On Afghanistan, align interests of regional players

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On Wednesday, Pakistan National Assembly passed a resolution rejecting the “hostile and threatening” statements made by US President Donald J. Trump and Gen John W. Nicholson, the top US commander in Afghanistan. Pakistan Foreign Minister Khawaja Asif read out the resolution, which was earlier passed unanimously by the lower house. The NA termed as “unacceptable”  the targeting of Pakistan by Trump in his speech while he announced Washington’s new South Asia policy. It also condemned Washington’s call for increased Indian involvement in Afghanistan as “detrimental to regional stability,” and premised on a “failure to understand existing ground realities and challenges in the region.”

Some steps being considered are extraordinary in nature. For example, the NA urged the Pakistan government to consider deferring diplomatic visits between Washington and Islamabad.  It even seeks suspension of cooperation with the US, specifically the provision of ground and air lines of communication through Pakistan. This is something Pakistan has already done before after US killed 24 Pakistan army men in a botched air strike in 2011. In fact, Pakistan NA has even called for a formulation of the  economic policies to deal with any situation arising out of the absence of US assistance. What is more, the NA also condemned the oppression of the people of Kashmir by New Delhi. The resolution was unanimously passed by both the houses of the senate.

Though the resolution concludes with a reiteration of a commitment to constructively engage with the US on the full spectrum of bilateral relations based on the principle of reciprocity and mutual respect, the overall message to US is very tough. It is rarely that Pakistan has adopted such a tough posture towards US. Both the countries have been longstanding allies. In theory, Pakistan  is still a major non-Nato ally of US. But recent years have witnessed a progressive souring of their relations. The reason is the US belief that Islamabad is playing both ways in the war on terror – running with the hare and hunting with the hounds. The US claims that Pakistan takes money to cooperate in the ongoing war in Afghanistan but in reality support Taliban, the US adversary.

On the other hand, US has warmed up to India and sought its deeper role in Afghanistan, something that has enraged Pakistan. But the US has so far shown little inclination to heed Pakistan’s anxieties. It is important for the US to please India due to the latter’s growing geo-political profile as an international and regional player. America desperately needs to enlist India as an ally given its need to check the impending rise of China as a global power and a US rival on the world stage. China throws down gauntlet to US dominance of world affairs that is  not only military and economic in nature but also ideological.   China offers the world a system of national and international governance that is fundamentally opposed to the US-led order. This makes India, the world’s largest democracy, critically important to US. This bolsters US-led international order.

This makes for a compulsive strategic rationale for US-India closeness. There is an equally compelling transactional rationale too. India offers a vast market to US economy, so vital for the job creation in US.  This has created a fraught geo-political situation upon whose outcome  will depend the future peace and stability in South Asia. A win-win strategy would be that the US understands the complex interplay of the geo-politics in the region and arrives at an Afghanistan strategy which takes on board the competing interests of all the regional countries including that of Pakistan.

 

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