Shift in US South Asian Policy

Sajjad Shaukat

Despite the blame game of the US against Pakistan which shows differences among the high officials of the Obama Administration, a positive shift has taken place in the US South Asian policy after the recent visit of the US Secretary of State to Islamabad.

As regards American perennial rhetoric of accusations, the Pentagon said in a report to Congress on October 28 this year that recent high-profile attacks in Kabul including the September 20 strike on the US Embassy were carried out by the Pakistan-based Haqqani network…the insurgents’ safe havens in Pakistan and the Kabul government’s limitations pose significant risks to a durable and stable Afghanistan.”

On October 27, US Lt. Gen, Curtis Scaparrotti, Deputy Commander of the NATO-led force in Afghanistan blamed, “Pakistani forces are allowing terrorists to launch rocket and mortar attacks on US troops across the border in Afghanistan and may be collaborating with the militants.”

In the recent past, tension which already prevailed in Pak-US relations since May 2 when US commandos killed Osama Bin Laden, further increased when US Admiral Mike Mullen (R) accused that the Haqqani network is waging a ‘proxy war’in Afghanistan with the assistance of intelligence agency, ISI, blaming for an assault on the US embassy in Kabul on September 20. Besides, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and some other top US officials had been threatening Islamabad with high-value targets on Pakistan’s soil.

Meanwhile, by ignoring public reaction in Pakistan, US high officials intensified their pressure tactics by continuously insisting upon the country to take military action against the Haqqani network. On the other side, taking note of the US coercive diplomacy, Pakistan’s civil and military leadership flatly refused to launch military operation against the Haqqani group.

Although a number of strategic institutes of international relations and thinktanks prepare their reports in formulation of American external policies, yet US was following a confused strategy about Pakistan. In fact, when American duress failed on Pakistan and when US felt that it is acting upon a faulty strategy about Islamabad in connection with Afghanistan and war against terrorism, the real foreign policy has been shown by the US State Department as displayed by the US Secretary of State during her trip to Islamabad.

Although Ms.  Clinton asked Pakistan to take “strong steps to dismantle safe havens of Afghan insurgents,” yet she emphasised on Islamabad to help and “encourage Taliban to enter negotiations in good faith” including the Haqqani militants. She also explained that the US was not asking Pakistan to sacrifice its own security, saying, “Pakistan has a critical role to play in supporting Afghan reconciliation and ending the conflict.”

Hillary Clinton agreed with Pakistan’s stance and pointed out, “Now US is realizing that launching new military operation in North Waziristan does not suit Pakistan’s situation” as there are “other means for tackling the issue of militancy through intelligence sharing including the reconciliation process.” She also recognised that Taliban have established havens in Afghanistan, posing threats of attacks against Pakistan.

Ms. Clinton further said, “Stability of Pakistan and the region directly impacts the US security and it is in our interest to help Afghan people build a stable and independent nation that is not a source of trouble for its neighbours.”

Some political analysts opine that after reaching Washington, during her interaction with the US media, Hillary Clinton demanded of Pakistan to squeeze the Taliban and the Haqqani Network. But she also clarified, “not necessarily by overt military action.” On October 27, before Congress, Ms. Clinton said that she delivered a frank message to Pakistan—to act against the extremist Haqqani network.

Diplomatic sources in Washington have revealed that amid anti-Pakistan sentiments in the US Congress, the State Department still wants to salvage relations with Pakistan. And Mrs. Clinton efforts are to facilitate the US objectives in Afghanistan before its complete withdrawal in 2014. So some of Clinton’s statements are politically-motivated and in essence, she is trying to let the Americans understand the ground realities.

However, shift in US South Asian policy could be assessed from the statement of Afghan President Hamid Karzai who though took back his words, but had clearly remarked in an interview to a private Pakistani TV channel on October 22 that Kabul would back Pakistan, if attacked by US or India.

It is noteworthy that before visiting Islamabad, in Kabul, on October 20, Ms. Clinton insisted on Afghanistan’s distrustful leadership to keep up Taliban reconciliation efforts and boost counterterrorism co-operation with Pakistan as the Obama administration presses ahead with troop withdrawal plan.

President Karzai knows that if the US-led NATO forces withdraw from Afghanistan, his regime will not survive due to stiff resistance of Afghan Taliban. Even India will not be able to maintain its network, and its investment-projects will also not succeed in wake of the successful guerrilla warfare of the Taliban.

It is mentionable that India and Afghanistan signed a strategic agreement on October 5 this year, deepening their security and economic ties. In fact, secretly, India which has already spent billion of dollars in Afghanistan, wants to further strengthen its grip in that country so as to get strategic depth against Islamabad, and to use the war-torn country in destabilising Pakistan. In this respect, secret agencies like Indian RAW and Afghan Khad are in collusion and has been sending well-trained agents and militants in Pakistan, who not only attack the check posts of Pakistan’s security forces, but also commit other subversive acts in various places of Pakistan, besides supporting Baloch separatism.

In the past few years, when Karzai perceived that the US-led well-trained troops, equipped with sophisticated weaponry have badly failed in crushing the perennial resistance of the Afghan Taliban, he started criticising the US for innocent casualties of Afghan people. He also tried to contact Taliban leaders for a peace deal, but Taliban refused any dialogue until foreign troops leave Afghanistan. And when US announced that foreign troops would withdraw from Afghanistan, Karzai was greatly depressed.

Failed in achieving the Indo-Afghan hidden agenda, Karzai-led regime has revived its old blame against Pakistan in relation to cross-border terrorism and ISI, accusing that Pakistan was involved in killing the Afghan peace envoy Burhanuddin Rabbani.

Nevertheless, following a realistic approach in South Asia, US has also taken cognisance of the fact that in modern era of peaceful settlement of disputes and economic development, America should also abandon its faulty strategy to counterbalance a peace-loving China by making India a superpower of Asia.

A number of drastic factors have brought a shift in US policy in South Asia. Firstly, it is due to American unsuccessful mission inIraq and a prolonged war in Afghanistan that the total cost of this ‘different war’ is more than 7 trillion dollars. US was spending $12 billion a month in Iraq and is spending over $10 billion per month in Afghanistan. In this context, America feels that its severe debt crisis and financial problems will further increase, giving a greater blow to the American economy besides making it vulnerable to other internal and external setbacks. In this context, on September 24 this year, tens of thousands of anti-capitalist demostrators of the ‘Occupy Wall Street’ movement, marched in New York, while on October15, the protests which again started in New York spread to other western capitals.

Secondly, US has recognised that without Pakistan’s help, it cannot act upon its exist strategy from Afghanistan. Thirdly, it also needs Islamabad’s support for Afghanistan in the post-2014 scenario. Fourthly, Washington realises that unrest in a nuclear country like Pakistan will envelops the whole region including India as militants are well-organised from Uzbekistan to Kabul and Kashmir—jeopardising American interests in South Asia. In this connection, even Indian External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna warned on October 20 of devastating consequences on the developmental agenda of other countries of the area—more particularly, India, if the U.S. and Pakistan failed to heal their rift.

A renowned political thinker, Morgenthau remarks that foreign policy of a country must be moulded in accordance with the exigency of time and place. In these terms, even if US does not change its policy in this region, it will have to do so in the near future. Nonetheless, it seems that a prospective shift has taken place in the US South Asian policy.

Sajjad Shaukat writes on international affairs and is author of the book: US vs Islamic Militants, Invisible Balance of Power: Dangerous Shift in International Relations


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