Republicans vented their anger by once again blaming alleged Taliban sanctuaries in Pakistan for the failure in Afghanistan and threatening to sanction Islamabad.
Yet, cooler heads prevailed, and the damage was contained. At a Congressional hearing in September 2021, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said that going forward, Washington will look not just at “the role that Pakistan has played over the last 20 years but also the role we would want to see it play in the coming years and what it will take for it to do that”.
With the Afghanistan War in the rearview mirror and Khan no longer in power, the United States and Pakistan have been walking back from the brink and searching for a new meaning to their relationship. The reality is that in the nearly seven decades of US-Pakistan relations, despite their lack of continuity and strategic consensus, the two countries have kept coming back to each other. Even their troubled post-9/11 engagement was not without major accomplishments, as Pakistan provided critical military and intelligence support for America’s efforts to weaken Al Qaeda and advance US and global security. The security challenges remain, as does Washington’s need for Pakistan’s cooperation, for which there is no alternative following the American withdrawal from Afghanistan.
But gone are the days when the United States could just come back and reignite the relationship as if nothing had happened while it was away.
Pakistan has long been in the grip of anti-Americanism, incited by America’s image as an unreliable ally that has manipulated Pakistan’s political system to its advantage, an image further inflamed by Khan’s allegations that Washington conspired to have his government removed, which are baseless but compelling to his base.
The United States and Pakistan now realize that if their ties are to be revived, they must be sustainable, mutually beneficial, and have public support. The stimulus for revival has come from both sides, though the initiative may have come from Washington, which is finally focusing on Pakistan, having been freed from the Afghanistan War and possibly provided a strategic pause by India’s ambivalence over the Russian invasion of Ukraine. It is evident that India’s interests in Russia are many and will endure. Indeed, India prefers “multi-alignment”.
Washington is also taking other steps that have popular appeal to lure Pakistani policymakers towards deepening relations. The recently passed US$1.7 trillion omnibus spending package includes US$200 million for promoting gender equality in Pakistan, a twenty-fold increase from 2020, despite the fact, a radical Islamic Pakistan has never given any value to gender-equality while it has always been showing cruel hostility towards religious minorities, including Hindus, Christians, Bahais, and Ahmadis. It is not that policymakers in Washington are unaware of these facts. But still Biden administration wants to give Pakistan US$200 million for “promoting gender equality” – which can be seen as a kind of bribe.
On Pakistan’s side the desire of Biden administration of deepening relations would be a grand opportunity as the country is already going through mounting economic difficulties and rising challenges to internal stability. In this case, one of the main issues for Pakistan is its ongoing relations with China, which Washington may not accept. Another serious concern for Pakistan is the rise of jihadist forces and its intelligence agency’s decade-long connections to terrorism – particularly Pakistan’s involvement in terrorist plots inside Jammu and Kashmir and other parts of India.
Pakistan suffered 1,007 terrorist attacks in 2022, principally conducted by Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan and Islamic State Khorasan. At a news briefing in December, State Department spokesperson Ned Price noted, “We have partnered with our Pakistani friends to help them take on this challenge. We stand ready to assist, whether with this unfolding situation or more broadly”. Pakistan, he said, remains an important security partner: “We seek a strong partnership with Pakistan on counterterrorism and expect sustained action against all militant and terrorist groups. We look forward to cooperative efforts to eliminate all regional and global terrorist threats”.
With serious challenges posed by Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), Pakistani opinion and decisionmakers are now suggesting hitting the TTP hard, initially in Pakistan and, if need be, even in Afghanistan.
One important question here is – shall Afghan Taliban cease relations with TTP? The answer is negative. It should be recalled that Afghans do not take away the protection they offer to others. The Taliban preferred to lose their government in 2001 rather than hand over Osama bin Laden to the United States. Since Afghans have not lost interest in the Pashtun majority areas of Pakistan, the TTP’s demand to reinstate the tribal status of the former tribal areas (hereafter the tribal areas), where the TTP would have more autonomy, is too tempting a prospect for Afghans to ignore. Afghans have historically held a self-appointed role to advocate for greater rights for Pashtun tribes in the subcontinent. More importantly, the restoration of the tribal areas will also have a practical utility for Afghanistan: to relocate the TTP and other terror groups from Afghanistan to the tribal areas inside Pakistan.
In addition to historical baggage, there are also ideological links between the Taliban and TTP. Like the Taliban themselves, the TTP regards the Taliban leader, Hibat Ullah Akhundzada, as its leader. No Taliban leader would ever hand over their followers and supporters, who fought shoulder to shoulder with their fighters, to another country. The TTP’s claim that it wants to enforce Sharia in the tribal areas also resonates with the Taliban leaders, who claim to have also fought to enforce Sharia.
TTP enjoys some degree of popular support amongst Afghans, just like the Taliban enjoyed popular support amongst Pakistanis. In addition to ethnic and linguistic ties, Afghans believe if the Taliban received popular support from Pakistan to enforce Sharia in Afghanistan, why should the TTP not receive popular from Afghanistan to enforce Sharia in Pakistan? If enforcing Sharia is a noble calling, it should be equally noble in both countries.
Furthermore, tribal Pashtuns, who today form the bulk of the TTP and live along the Afghan-Pakistani border, have a long history of resisting outsiders such as the Mughals, British, Soviets, and NATO. The border areas’ Pashtuns’ struggle against the British, whom they fought for a century, is of particular importance. Despite tens of military operations and spending tens of millions of pounds and losing countless soldiers, Britain could not subdue the Pashtun tribes like the Masuds (aka Mehsuds), Wazirs, Orakzais, Mohmands, and Afridis.
In the current scenarios where, American policymakers are thinking of using Pakistan in combating jihadists inside Pakistan and Afghanistan, it is important to remember – Pakistan Army – with its Iman (faith), Taqwa (piety), and Jihad motto—is India-centric. Fighting fellow Muslims in Pakistan is the last thing the Pakistan Army would want to do.
Most importantly, if Pakistan’s cooperation with the United States against Afghanistan gets exposed, Pakistani authorities will most likely face a popular backlash, especially within religious circles, and lose support for taking strong measures against the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP). It may even result in popular revolt inside Pakistan, which would actually push the country towards deeper political uncertainly and chaos.
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