By Dr Subhash Kapila
For far too long the United States has borne the strategic weight of Pakistan’s strategic contradictions of pretensions to be a staunch US ally and simultaneously resorting to destabilisation US interests in Afghanistan by terrorism and suicide bombings sponsored by Pakistan Army though its Islamic Jihadi affiliates.
The United States after a decade of strategic patience with Pakistan Army’s Afghanistan-destabilisation strategies has seemingly decided to discipline Pakistan Army by putting it “on notice” that the United States will “no longer continue to bear the weight of contradictions in Pakistan’s relations with the United States,”
The United States seems determined this time around in 2018 under President Trump that the security and stability of Afghanistan is contemporaneously more crucial geopolitically than the United States transactional relationship with Pakistan and the rentier instincts of the Pakistan Army. This may lead the United States to undertake drastic actions to secure its end-aim.
This assertion was made last week by US National Security Adviser General J H McMaster in a sequential flow of US advisories, cautions and warning by US President Trump personally and top dignitaries of his Administration. Pakistan Army has so far been defiant and dismissive on this score, at least in terms of rhetorical responses.
The beginning of 2018 may eventually turn out as the tipping point in US-Pak relations wherein United States reacting to Pakistan Army’s obduracy in not desisting from destabilisation of Afghanistan and Pakistan’s changed strategic preferences for US adversaries, namely, China and Russia, feels compelled to put Pakistan “on notice” by an opening step of suspending all US military aid to Pakistan.
The United States through its Secretary of State and Defense Secretary has asserted that it will defeat proxy terrorism emanating from Pakistani safe havens with or without Pakistan (read Pakistan Army) help.
Media reports also indicate that the US Defense Secretary Mattis has declared that the United States has taken into account that Pakistan may not offer its logistics arteries for maintenance of US Forces in Afghanistan. But he asserted further that he thinks Pakistan wold not do so. This US signalling suggests that the Pakistan Army would eventually fall in line on US demands, willingly or grudgingly.
In addition enough indicators are available that in case Pakistan Army does not fall in line on US demands then the United States will apply pressures on global financial institutions to cease loans to Pakistan. That would seriously affect Pakistan’s economy in a big way.
Pakistan and more specifically the Pakistan Army has over-played its hand in 2017 on not heeding President Trump’s warnings to desist from destabilisation of Afghanistan and abandoning use of terrorism against its neighbours and thus forced a “role reversal” w in January 2018 in US policy approaches to Pakistan.
Analytically, the assertions flowing from US National Security Adviser, General H R McMaster needs to be seen as the final warning to Pakistan sequentially in a series of calibrated steps to put Pakistan on notice to reset its policies and desist from destabilising Afghanistan which is critical to the United States geopolitically.
Pakistan Army’s chief instruments of State-policy in the destabilisation of Afghanistan are the Haqqani Brothers militias and a wide array of Islamic Jihadi terrorist group affiliated to Pakistan Army’s intelligence agency, the ISI. The Pakistan Army has used these outfits to effect against US Forces in Afghanistan and US-friendly entities for decades, double-timing the United States while devouring billions of dollars in US military aid and Coalition Support Funds.
The US National Security Adviser in the same interview took pains to emphasise a differential in US attitudes towards the Pakistani people at large and the Pakistan leadership.
The US National Security Adviser stressed that the United States has great “sympathy” and “empathy” for the people of Pakistan and looked forward to the Pakistani nation moving forward on the road to progress.
On the Pakistan leadership, and which should be read as the Pakistan Army leadership, the US National Security Adviser was highly critical. Implicit in his remarks was that the obsession of using Islamic terrorist groups by the Pakistan Army to destabilise Afghanistan was endangering US-Pak relations. He further added that Pakistan had a choice to adopt the pathways of North Korea and become a “pariah state” or to retract from its terrorism-centric disruptive policies against Afghanistan and return Pakistan to the path to progress. The latter would be in the best interest of the people of Pakistan.
United States geopolitical other expediencies of the US-China relations had held back United States hands to discipline the Pakistan Army on its disruptive strategies against Afghanistan and India. With US determination to stay put in Afghanistan without any timelines till such time Afghanistan can shoulder its security on its own is a new US geopolitical development which puts Pakistan Army in a quandary on two critical counts.
The United States resolve to stay put in Afghanistan foils the plans of Pakistan Army and the China=Pakistan Axis to exploit the vacuum that was going to ensue with the earlier time-table of draw-down of US Forces in Afghanistan by end 2014.
The United States latest assertion of no longer willing to bear the weight of contradictions in US-Pak relations and the US decision to suspend all US military aid to Pakistan including Afghanistan-centric Coalition Support Funds is a double whammy for the Pakistan Army.
Both these implications cannot be ignored any longer by Pakistan leadership or its Pakistan Army as the progenitor of Pakistan’s strategies on Afghanistan and its overall relationship with the United States.
The United States has now posed two major challenges to the Pakistan Army, First, that it should put an end to use of Haqqani Brothers and other Islamic Jihadi affiliates destabilisation efforts in Afghanistan. The second challenge is can the Pakistan Army continue with suspension of US military aid which directly and indirectly has propped up Pakistan Army’s militany adventurism against India and Afghanistan.
The Pakistan Army would continue to be obdurate and not cease terrorist attacks and suicide bombings in Afghanistan through proxy use of its Islamic Jihadi affiliates operating from safe havens in Pakistan’s border areas with Afghanistan. It would continue to play the deniability exit card. It would continue with its contradictory approaches of playing the victim card portraying Pakistan as the victim of terrorism
.But then, the world knows that the terrorist attacks within Pakistan were not by Pakistani Army affiliates but by the Pakistan Taliban protesting Pakistan Army atrocities in Pakistan’s frontier regions.
The United States should foresee this Pakistan Army ploy and be prepared to undertake limited military operations and Special Forces operations against the safe havens in frontier areas bordering Afghanistan being used by the Haqqani Brothers and other terrorist groups. US military operations to knockout Pakistan Army safe havens used for terrorist attacks in Afghanistan would be the surest way to insulate Afghanistan from Pakistan Army’s destabilisation strategies.
The Pakistan Army may cynically welcome a US military action against its safe havens bordering Afghanistan so that the terrorism monsters that it had created are destroyed by US military action. This would give it a plausible exit from any blame that it was forced to do so, in terms of domestic politics.
The United States suspending all military aid in billions of dollars for the Pakistan Army will be a serious blow with lunge long term impact to curtail Pakistan’s military adventurism. China will be most reluctant to replicate US military aid to Pakistan as it would not bring commensurate military gains from Pakistan Army other than what exists already.
Indirect impact of cut-off of US military aid would seriously impact Pakistan’s economy as made out by Pakistani economic advisers themselves. This may hasten the emergence of democracy in Pakistan in a tangential way.
So far so good but two major questions arise here. The first, can the Pakistan Army continue to defy the US demands hoping to gamble away in the hope that the United States would ultimately be forced to temporise with the Pakistan Army over Afghanistan. The second major question pertains to the credibility of US resolve that it would strongly follow through with its disciplining of Pakistan Army to achieve its strategic end-aims in Afghanistan and whether the Pakistan Army still will continue to be an important factor in US strategic calculus to prompt United States to revert to US permissiveness of Pakistan Army’s military adventurism against Afghanistan and India?
Both these aspects stand analysed in my recent Papers on Pakistan and the United States and lie in the field of estimative analysis which has many imponderables. My Paper last week analyses that Pakistan has lost its strategic utility in United States strategic calculus and all that it entails. If that is a given then one could expect stronger pressures awaiting Pakistan Army from the US armoury.
Going by current indicators it would not be wrong to conclude that this time around the United States seems determined that nothing should stand in the way of stabilising Afghanistan, whatever the costs. One should not be surprised that the United States in an extreme step even impose economic sanctions and resort to political isolation.
Geopolitically, Afghanistan’s stability and security in 2018 for the United States outweighs the gains to the United States that may have accrued in the past from its transactional relationship with Pakistan and its rentier Pakistan Army.
As stated in my last Paper on Pakistan, the Pakistan Army misread the evolving geopolitics in the Indo Pacific and foolishly aligned Pakistan with China and Russia——both countries designated as adversarial in US National Security Strategy 2018 of US President Trump.
Concluding, it needs to be emphasised that the United States strong pressures on Pakistan Army are no knee-jerk reactions to the preceding stalemate in Afghanistan. In my assessment these need to be viewed as a calibrated strategy of the United States to ensure that the Pakistan Army ceases to dictate its template on Afghanistan to the detriment of United States vital security interests not only in Afghanistan but also as a consequence on the wider South Asia regional security environment and the Indo Pacific geopolitics.