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Beyond coercion

Social media is flooded with jokes about US President Donald Trump’s unorthodox style of running the most powerful country in the world. As he opens his mouth through Twitter or otherwise, everyone starts believing in how democracy as a system of governance can sometimes produce black swans.

For Americans, Trump symbolises the triumph of irrationality over reason. But for us, Trump is not too relevant in the context of persistent mistrust between Pakistan and the US. Even if Trump were to be impeached, it would not take us beyond the marriage of convenience at the time of some perceived or real challenges.

The deteriorating relations between Pakistan and the US have less to do with the tough Trump tweets and more an outcome of conflicting narratives on the emerging geostrategic situation in Asia, especially in Afghanistan. The US administration believes that Pakistan extends tacit support to the Afghan Taliban as a neutralising force against the unwanted Indian presence in Afghanistan. The side effect of this support makes it difficult for the coalition forces to bring political stability and peace to Afghanistan. Bruce Riedel, a former official of the CIA, has termed Pak-US relations as a “deadly embrace”.

However, Pakistan is sceptical of US intentions in Afghanistan. It believes that instability and turmoil best serves the US strategic and economic interests. If this were not the case, the country would have preferred negotiations over using force for so long. Whenever elements from the Afghan Taliban were brought to the negotiation table, the US turned every hope for peace on its head by targeting the Taliban leadership. From Pakistan’s perspective, an even more provocative and alienating strategy adopted by the US government is to somehow involve India in Afghanistan. India poses an existential threat to Pakistan on its eastern border and it would be certainly naïve to disregard developments along the western border.

Every decade has a unique dynamics characterised by casual hugging, double-crossing and mutual distrust. Pakistan does not forget how it was used over the years against the Soviet Union and then punished for becoming too big for its shoes or irrelevant for the time being. Pakistan kept coming back to the US to seek economic and military assistance as it did not have an alternative. This is no longer the case. The rising power of China and the presence of an assertive Russia, with their proven track record of not leaving their allies in lurch, are viable options.

Although shifting loyalties is a common feature of international relations, it seem dangerous in the context of South Asia. New alignments in the region would disturb the power equation with a new cold war becoming the new world order. The post-World War II scenario had consumed many countries, including the two superpowers, and produced dangerous developments in weapons of mass destruction. Security took precedence over human welfare and this paradigm is still in vogue around the world.

The US has the primary responsibility in forestalling a new cold war. Cutting aid to Pakistan will do nothing or, perhaps, very little to change its behaviour, as America desires. It may even be a counter-productive strategy. The more Pakistan is pushed to take on the Haqqani Network at the cost of its own security, the closer it would try to get to China and Russia. This will pose an even greater danger for the US to drift into an inescapable quagmire in Afghanistan. Pakistan’s cooperation is not an option. It is the key to peace in Afghanistan and a conduit for productive engagement in the region. This cooperation, however, cannot be elicited through coercive measures.

The writer teaches at the Sarhad University.

Email: zebkhan.ba@suit. edu.pk

M Zeb Khan, "Beyond coercion," The News. 2018-01-15.
Keywords: Political science , Political issues , Political stability , Military assistance , International relations , Democracy , Governance , Taliban , Leadership , President Trump , Indian , Afghanistan , CIA