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  #31  
Old Sunday, October 30, 2016
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Default The Washington consensus

The Washington consensus


OVER the past decade, a hostile consensus has emerged in Washington against Pakistan. The main reasons for this adverse evolution are: growing Islamophobia after 9/11; visceral opposition to a Muslim nuclear weapon state; the divergence on Afghanistan; and, most importantly, Pakistan’s strategic relationship with China.

This hostile trend was first signalled by the 2006 ‘de-hyphenation’ of US relations with India and Pakistan; exacerbated by the ‘blame game’ for US failure in Afghanistan; confirmed by the 2011 US military interventions against Pakistan; and consolidated by America’s overt strategic alignment with India.

The hostile perception of Pakistan has been magnified by the incessant and sophisticated Indian political and propaganda campaign against Pakistan. Islamabad’s incoherent and timorous response to US policies, and to India’s campaign, has reinforced the anti-Pakistan ‘consensus’.

The hostile perception of Pakistan has been magnified by an Indian propaganda campaign.
Under America’s strategic cover, India has pursued its hegemonic aims in South Asia; a massive arms build-up; an aggressive posture towards Pakistan; and a brutal campaign of repression in India-held Kashmir. Modi now seeks to ‘isolate’ Pakistan on the presumption of US support.

In the circumstances, Pakistan is obliged to further strengthen its strategic relationship with China, build countervailing relationships with other powers and reduce its vulnerability to US political and economic pressure.

However, the US is still the most powerful country in the world. Like alcohol, it has the capacity to do some good and much harm. Thus, despite its grievances, Pakistan cannot afford an open confrontation with the US.

The impending inauguration of a new US administration may be an appropriate moment to explore if Pakistan can change, or at least soften, the negative Washington consensus. To do so, Pakistan will need to adopt a clear agenda, develop a coherent narrative, exercise diplomatic patience and display the political resilience required to defend its national interests.

Islamabad should first identify those core interests on which it cannot compromise: Indian hegemony; conventional and nuclear deterrence; Kashmiri self-determination; strategic relations with China.

Second, Pakistan should identify those US ‘demands’ which can be accommodated without compromising Pakistan’s vital interests, such as action against terrorism; a negotiated peace in Afghanistan; avoidance of war with India; nuclear non-proliferation.

Third, Pakistan should press for acceptance of its own objectives. The US can accommodate at least some of these without compromising its strategic interests: protection of Kashmiri human rights; elimination of Indian-Afghan sponsored terrorism in Pakistan; equal treatment on civil nuclear cooperation; access to advanced technologies; economic development.

The potential compromises should be reciprocal, negotiated in a ‘package deal’ by the two sides. Terrorism and nuclear deterrence remain central to a Pakistan-US relationship. Pakistan needs to fully explain and articulate its position on the various facets of terrorism.

One, Pakistan’s extensive internal counterterrorism campaign deserves global support which it has not received so far.

Two, after 9/11, designating the Afghan Taliban as ‘terrorists’ along with Al Qaeda was a mistake. It made the Afghan insurgency inevitable. Peace in Afghanistan can be restored only through negotiations between Kabul and the Afghan Taliban. Instead of being threatened, Pakistan should be encouraged to revive its contacts and influence with the Afghan Taliban to facilitate a negotiated peace.

Three, Pakistan has expelled the Haqqanis from almost all of Pakistan’s territory. The evidence is available, if the US wants to see it. However, peace will not be possible without the Haqqanis. Ways will have to be found to bring them into the negotiating process.

Four, the components of the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) are not really ‘Taliban’, and many are not Pakistanis but Uzbeks, Chechens, Uighurs and Arabs. The TTP is closely linked to Al Qaeda and parts of it with the so-called Islamic State. The Indian-Afghan support to the TTP threatens not only Pakistan but the global fight against terrorism.

Five, the Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaishe-e-Mohammad participated in the legitimate post-1989 Kashmiri freedom struggle. They were placed on the Security Council’s ‘terrorist’ list once they went ‘rogue’. However, unlike the TTP, they are not attacking Pakistan and enjoy a degree of popular support. Confronting them militarily could exacerbate terrorist violence within Pakistan. It will become easier to shut them down once there is progress in addressing the plight of the Kashmiris and the TTP threat has been eliminated.

Six, while seeking an internal political accommodation with the Baloch, Pakistan has every right to respond to Indian-sponsored terrorism in Balochistan from Afghan territory.

On nuclear non-proliferation, Pakistan has adopted state-of-the-art measures to ensure the safety and security of its nuclear assets and prevent proliferation. The recent US demands that Pakistan halt its deterrence-driven deployment of theatre nuclear weapons, development of long-range missiles and production of fissile material are clearly one-sided. Pakistan could, however, consider restraint if the reason for these programmes — India’s military and missile deployments — is removed.

However, the possibility of a nuclear war between India and Pakistan is real and must be urgently addressed. This danger arises from: India’s threat to resort to a ‘limited’ war in response to a terrorist attack (which Pakistan may not be able to prevent) and the growing asymmetry in conventional weapons (which has increased Pakistan’s reliance on nuclear weapons to ensure deterrence). In the absence of an India-Pakistan dialogue, the US can help to promote reciprocal restraint by the two countries to avoid a conflict and promote strategic stability.

Apart from a clear and imaginative approach to a dialogue on policy issues, Pakistan needs to undertake a concerted public relations campaign in the US, explaining Pakistan’s positions and perspectives, highlighting its vital role in addressing regional and global issues and responding to India’s vilification campaign.

Due to the current Sino-US strategic rivalry, the Washington consensus may not change dramatically despite Pakistan’s best efforts. Yet, if the Sino-US equation changes; if India does not adhere to US strategic goals; if Pakistan contributes to regional stability and offers new economic opportunities, the consensus in Washington may swing into greater balance between India and Pakistan.

The writer is a former Pakistan ambassador to the UN.

Published in Dawn, October 30th, 2016
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Default Trump’s America

Trump’s America


By MUNIR AKRAM


THE election of an inexperienced, egotistical and volatile tycoon as the 45th president of the United States is as surprising as was the victory of a black candidate eight years ago. Barack Obama’s election was uplifting for America and confirmed faith in its democracy.

Trump’s triumph, secured by rhetoric reflecting racial and religious prejudice, xenophobia, strategic incoherence and sweeping promises to “make America great again”, has divided the country as never before since the American Civil War. This time the division is along racial, religious and intellectual lines between the “progressive” eastern and western coastal states and the mostly white and conservative “middle America”.

Trump’s conciliatory victory speech, promising to “bind the wounds of division”, the generous concession by Clinton and President Obama’s gestures of cooperation have not stilled the fear and loathing of Trump’s opponents: the minorities, millennials and progressive Democrats. If Trump pursues the policies he outlined in the campaign, as he can with Republican control of the US Congress, social and political divisions within the US could intensify.

The domestic battle lines are fairly clear.

Trump’s policies would clearly erode the progress made on civil rights and reverse efforts to advance the economic and social position of blacks and other disadvantaged minorities. ‘Stop and frisk’ (of mainly black youth) may be institutionalised. Police violence may be tolerated. The FBI, having helped to defeat Clinton, would be more empowered. The US supreme court would remain ‘conservative’ for the foreseeable future.

Although Trump has stepped back from his ‘Muslim ban’, immigration from Islamic countries (almost all affected by terrorism) would slow to a trickle; Muslim Americans subjected to close monitoring for ‘terrorist’ tendencies, and discrimination against them institutionalised.

Millions of ‘illegal’ immigrants could be hounded out of the country, wrenching families and livelihoods. Most of the menial jobs they do will not be taken by white Americans. Wages would rise; the US economy contract. The US-Mexico border wall, if constructed, would do little to stop desperate people from crossing the border. An attempt to make Mexico ‘pay’ for the wall would obviously lead to a diplomatic crisis.

Obamacare, which has provided health insurance to 20 million poor Americans, would be repealed. Its replacement by a better system appears improbable.

Trump’s declared economic policies will have domestic and global consequences.

Protectionist barriers, such as punitive duties on imports from China and Mexico, will provoke trade retaliation; while increasing the cost of consumer goods, it will bring few jobs ‘back’ to America’s uncompetitive manufacturing industries.

Lifting restraints on coal and fossil fuels will restore some jobs in the mining and energy sectors, but at a very high cost: environmental damage in the US; abrogation of US commitments to the Climate Change Treaty; the treaty’s likely collapse; the predicted rise in the planet’s temperature and accompanying global environmental disasters. Infrastructure development could generate jobs and growth. But it cannot be financed without raising revenues and savings.

The proposed lower taxes on corporations and the rich would make this difficult; escalate inequality; expand the US budget deficit and, if accompanied by higher interest rates, squeeze the ability to sustain the weak US economic recovery.

Slower US growth, accompanied by protectionist policies and resultant trade conflicts, will act as a brake on the world economy and create another global economic and financial crisis.

Trump has outlined his approach to global challenges in general, often uninformed terms. Even if his approach does not add up to US isolationism, it is obvious that Trump’s external policies will be subservient to his domestic agenda.

Apart from trade and energy policies, Trump’s positions may be different from the present administration on five major issues.

First, relations with Russia. Trump’s expressed admiration for Putin’s strong leadership may open the door to cooperation in addressing the Syrian conflict. If Trump’s priority is to crush IS, he could agree to allow Syria’s Assad to survive, thus coalescing with Moscow’s approach.

Second, Europe. Trump’s call for European allies to pull their own weight financially could result in weakening the Nato alliance. If anti-EU and anti-immigrant right-wing parties, like the Front National in France, are bolstered by Trump’s example and secure power in the forthcoming elections, Europe could turn down the same revanchist road as Trumpian America, with significant strategic consequences.

Third, the Iran deal. Trump and the Republican Party, both closer to Israel than Obama, have been sceptical of the nuclear deal with Iran. They may seek to ‘strengthen’ its non-proliferation elements, evoking a hostile response from Tehran, and probable rejection by the other powers party to the agreement. An angry Iran could complicate the conflicts in the Middle East, although it may revive US strategic relations with Saudi Arabia and the GCC countries.

Fourth, China. Trump has excoriated China’s trade policies and ‘currency manipulation’. However, he has been silent on the South China Sea and human rights. He wants to lighten the burden of US alliances with Japan and South Korea. He has criticised Obama’s opposition to China’s new development bank. It is not inconceivable for China to strike a ‘deal’ with Trump, offering concessions on trade and economic issues in exchange for accommodation of China’s regional and domestic priorities.

Fifth, the UN. Like previous Republican leaders, Trump has expressed disdain for the United Nations and multilateralism. Drastic cuts in US contributions to UN organisations and multilateral processes and treaties could lead to a decline in global cooperation, unless other powers, such as China, assume the mantle of leadership in multilateral forums.

South Asia has not figured prominently in Trump’s pronouncements. However, India has been acknowledged as a ‘geopolitical ally’ and has well-established ties with the Republicans. The further deepening of the relationship will depend on the future direction of Sino-US relations. India could face complications with Trump’s administration on trade, immigration and outsourcing of US IT jobs to India.

Pakistan starts with the disadvantage of inherited problems with the US — Afghanistan, terrorism and nuclear issues— where Republican positions are even more hostile than those of the Obama administration. Nevertheless, the change of guard in Washington offers Pakistan an opportunity to present a clear message of willingness to forge a constructive relationship with the US that accommodates the interests and priorities of both countries.

The writer is a former Pakistan ambassador to the UN.

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Old Tuesday, November 29, 2016
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Default A united national front

A united national front


By MUNIR AKRAM


INDIA is maintaining its daily shelling along the LoC in Kashmir. As advised editorially in this paper, Pakistan must “keep its nerve”. Yet, Pakistan’s response cannot be passive. It must dissuade India from pursuing its aggressive designs against Pakistan, now and in the future.

Pakistani officials and analysts have opined that India’s LoC firing is designed to divert attention from the ongoing popular revolt in India-held Kashmir (IHK) and/or prevent Pakistan’s armed forces from acting robustly against terrorism on our western border. These are reasonable assumptions.

However, Pakistan’s response should take account of India’s comprehensive strategy against it, not merely its current LoC belligerence. India seeks to isolate Pakistan by portraying it as a terrorism sponsor while it sponsors TTP terrorism and separatism in Balochistan; it seeks to demonise and delegitimise Pakistan’s nuclear weapons; and attempts, directly or through western friends, to co-opt Pakistani politicians, businessmen and intellectuals to accept Indian dominion over Pakistan.

Pakistan’s response should take account of India’s comprehensive strategy against it.
Through such military, diplomatic and political avenues, and combined with the economic and diplomatic pressure from the US and its allies, India hopes to wear down Pakistan’s resistance to Indian domination. The scent of defeat reeks already within parts of Pakistan’s elites. If India believes that Pakistan is sufficiently ‘isolated’ and internally divided, it may feel emboldened to embark on a military adventure against it.

Pakistan’s response should encompass well-prepared, determined diplomatic and media campaigns to neutralise India’s propaganda, expose the reality of its militarism and oppression in IHK and signal its determination to defend its sovereignty and territorial integrity, and the Kashmiri people’s rights.

It is regrettable that the prime minister’s bold speech at the UN General Assembly in September has not been followed by promised actions, including formally approaching the UN Security Council. Pakistan should approach it with three clear proposals:

One, a call to end Indian brutality and grave human rights violations in occupied Jammu & Kashmir and the dispatch by the UN high commissioner for human rights of a UN fact-finding mission to India-held Jammu & Kashmir to investigate and secure an immediate end to these violations.

Two, a proposal that the Security Council demand an end to ceasefire violations on the LoC and instal other measures of mutual and reciprocal restraint and arms control to prevent the outbreak of a Pakistan-India conflict.

Three, a proposal for adopting specific steps by the Security Council to implement its own resolutions on Jammu & Kashmir, including the appointment of a special representative of the UN secretary general to update and activate the approved arrangements for its demilitarisation and organisation of the promised plebiscite there.

Other diplomatic moves that Pakistan can make to exert pressure on India include:

First: a proposal in the Security Council’s counterterrorism committee to investigate links between TTP and the militant Islamic State group, and the relationship between TTP and the intelligence agencies of India and Afghanistan. These two countries are, in effect, sponsoring the IS terrorists.

Second: an approach to international human rights groups to press for the release of Kashmiri political prisoners and repeal of India’s emergency laws, which enable Indian security forces to oppress Kashmiris with complete impunity.

Third: an approach to the International Court of Justice for an advisory opinion on the extensively documented evidence of Narendra Modi’s responsibility for the 2002 massacre of 2,000 Muslims in Gujarat.

Pakistan may be obliged to consider options beyond diplomacy. India has claimed, falsely, that it conducted “surgical strikes” across the LoC. This claim provides Pakistan with a legitimate right to reciprocate. It should refrain from doing so since this is likely to provoke a general conflict. However, if India does cross the LoC, Pakistan should be prepared to respond decisively, for instance, by cutting off the road between the Kashmir Valley and Jammu.

Pakistan is also well within its rights to respond to Indian and Afghan sponsorship of terrorism by attacking and eliminating TTP safe havens in Kunar and other parts of Afghanistan. If the US-Nato forces do not eliminate these safe havens, Pakistan will need to do so.

While Pakistan has disavowed support for the outlawed Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Mohammad, Kashmiris have an internationally recognised right to seek self-determination from alien occupation through all available means at their disposal, including armed force. There is nothing to stop them from forming a Kashmir liberation army.

Many Pakistanis, including some in our ruling circles, are concerned about the economic implications of possible US sanctions and appear willing to sacrifice the Kashmiris and accept Indian diktat to avoid such sanctions. If such fears had prevailed in the past, Pakistan would not have established its strategic relationship with China, developed its nuclear capability, nor conducted the 1998 nuclear explosions in response to India’s tests.

Pakistan should be prepared to face pressure from India and its Western friends. There can be no development without security and sovereignty. Sanctions against Pakistan, if imposed, will be unjustified. Their impact will be limited and temporary. The preservation of national dignity and Pakistan’s commitment to the Kashmiri people make the possible cost worthwhile.

Some Pakistani analysts have pointed to the lack of international response to Pakistan’s demarches on Kashmir and India to argue that Pakistan’s positions are unpalatable. In fact, other countries are unlikely to respond positively so long as they perceive that Pakistan’s leadership is itself not fully committed to the objectives its diplomats and envoys propagate.

Pakistan’s politicians appear to be more preoccupied by their own petty squabbles over Panamagate, MQM divisions and CPEC projects.

Instead of advocating united national action against Indian subversion and aggression, many of Pakistan’s Western-oriented ‘intellectuals’ argue that the fault lies with Pakistan and especially its armed forces. Pervez Hoodbhoy’s recent denunciation of Pakistan’s so-called establishment is a case in point.

When a nation faces an existential external threat, unity is its ultimate strength and weapon. National unity can be promoted by mobilising the people, as Churchill did to enable Britain to resist Hitler. But, at times, national unity has to be imposed. Chiang Kai-shek agreed to form a ‘united national front’ with Mao’s communists against the Japanese invader only after the ‘generalissimo’ was incarcerated by one of his own commanders.

Today, Pakistan needs a ‘united national front’ to confront an aggressive India.

The writer is a former Pakistan ambassador to the UN.
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Default Gluttons for punishment

Gluttons for punishment


By MUNIR AKRAM


IT was sad to witness the humiliation of Pakistan’s adviser on foreign affairs, Sartaj Aziz, by his Indian hosts and the Afghan president in Amritsar. Mr Aziz is one of Pakistan’s elder statesmen. His treatment at the so-called Heart of Asia Conference by India is yet another example of the brutish nature of the ruling regime in New Delhi.

The conference was misused by India, the rotational host, to promote its single agenda of portraying Pakistan as a ‘terrorist’ state in order to ‘isolate’ it. The Indian prime minister played a duet with Afghan President Ghani, the ostensible beneficiary of the conference, who launched an aggressive indictment of Pakistan for alleged support to the Taliban insurgency in Afghanistan; interrogated the Pakistan delegation leader from the floor of the conference; and rejected Pakistan’s offer of $500 million in economic assistance. To add injury to insult, the Indians barred the Pakistan leader from meeting the media and even from leaving his hotel.

The mystery is why the Pakistan government chose to expose its most senior diplomat to the hostility and insults which should have been expected from India and Afghanistan’s president. Since India scuttled the Saarc summit in Islamabad, Pakistan could have reciprocated by refusing to attend the Amritsar conference and persuading its close friends, China and Turkey, from doing so. At the very least, Pakistan’s representation should have been at a low level.

At a Non-Aligned Summit a few decades ago, Egypt’s foreign minister interrupted the president of the host country when he made a critical comment about the recently concluded Camp David agreement. In Amritsar, Pakistan would have been well within its rights to interrupt the speeches by Modi and Ghani, on a point of order, for transgressing the agenda and purpose of the conference. If its protest was ignored, the delegation should have walked out of the conference. At the very least, Pakistan could have countered with its own accusations against India and Afghanistan.

Instead, by all accounts, Mr Aziz sat through Modi’s attack and Ghani’s interrogation. He even called subsequently on the Afghan president.

In Amritsar, Pakistan would have been well within its rights to interrupt the speeches by Modi and Ghani.
Mr Aziz’s display of self-restraint is no doubt admirable. But the Indian and Afghan insults were not merely to his person; these were insults to the national dignity of Pakistan and, as such, they ought not to have been tolerated. According to diplomatic norms, such insults are expected to evoke a strong response. It is unclear if formal protests have been lodged with the two governments.

A failure to respond strongly to such insults to our country not only signifies a lack of national self-respect, it implies tacit acceptance of the serious allegations advanced against Pakistan.

Unfortunately, this is not the first time that Pakistan’s diplomacy has failed to anticipate events and avoid political traps and reversals. For instance, Pakistan should have postponed the Saarc summit, anticipating India’s effort to scupper it. Instead, Islamabad waited in the vain hope that Modi would magnanimously grace the summit, resulting in the humiliation not only of Indian withdrawal from the conference but also the regrets of most the other South Asian states, no doubt under heavy pressure from India.

Pakistan’s timorous and ingratiating posture in external relations, especially towards India, has become a recurring feature of its high-level diplomacy, symbolised by the desperate calls for dialogue with India, even after it launched its latest repression in India-held Kashmir last July.

Pakistan has also sustained, with little complaint, the repeated intemperate accusations from Afghanistan, a nation whose millions of refugees we still continue to host, whose goods are allowed to transit our territory, including its exports to India, whose civil wars have brought terrorism to our country and for whom Pakistan has made persistent efforts for internal peace and reconciliation, even as its intelligence agencies collaborate with India to foment TTP terrorism and Baloch insurgency.

The question arises: what is the purpose of this patience with punishment? There could be several answers:

Islamabad may expect that one day India and Afghanistan will see reason and reciprocate Pakistan’s quest for dialogue and compromise. I would not hold my breath.

There may be an expectation that an accommodative stance will elicit understanding and support from Kabul’s patron and India’s new ally, the US. But Indian and Afghan allegations against Pakistan are being echoed if not originated in Washington.

There may be fear that a more robust stance could evoke American sanctions. But sanctions will be avoided only if the US believes that the cost of imposing these on Pakistan outweighs any possible benefit.

There may be a desire not to provoke India into committing cross-border aggression against Pakistan. Again, aggression can be avoided only if India (and other powers) are convinced that its cost will be unacceptable.

Or there may unknown reasons that compel our rulers to suffer Modi and Ghani’s slings and arrows without flinching.

History teaches that weakness invites aggression. Timidity will invite further abuse and pressure. Pakistan must adopt a more robust posture in defence of our national interests.

Following Amritsar, Pakistan should strictly limit the activities and access of Indian diplomats in Pakistan; designate the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh as ‘terrorist’ organisations; provide finance to the Kashmiri Hurriyat Conference for humanitarian and material support to the Kashmiri victims of Indian repression.

Pakistan should also formally approach the Security Council to: investigate and condemn India’s human rights violations in Kashmir; call for a halt to Indian violations of the LoC ceasefire; and agree on steps to implement the Security Council resolutions on Jammu and Kashmiri.

The screws can be turned harder against Afghanistan. Pakistan can accelerate Afghan refugee repatriation; slow the transit of Afghan goods and halt their transit to India; fence the border as planned and strictly limit cross-border traffic.

The Afghan and Indian sponsorship of the TTP and its links with the militant Islamic State group should be actively projected in world capitals and the media. If US-Nato forces in Afghanistan do not terminate the TTP’s safe havens in Afghanistan by a specific date, Pakistan must consider direct action to do so. Eliminating the threat on the western border will enhance Pakistan’s ability to face the more enduring threat in the east.

The writer is a former Pakistan ambassador to the UN.

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Default December 25th, 2016

The tame tiger


IN the midst of major global transitions, Pakistan confronts multiple challenges: domestic discord, terrorism, Indian hostility and subversion, Afghan chaos and American pressure. The low energy response of Pakistan’s ruling classes to these challenges displays an absence of self-confidence and an assumption that Pakistan’s destiny will be determined by forces and factors other than ourselves.

Such attitudes are ill-suited to the world’s fifth largest country by population; one defended by the sixth largest, nuclear equipped, armed forces; with an economy growing at 5pc annually despite terrorist violence, political turmoil and dysfunctional governance.

It is universally acknowledged that Pakistanis are a resilient and resourceful people. Yet Pakistan has become a ‘soft state’ because its elites have embraced selfish goals nationally and a subservient posture internationally.

Over the decades, our ruling classes have become inured to the patronage of our Cold War ‘ally’, the United States, and other rich ‘benefactors’. They cannot contemplate the consequences of cutting the umbilical cord of external dependency. For most of Pakistan’s ‘common’ people, who do not benefit from this largesse, the impact of the oft-threatened termination of external financial or political support would be marginal and bearable.

Pakistan’s elites have embraced selfish goals nationally and a subservient posture internationally.
If the interests of the elite are set aside and national interest guides policy exclusively, Pakistan has the intrinsic capacity to withstand external pressure, overcome most of its present challenges and exploit the vast opportunities offered by the current strategic transition in world affairs.

In Pakistan today, domestic terrorism and violent extremism can be eliminated if the National Action Plan is implemented without regard to the political umbrellas that protect some of these violent elements.

Action against the TTP safe havens in Afghan*istan is held back by concern about America’s reaction. Yet, unless the US-Nato forces themselves eliminate these safe havens, Pakistan will have to do so if it is to stop India’s subversion from Afghan territory.

The Kabul government can surely be ‘persuaded’ to stop its constant abuse and perfidious collaboration with India against Pakistan if Islamabad utilises its considerable leverage. Once Kabul is cooperative, the Afghan Taliban, including the Haqqanis, should be either convinced to join a peace dialogue or ejected totally from Pakistan’s territory. Pakistan does not need ‘strategic depth’; it has nuclear weapons.

India is a hegemonist power. If it is to preserve the rationale for its creation, Pakistan cannot accept Indian domination. It must maintain credible nuclear and conventional deterrence but avoid war with India. However, until the Kashmir dispute is resolved, a conflict could be triggered by a popular Kashmiri revolt like the present one. If India imposes a war on Pakistan, the latter should not rely entirely on the threat of nuclear retaliation. India could also be defeated conventionally — with the help of our people.

Somewhere in our foreign ministry’s archives is the record of a conversation between the then foreign minister Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto and China’s premier Chou En-lai soon after the 1965 war. When Bhutto explained that Pakistan’s offensive on Akhoor had to be halted and its forces redeployed to protect Lahore after India attacked across the border, the Chinese premier opined that Pakistan should not have redeployed. Pakistani forces, he said, would have been welcomed in Kashmir; on the other hand, the people of Lahore would have fought Indian occupation on the streets and, with this people’s struggle, ‘you would have made your nation.’ There is a lesson here for our strategists.

There is considerable anxiety in Islamabad about US policy under Trump. Despite the prime minister’s effusive phone conversation with Trump, Pakistan is likely to suffer collateral damage from the growing US rivalry with China and its strategic partnership with India. However, unless the US seeks Pakistan’s submission to Indian domination or attempts to neutralise its nuclear deterrence, a cooperative or at least non-hostile relationship can be established with Washington. If appropriately negotiated, common ground can be found in combating terrorism, on Afghanistan, reciprocal nuclear restraint with India and mutually beneficial investment and economic cooperation.

China’s emergence as a global economic and military power offers a historic opportunity for Pakistan. It must be grasped with both hands. The CPEC project is critical, economically and strategically, for Pakistan. If pursued with vision, the opportunity can encompass: investment in all sectors of the Pakistan economy; rapid modernisation of Pakistan’s defence capabilities; stabilisation of Afghanistan; and creation of an economic network under the One Belt, One Road initiative integrating Pakistan with Iran, the GCC, Central Asia and Russia, apart from China.

Yet Pakistan should not rely on China or any other country for its development. The Pakistani state has to play a central role. Some important goals that Islamabad can secure are:

One, achieve financial independence. Tax revenues can be doubled, from the present 9pc of GDP to the global norm of 18pc. Savings of 1-2pc of the federal budget can be realised by divesting major loss-making government corporations. Pakistan’s capital markets can be enlarged to provide local development finance. The additional fiscal capacity can be used to eliminate extreme poverty, expand education and health programmes, support small farmers and small and medium enterprises.

Two, adopt a ‘Pakistan first’ industrial policy and reverse the unilateral disarmament of the country’s trade regime. Nascent industries need to be nurtured through higher tariffs and a clampdown on smuggling. They can meet the high domestic demand for consumer and durable goods, which is the main driver of Pakistan’s growth and, once competitive, contribute to expanding Pakistan’s dismally small exports.

Three, support agriculture. This sector still supports 60pc of Pakistan’s population. Our crop yields are one-eighth of those in industrial countries. With adequate financial and technical support, especially to smaller farmers, Pakistan can emerge as a regional breadbasket.

Improved governance is essential. In today’s globalised world, no country can progress without an efficient bureaucracy. Pakistan’s administrators should be functionally competent, competitively chosen, handsomely remunerated and fully accountable.

None of these goals can be adequately achieved without decisive national leadership. Our electoral democracy, chained to feudal and industrial power structures, requires to be reformed to enable clean and competent leaders to secure office. Only then will the Pakistani ‘tiger’ be able to leave the cage in which it has been confined.

The writer is a former Pakistan ambassador to the UN.

Source: The tame tiger
Published in Dawn December 25th, 2016
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Iran: ascendant power

IT is remarkable that, despite three decades of extensive Western embargoes and sanctions, Iran has not only managed to avert ‘regime change’ but has emerged today as the dominant power player in West Asia and the Middle East. Iran has done so through national resilience, ruthless action, deft diplomacy and good luck.

Iran’s resilience was amply demonstrated during the long and murderous Iran-Iraq war and its unyielding endurance of multiple Western embargoes and sanctions.

Tehran’s ability to take ruthless action against adversaries has been equally demonstrated, such as its creation of Hezbollah in Lebanon; alleged recourse to ‘terrorist’ attacks; support for the ‘Northern Alliance’ in Afghanistan against Mullah Omar’s Taliban; sponsorship of the three main Iraqi Shia parties during Saddam Hussein’s rule; and financial and political assistance to Shia groups everywhere.

Tehran’s determination is matched by its deft diplomacy.
Iran’s determination is matched by its deft diplomacy. Although it did not directly support the Mujahideen insurgency against the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, Iran insisted on an influence-sharing arrangement with Pakistan after the Soviet withdrawal. Iran expressed public support for the Kashmiri insurgency when it erupted in the 1990s, until it secured several important concessions from India. After 9/11, despite official antipathy, Iran cooperated with the US in utilising the Northern Alliance to oust the Taliban and, at the Bonn Conference, Tehran convinced the Northern Alliance warlords to accept the then powerless but Pakhtun Hamid Karzai as Afghanistan’s president.

Iran’s adroit diplomacy was on full display during the long and complex negotiation of the nuclear deal with the six major powers. A joint comprehensive understanding, once endorsed by the UN Security Council, secured relief for Tehran from the most onerous UN and Western sanctions while preserving its technological infrastructure, essential to acquiring nuclear weapons capability if it chose to do so in the future.

Iran’s ascendancy owes a lot to good fortune, mostly in the form of America’s strategic errors. US military interventions removed two of Tehran’s regional adversaries: the Taliban in Afghanistan and Saddam Hussein’s Sunni-led regime in Iraq. Both were replaced by Iran’s friends: the Northern Alliance in Afghanistan and Shia parties in Iraq.

Western blunders continued during the Obama era. A major Western objective in sponsoring the mainly Sunni revolt against Hafez Assad’s Alawite regime in Syria was to cut off Tehran’s direct land access through Iraq and Syria to Lebanon and to Hezbollah, the only credible direct military threat to Israel. However, the ensuing Syrian civil war saw the resurrection of Al Qaeda in Iraq, rebranded as the Islamic State, which challenged both Iranian and Western objectives in Iraq and Syria.

History may offer a clearer explanation why IS emerged, almost overnight, as America’s primary enemy in Syria. Conspiracy theories abound. Did the secret US-Iran talks held over two years in Oman cover only the nuclear issue, or was an understanding also reached on Syria and Iraq? In any event, tactical military coordination between the US and Iran has existed for sometime in Iraq and may have been extended to Syria.

Whatever their antecedents, the nuclear deal and America’s tactical alignment with Iran’s goals in Iraq and Syria have created an unprecedented strategic divergence between the US and Saudi Arabia and its GCC allies. Far from being the possible target of US military strikes, Tehran has emerged as an informal US ally in the region. Officially sponsored Shia militias are triumphant after Aleppo and the recent battles around Mosul, while extremist Sunni entities (IS, Al Qaeda) are outlawed and ‘moderate’ groups face defeat in Syria and exclusion in Iraq.

Fortune has continued to smile on Tehran. Russia’s confrontation with the US over Ukraine and Crimea has reinforced Moscow’s de facto alliance with Iran. The use of Russian air power and special forces, combined with Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, Hezbullah and Shia militias, have tipped the civil war in favour of Assad. The US and its allies failed to either adequately support their proxies or to oblige them to make pragmatic compromises with Damascus and its patrons.

Iran has also benefited from the sharp differences between Turkey and the US over Western support for the Syrian and Iraqi Kurds in the fight against IS. Turkey’s strategic aim is to prevent a consolidated Kurdish enclave on its borders with Syria and Iraq, which could link up with Turkey’s Kurdish insurgency. Ankara’s suspicions about the US have been exacerbated by Washington’s alleged support to the Gulenist coup against President Erdogan. Turkey has made the best of a bad situation by joining Russia and Iran in imposing a ceasefire in Syria, which implies the survival of the Assad regime and the sacrifice of the ‘moderate’ Sunni rebels. One unintended consequence of the Aleppo defeat may be to drive these ‘moderates’ into the arms of IS and Al Qaeda.

Iran has sought to intensify Saudi Arabia’s pain through discreet support to the (Shia) Houthis in Yemen who, in coalition with former president Saleh, have expelled the Saudi-supported government of president Hadi from Sana’a. So far, the Saudi-led Arab coalition has been unable to defeat the rebel forces despite a massive bombing and military campaign by the ‘Arab coalition’. Riyadh now faces a direct threat on its northern and southern borders.

Some commentators believe the new US president will scuttle the Iran nuclear deal as desired by hawkish Republicans and Israel. Indeed, Trump’s impromptu positions may revive tensions with Iran. But his nominees for secretary of state and defence have expressed a preference for keeping the Iran nuclear deal alive. Trump also wishes to join Russia to fight IS rather than Assad in Syria. This would bring US policy in sync with Iran’s priorities. US-Iran relations may thus turn out to be less turbulent than currently anticipated by Western and Arab analysts.

However, Iran is unlikely to be powerful enough to impose its dominance over West Asia and the Gulf. It will be challenged from within and outside the region, generating further strife and instability. A new security order should be evolved through dialogue by the regional states, an order that assures the security and territorial integrity of all regional states. It is in Pakistan’s interest to take the lead in promoting such an equitable collective security arrangement.

The writer is a former Pakistan ambassador to the UN.


Source: Iran: ascendant power
Published in Dawn, January 22nd, 2017
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Shooting wars


LAST week, Steve Bannon, the ‘eminence gris’ in the Trump White House, blithely observed that the US will soon be in a “shooting war” in the Middle East. He may be right. Donald Trump’s declared determination to eliminate ‘Islamic terrorism’ implies intensification of several conflicts.

Syria: Trump announced he will fight the militant Islamic State (IS) group, rather than Bashar al-Assad, in Syria, and may commit US ground troops to this fight. This would have aligned US policy with Russia (and Iran). Trump has adjusted his position, endorsing the creation of ‘safe zones’ in Syria. This will put the US at odds with Russia and Iran and erode the tenuous ‘ceasefire’ they imposed after defeating the rebels in Aleppo. The Syrian war is likely to become further extended and more complex.

Iraq: Even if IS is ousted from Mosul and Raqqa, and mopped up in the Syrian-Iraq desert, it will spread elsewhere. Iraq is likely to witness renewed internal rivalry between Shia, Sunni and Kurdish parties and a contest between Iran and a US-GCC coalition for influence in Iraq.

Iran: A ‘shooting war’ between the US and Iran is a real possibility. US Republicans and the military are hostile to Iran. Israel’s Benjamin Netanyahu sees Iran as an ‘existential’ threat. America’s Arab allies oppose Iran’s growing influence and interventions in the region. These constituencies are convinced Obama’s nuclear deal with Iran has allowed it to retain nuclear weapons capability and expand its aggressive regional role. New US sanctions have now been placed on Iran after the latter’s missile test last week. Iran’s reactions will provide grounds to ratchet up sanctions and pressure. A US-Iran confrontation — even if short of a shooting war — would lead to intensification of conflicts in Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Lebanon, Afghanistan and elsewhere.

Global conflicts and tensions are set to intensify as Trump begins his presidential journey.
Israel-Palestine: Trump appears to have backed away from unconditional support for Netanyahu’s settlements expansion in occupied West Bank. The US embassy shift has also been put in slow motion. Yet, prospects for a two-state solution are fast eroding; the likelihood is rising that Fatah, even Hamas, may be marginalised and replaced by more extreme groups aligned with IS or Al Qaeda.

There are other areas where shooting wars and crises may erupt or be exacerbated.

Ukraine: Fighting has recently resumed in Ukraine between government forces and the pro-Russian opposition in the east, perhaps to ensure the crisis is not ignored as Trump and Vladimir Putin seek to normalise ties. However, Trump has backed away from lifting anti-Russia sanctions unilaterally. The new US UN ambassador repeated US denunciation of Russia’s takeover of Crimea and role in Ukraine. The reset of US-Russia ties is likely to prove more complicated than Trump presumed.

Eastern Europe: Similarly, Nato, pressed by the Baltic states and Poland, has gone ahead with planned military deployments and exercises along Russia’s borders. Trump has stepped back from dismissing Nato as ‘obsolete’. His defence secretary staunchly supports the alliance. Thus, European concerns will have to be factored into the US-Russia ‘reset’. The main bone of contention may not be either Ukraine or the limited Nato military deployment in Eastern Europe but US plans to instal a strategic ballistic missile defence system in Poland.

North Korea: Trump’s claim he will neutralise North Korea’s nuclear and missile programmes is unlikely to be realised. China cannot be pressured to tighten sanctions against Pyongyang to a point that threatens North Korea’s political collapse. Korean unification would bring US troops to China’s borders. A US military strike on North Korea would destroy prosperous South Korea. A regional crisis is, however, brewing due to planned US deployment of the THAAD ballistic missile defence system in South Korea which China and Russia believe would neutralise the strategic nuclear balance.

South and East China seas: From a neutral stance, the US has moved to challenge China’s claims in the South and East China seas. US ‘Freedom of Navigation’ patrols have expanded and 70 per cent of the US navy is now deployed in the Pacific. The US Pacific commander has said his forces are “ready to fight tonight”. The incoming US secretary of state commented in Senate hearings that China’s access to the disputed South China Sea islands could be ‘blocked’ by the US. This was casually endorsed by the White House spokesman. The Chinese responded that to do so the US should be prepared to go to war with China. The US posture may be moderated after sober reflection.

Taiwan: Trump has called into question US endorsement of the ‘One China’ policy, the foundation of Sino-US relations for over four decades. Some Chinese officials have privately declared “the day Taiwan declares ‘independence’ is the day Chinese troops will land on its beaches”. However, Taiwanese fully understand the danger and Trump’s posture is apparently designed to extract trade and other concessions from China rather than actually discard the policy. Still, a Sino-US crisis is possible over trade, missile defence and the South China Sea.

Pakistan-India: Blissfully, South Asia has not figured prominently in the Washington policy turmoil. The US administration will persist in seeking to co-opt India into its strategy to contain China but is likely to be less accommodative of India’s attempts to ‘hedge’ its bets with China, Iran and Russia. India could face problems on trade and immigration. Pakistan will be pressed for cooperation on Afghanistan and terrorism. The US administration is likely to be more decisive in rewarding cooperation and penalising non-cooperation. Trump’s ego may propel him to attempt a mediatory role between India and Pakistan. However, in the event of a Pak-India crisis, the US will side with India. A Sino-US confrontation could result in a knock-on crisis in Pakistan-US ties.

The strategic environment: Today, arms expenditures are rising; military rhetoric is rampant; global and regional cooperation is eroding. After Trump’s election, the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists moved up its ‘Doomsday Clock’ to two and half minutes to midnight. The last Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev observed recently that it “looks as if the world is preparing for war”. He urged world leaders to focus on preventing war, phasing out the arms race and reducing weapons arsenals. Unfortunately, no one seems to be listening.

The writer is a former Pakistan ambassador to the UN.

Source: Shooting Wars
Published in Dawn February 5th, 2017
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Avenging terror

IN a prescient statement to the UN Security Council on Feb 13, Pakistan’s permanent representative, after describing the actions taken to restrain terrorism in Pakistan, asserted: “What Pakistan continues to face today are externally supported terrorists.” As if on cue, successive terrorist attacks occurred in Lahore, Peshawar and Sehwan over the next three days.

Immediately after the atrocity at the shrine of Lal Shahbaz Qalandar in Sehwan, the ISPR spokesman said: “Recent terrorist acts are being executed on directions from hostile powers and from sanctuaries in Afghanistan. We shall defend and respond.” The army chief himself declared: “Each drop of the nation’s blood shall be revenged ... immediately. No more restraint for anyone.”

It is not always easy to avenge terror, or eliminate it, since the terrorists are often unknown or in hiding. This is not so in case of the recent terror strikes in Pakistan. We know the terrorists. The attacks have been claimed by the militant Islamic State group and the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan’s subsidiary, Jamaatul Ahrar. We know where they are based: in sanctuaries in Afghanistan adjacent to Pakistan’s border. We know the ‘hostile powers’ that have sponsored these attacks: the intelligence agencies of Afghanistan and India.

Revenge is serious business. It must be exacted after cold calculation of the options, their effectiveness and probable consequences.

The sponsors of the terror war against Pakistan cannot be allowed impunity.
As a first step, the Torkham border crossing has been closed. This will punish the Afghan regime economically. But it may not punish the terrorists or their sponsors directly, nor meaningfully restrain their cross-border movement.

This will require full implementation of the plan to ‘seal’ the border with selective fencing, check posts and technological means to monitor cross-border infiltration. Adequate funds must be allocated to implement this plan expeditiously.

The speedy repatriation of the millions of Afghan refugees is another component of ‘defensive’ measures. Many terrorists are hiding in plain sight among the refugees. Repatriation has been slowed by UN appeals and by some Pakistani agencies on the refugee ‘gravy train’. Their resistance must be overcome. People or groups associated with militant movements and drugs and criminal mafias and the relatives of hostile Afghan leaders should be expelled forthwith.

GHQ has initiated a more direct response by demanding from the Afghan representatives in Islamabad that they take action against or hand over 76 identified terrorists who have been provided sanctuaries in Afghanistan. The demand made to Kabul was also conveyed to the US commander of the coalition forces in Afghanistan, since they exercise dominant influence over the Afghan regime and especially the Afghan intelligence agency, which is the main local sponsor of the anti-Pakistan terrorists. American whining about the Afghan Taliban and the Haqqani network should not be entertained until the US obliges its Kabul clients to take action against the TTP and IS terrorists targeting Pakistan.

Sartaj Aziz’s phone call to the Afghan national security adviser to urge cooperation against the ‘common threat’ of terrorism is unlikely to produce any result and may have detracted from the more robust message conveyed by GHQ to the Afghans. Pakistan’s counterterrorism cooperation with Kabul and the coalition to stabilise Afghanistan should be made conditional on their acting against the anti-Pakistan terrorists operating from Afghan territory.

Following the Foreign Office protest after the Lahore Mall atrocity, the Afghan charge d’affaires in Islamabad reportedly argued that the Kabul authorities could not be held accountable since there are large areas of Afghan territory that are outside its control. If this is indeed the case, and the Afghan National Army and the US-led coalition forces cannot act against the TTP and IS ‘safe havens’, Pakistan’s forces should be allowed to cross over and eliminate them. Most of these safe havens are within striking distance of the Pakistan-Afghan border.

If Kabul and the US refuse to act, or to facilitate a Pakistani operation, Pakistan may be left with no option but to take unilateral action against these safe havens and the terrorists hiding there. Other countries, like Iran or Turkey, would not hesitate to resort to such action if targeted by foreign-based terrorists. India is unlikely to use this as a pretext for cross-LoC ‘strikes’, given its vulnerability in held Kashmir.

The sponsors of the terror war against Pakistan — the Afghan and Indian intelligence agencies — cannot be allowed impunity. With the evidence in its hands, Pakistan can move the relevant UN Security Council bodies to have both these agencies declared sponsors of terrorism. At the very least, Pakistan should move the UN to conduct an impartial investigation into the role of these agencies in supporting the IS-linked TTP and its associates, as well as the Baloch insurgents. Pakistan’s agencies should no longer hesitate to reveal their ‘sources’ in establishing the sponsorship of terrorism by the Afghan and Indian agencies.

Nor can India be allowed to attack Pakistan with impunity in the west through Afghanistan. Pakistan should not foreclose the option of extending moral and material support to the ongoing indigenous Kashmiri freedom struggle. This struggle cannot be equated with terrorism; it is a legitimate movement for self-determination and implementation of UN Security Council resolutions. Pakistan’s support to the Kashmiri struggle is now both a political and moral responsibility and a strategic compulsion.

Threats and blandishments from India or its American friends cannot deflect Pakistan from protecting and promoting its own interests, objectives and security. An equitable peace with India — whe*ther in the West or the East — can be negotiated only if Pakistan displays courage and determination.

Everything must be done to avoid US sanctions. But many of the penalties entailed by sanctions have been already imposed against Pakistan, such as the halt in US military assistance and blockage of the so-called Coalition Support Funds. Unless Pakistan changes the equation, the price for restoring American largesse will be acceptance of the Indian-US agenda in South Asia. In the past, when under US sanctions, Pakistan has mobilised nationally to achieve its strategic goals, such as its nuclear and missile capabilities. These capabilities are its ultimate defence against external blackmail and aggression today. Pakistan’s leaders and its people must again rise to face the strategic challenges the nation confronts now.

The writer is a former Pakistan ambassador to the UN.

Source: Avenging terror
Published in Dawn February 19th, 2017
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The refracted relationship


THERE are significant reasons for the maintenance of close and cooperative relations between Pakistan and the US.

Unfortunately, Washington has almost always conducted its relations with Pakistan as a function of America’s other strategic or tactical priorities of the moment. Since US goals and priorities change periodically, at times rapidly, Pakistan-US ties have often resembled a roller-coaster ride. One day Pakistan is America’s ‘most-allied ally’, the next its ‘most-sanctioned’ ally.

After being proclaimed a non-Nato ally in the post-9/11 ‘war on terror’, during the Obama years, Pakistan became the object of suspicion and hostility, and eventually the target of hundreds of US drone strikes, the Abbottabad intervention and the ‘accidental’ Salala attack, as Washington increasingly viewed Pakistan through the prism of Afghanistan and India.

Pakistan-US ties will be most fundamentally affected by the evolution in the US-China relationship.
In Islamabad, hope was generated by the early effusive call between Donald Trump and Nawaz Sharif. That hope has not been discarded yet; but some recent signals indicate that the US may again determine its posture towards Pakistan in the context of its goals in Afghanistan and its ties with India, Iran and China.

During his recent visit to the region, US National Security Adviser Gen H.R. McMaster reverted to assertions about Pakistani ‘safe havens’ for the Afghan Taliban as a convenient explanation for the military ‘impasse’ in Afghanistan.

Even if a few thousand additional US-Nato troops are sent back to Afghanistan, a foreign force of under 20,000, operating in support of a demoralised, untrained Afghan army, won’t be able to simultaneously arrest the current momentum of the 30-80,000 Taliban and defeat the growing numbers of the militant Islamic State group and its associated terrorists, like the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan.

There’s now an international consensus, to which Islamabad, Beijing and Moscow subscribe: peace will be restored in Afghanistan only through a negotiated settlement between Kabul and the Afghan Taliban, whose objectives are limited to Afghanistan, and that the focus of military operations in Afghanistan should be to eliminate the growing presence of IS and affiliated terrorist groups. Hopefully, the US will join this consensus. It would help greatly to align Pakistan-US postures on Afghanistan and counterterrorism.

From reports of McMaster’s visit to New Delhi, it appears the US will continue Obama’s endeavour to co-opt India as a strategic partner to contain China. Yet, unlike Obama, Trump may well be more sensitive to the impact of his India policies on China and Pakistan. The new administration may seek difficult quid pro quos from India, eg termination of its ties to Tehran.

Trump may accord priority to economic goals, such as restricting immigration from India and opening India’s protected market for US goods, services and investment. Or, India may have its own reservations about entering into a junior partnership with the US, particularly the implications for its ties with Russia and Iran.

For Pakistan, the litmus test will be to see how far US defence and technology supplies to India are sensitive to Pakistan’s security interests, since 70 per cent of India’s conventional and non-conventional capabilities are deployed against Pakistan. Open-ended US military and political support under Obama emboldened the Modi government to adopt an intransigent and belligerent position towards Pakistan.

India’s ongoing brutal repression of the popular pro-freedom Kashmiri protests, the daily violations of the LoC ceasefire, its ‘Cold Start’ forward military deployments, Pakistan’s ‘full spectrum’ nuclear and missile response, and the absence of dialogue between Pakistan and India, have combined to create an environment where the danger of another Pakistan-India conflict is real and present. Such a conflict could escalate to the nuclear level. Trump’s offer of mediation has been welcomed by Pakistan but rejected by India. Hopefully, he will persist with this mediatory initiative.

The emerging Pakistan-US relationship may also be impacted by the growing US-Iran tensions. Although Washington is unlikely to scrap the nuclear agreement with Iran, Trump and his generals seem determined to arrest and reverse Iran’s rising power in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Syria, and curb the capacity of the Iran-backed Hezbollah to threaten Israel from Lebanon or Syria’s southern borders.

An informal alliance is being forged between Israel, the US and its GCC allies. The Saudi invitation to several Muslim countries, including Pakistan, to participate in meetings with President Trump in Riyadh outlines the ambitions of this putative alliance. The situation could become acute if a hard-liner is elected to replace President Rouhani in the forthcoming Iranian elections.

The nature and dynamics of this new configuration in the Gulf and West Asia will have profound and inverse implications for Pakistan’s relations with Iran, on the one hand, and Saudi Arabia and the US, on the other. Pakistan can avoid damage to one or the other relationship by remaining aloof from this impending confrontation and, if possible, promoting mediatory diplomacy to defuse the causes of the Iran-Saudi (and US) tensions.

Pakistan-US ties will be most fundamentally affected by the evolution in the US-China relationship. The Obama administration’s proclaimed ‘pivot to Asia’ was designed to ‘contain’ China by deploying most of the US Navy to the Pacific and building a string of alliances around China. India was to be built up as part of this containment strategy. Pakistan’s security interests suffered collateral damage as Washington opened the floodgates of advanced weapons and technology to India.

However, the ultimate shape of US-China ties under Trump is not yet clear. After some disturbing early pronouncements, it appears that Trump has developed a respectful relationship with China’s President Xi Jinping at their Mar-a-Lago summit. The US and Chinese leaders are cooperating to contain the danger from North Korea. There is hope, at least on China’s side, that a trade war will be avoided and a cooperative relationship forged on investment, commerce and other areas of common interest.

A cooperative US-China relationship would be a major positive development for Pakistan. Besides facilitating the implementation of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, it would ease Pakistan’s differences with the US on Afghanistan and India.

Dr Kissinger’s 1971 secret trip to Beijing, facilitated by Pakistan, led to the creation of what is now the “most important bilateral relationship” in the world. Pakistan has an enormous stake in the preservation of this relationship.

The writer is a former Pakistan ambassador to the UN.

Source: The refracted relationship
Published in Dawn, May 14th, 2017
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