The US took another scalp from its enemy on May 21 when its drones incinerated the new Taliban chief Mullah Mansour on Pakistani soil. This is another dead leader on Pakistani soil. The presence of its enemies in Pakistan frustrates the US since it pays Pakistan to take action against them.
Americans keep asking Pakistan to ‘do more” against the Taliban leaders and Haqqani Network that has safe havens in Pakistan. In response, Pakistan shows a figure of over 60,000 Pakistanis killed in terrorism related incidents in a desperate bid to prove that it is their war and they are paying huge cost.
The dreadful insurgency that has denied Afghanistan peace and killed and maimed US/NATO troops has its command and control structure within Pakistan. This is no more an allegation, since most of the leaders of Al-Qaeda, Taliban and HN were either killed or captured in Pakistan. Osama bin Laden was hiding near 500 meters of Pakistan’s military academy in Abbotabad. Mullah Omar died in Karachi while his successor Mullah Mansour was killed in Baluchistan.
Pakistan too has accepted the presence of Taliban leaders on its soil. Sartaj Aziz, advisor to the prime minister on foreign affairs, has publicly accepted that Pakistan has leverage with Taliban, since their leadership hide and seek medical help in Pakistan.
Pakistan’s toleration of Taliban presence or alleged support baffles and antagonizes policy makers in Washington since Pakistan is also an ally in War on Terror and receives hefty funding for cooperation. Americans protest that the dollars they put in Pakistan’s kitty to kill or capture Taliban and HN are used to rather fund them to kill US soldiers. This duplicitous role of Pakistan is what irks so many.
This policy approach of Pakistan is often dubbed as Pakistan’s double game. Yet, there is little effort to understand why Pakistan does what it does.
To understand Pakistan’s approach towards Afghanistan is to understand how foreign policy decisions are made in Pakistan. Traditionally, foreign policy, especially regarding Afghanistan, is dominated without dispute by Pakistan’s powerful army. One has to understand the vision of Pakistan army to understand its approach towards Afghanistan.
Pakistan;s army looks into Afghanistan from its strategic lens. The core concern in Afghanistan for army is to deny India any influence. Pakistan army firmly and rightly believes that in Post-Taliban Afghanistan the influence of India has grown. Pakistan has traditionally considered Afghanistan as strategic depth. The influence of India is considered as encirclement of Pakistan by its archrival.
India has been Pakistan’s defining reason of statehood and establishment of huge and powerful army. As Georgetown University Professor Christine Fair puts it, Pakistan’s conflict with India is civilizational, which trumps all rational and realistic politics. In other words, Pakistan’s real interests may be subservient to ideological interests.
On the other hand, Pakistan also believes that the US does not care for its interests except her own. The US has failed to address its concern of Indian influence. Rather, the US has warmed up to India by making strategic partnership with India as well as giving it a free hand in Afghanistan.
Pakistanis do not trust Americans when it comes to its geopolitical and geostrategic interests in the region. Pakistan feels betrayed whenever it builds alliance with the US. The conception of the US betrayal is hardwired to the minds of Pakistanis in general and army in particular. Their tale of betrayal goes back to Pakistan’s several wars with India where Pakistan expected support from its Cold War ally.
Pakistan also believes that when the US needs Pakistan—for instance during the Afghan war and War on Terror—its carrot and stick policy undermines Pakistan’s own strategic interests. The incentive is peanuts compared to the loss Pakistan incurs in such alliances. The US taps into Pakistan’s weak spots like its dependence on the US for military hardware and aid that help sustain its economy.
Having this mindset at work, Pakistan’s powerful military establishment also believes that its strategy of harboring Taliban can really work. Their confidence is derived from the fact that so far Taliban have shown resilience and have sustained their insurgency for 15 years. They now control most of the rural areas of Afghan districts and hold formidable power position.
This emboldens them and gives them more reasons to pursue their policies. They also know that they can get away with this since the US continues to bankroll its army and provide weapons and funds.
The army establishment knows the weakness of the US. The US is more concerned with the stability of a nuclear Pakistan. It fears that instability and state collapse can put its nuclear arsenals in dangerous hands of terrorists. Pakistan is a huge country of 180 million where radicalism is ripe. State collapse will trigger further instability and insecurity which can further ignite extremism.
Some experts call it nuclear blackmailing by Pakistan.
Pakistan and the US have different national and strategic interests in Afghanistan which makes them frenemies of each other. But how can the US make Pakistan do what it wants.
That would require a strategic shift of thinking in the US administration. The US need to stop its dependence on Pakistan army and support and invest in the civilian and democratic forces of Pakistan. Traditionally, the US has always supported and bankrolled Pakistan’s military rulers. When the military is not directly in power, the US still conducts its business with them which undermines the civilian administration. This policy is still in place.
A democratic Pakistan can best serve interests of the US as well as Pakistan. Democratic leadership has always wanted peace with Afghanistan and India. Their decisions are reached after political consensus and popular will to serve the long term interests of the country.
If the US wants to bring a change in Pakistan’s attitudes it has to change its partners in Pakistan and support the democratic forces. A political change towards democratization can bring a positive outcome for both Pakistan and the US.
About the author:
*M. Sheharyar Khan, Ph.D., has a doctorate degree in International Relations from Ankara University and is Research Fellow at the Center for Peace, Development and Reforms, Islamabad. He writes on Defence and Security issues with focus on violent non-state actors.