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Old Tuesday, November 22, 2016
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Default Pak-US relations in the Trump era

Pak-US relations in the Trump era

By Mosharraf Zaidi

The most important single event in the Pakistan-US relationship in the last decade was the November 26, 2011 slaughter of over two dozen Pakistani soldiers on the border with Afghanistan by US forces.

The Salala incident, as it came to be known, was characterised as a mistake by the US. The current corps commander Multan, Lt-Gen Ishfaq Nadeem, was the DGMO at the time, and in briefings with civilians, he made clear that Salala could not have entirely been a mistake. The Defence Committee of the cabinet met the morning after the attack under the chairmanship of then-PM Yusuf Raza Gilani. Pakistan suspended Natoís supply lines and closed an airbase that Nato/Isaf and the US had been using.

The relationship did not recover for seven months, until a July 3, 2012 phone call between then-secretary of state Hillary Clinton and then-foreign minister Hina Khar. (Full disclosure: I joined the government of Pakistan as an adviser to the foreign ministry days after the Salala attack, and remained in government until January 2013). Clintonís apology took seven months, and some of the most robust diplomacy Pakistan has had to engage in, in Washington DC, thanks to the leadership of Khar and our then ambassador to the US, Sherry Rehman.

But the US apology was not the end of that story. I believe Gen Ishfaq was right. Salala was not a random act of violence, it was a product of a slow burn in which the bitterness of US officials, usually unattributed, and published in the New York Times, came to define official US tactics and operations in the region. The public imagination about 2011 as a disastrous year for Pakistan-US relations is animated by Raymond Davis (January 2011), the Bin Laden raid (May 2011), and Memogate (October 2011).

However, among the most telling informants of the poisonous contamination of the Pakistan-US relationship back then was a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing in September 2011, just two months before Salala in which Admiral Mike Mullen famously called the Haqqani Network a veritable arm of the ISI. The key exchange in that hearing was between retiring Republican Senator David Vitter (of Louisiana) and then Pentagon boss, Leon Panetta, about what the US would do if Pakistan was seen not to be responding to US demands for a more robust set of actions against the Haqqani Network.

Senator Vitter. ďI agree with all of that, and I agree with speaking with one voice. Has it been articulated about what the consequences of their (Pakistan) not changing in those ways are?Ē

Secretary Panetta. ďI have made very clear that we will do everything necessary to protect our forces. I havenít spelled that out for them (Pakistan), but I would be very surprised if they were surprised by what we did to fulfil that commitment.Ē

About two months later, the Salala attack happened.

We are approaching the five-year anniversary of the Salala attack. What is the principal goal of the US in its relationship with Pakistan? Privately, and publicly, the mantra remains exactly the same. Do something about the Haqqani Network. We donít need much of a crystal ball to extrapolate what a Trump White House will want of Pakistan. Mostly the same as what the Bush White House wanted, which was broadly the same as what the Obama White House wanted.

Long-time Pakistan-watcher Lisa Curtis, one of the most reasonable Republican-leaning hawks in Washington DC, recently spoke at a USIP event organised by Moeed Yusuf. Curtis says that Pakistanís lack of responsiveness on the issue of the Haqqani Network is proof of either, at best, not knowing what its policy is or, at worst, having a policy that it knows would be explicitly unacceptable to the US and therefore not wanting to articulate it clearly. Five years after Salala, nothing has changed in terms of the root of disharmony between the US and Pakistan. Yet much has changed in the rest of the world, and changed dramatically.

First, there is the explicit cementing of an anti-Pakistan consensus in the Indian national polity. This process began with the election of the Hindu extremist government of Narendra Modi. It was catalysed by the Pathankot attack in January 2016, and formalised on August 15, 2016 when PM Modi implicitly declared war on Pakistan by invoking Balochistan in a speech in New Delhi.

Second, there is the dramatic speeding up of the Indianisation of US public policy. This is a natural process, completely independent and unrelated to Pakistan. India produces among the most educated, capable and peaceful diasporas in the world. Almost every major world power today boasts an array of powerful people of Indian origin. In Washington DC, American-Indians like Nisha Biswal run quarterback for US policy toward India, and American-Indians like Ambassador Richard Verma execute that policy.

American-Indians may look out for America first, but if they take an India-centric view of the South Asian region, and of Pakistanís behaviour, no one should be surprised Ė nor should anyone protest. No one stopped Pakistani-Americans from working as hard as the Biswals and Vermas.

Third, and most importantly, is that there is a fast-growing convergence of the interests of the US white extremist agenda, and the India/American-Indian Hindu extremist agenda. Whatever else these agendas may be about, and wherever they may diverge, they are of one mind on Pakistan Ė punishment.

For US white extremists, Pakistan is an Islamic Republic. Notwithstanding the issues around the Haqqani Network, Pakistan represents a source of immigration to the US, and the home country of a fair number of terror-plotters and attackers over the last decade. For Hindu extremists, including the Indian government, Pakistanís mere existence is a problem. But even the most pacifist, liberal and open-hearted Indians agree that the country that is home to the LeT and JeM must be dealt with firmly, strongly, and with deep suspicion.

The election of Donald Trump as US president is a seminal moment. The dramatically changed world that Trump represents is going to throw everything and the kitchen sink at Pakistan. In addition to the burden of the Ajit Dovals, Nisha Biswals and Richard Vermas, Pakistan is about to have to contend with the bare-knuckle bluntness of the Micheal Flynns, and Jeff Sessions of the world. And this says nothing about all kinds of Indian tycoons that are in business with Trump in India and abroad. To deal with all this, Pakistanís A team is a combination of GHQ officials, the prime minister, his advisers and retired foreign office bureaucrats on contract.

Pakistan is about to be eaten for lunch in Trumpís Brave New World. This is not owing to a lack of capability, but something much worse. It owes to what Lisa Curtis correctly calls out as a lack of a policy. Pakistanís internal dysfunctions are nothing to be overly embarrassed about. It is a robust, young democracy, learning how to be a federation, and learning how to take on non-state challengers to its sovereignty. We donít need to beat ourselves up.

But we do need to wake up. Our internal dysfunctions are coming at a price Ė a total lack of preparedness for the challenges being posed by the rest of the world. The profound changes around the world manifest in the Trump election have deep short-, medium- and long-term implications for Pakistan.

The US is Pakistanís number one exports destination, and the number one supplier of high-tech weaponry. The US helps underwrite the international financial systemís support for Pakistanís ambitions as a growing economy. The US is going to be a partner in the coming war against Daesh. Under President Trump, the US will become an even more challenging relationship as Muslims in the US, a fair share of whom are Pakistani, or of Pakistani-origin, come under threat.

The US is an indispensable partner to Pakistan. Pakistan needs to start acting in accordance with this inalienable fact. Kicking the Afghanistan, and Haqqani Network, can down the road will no longer suffice as our US policy.

The writer is an analyst and commentator.

Source:- Pak-US relations in the Trump era
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