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Pak-US Estrangement after Fall of Kabul


Parvez Mahmood

It was inevitable and foretold. Everyone in Pakistan -from the elite to the ordinary, from the diplomats to the journalists, from the politicians to the military, and from the learned to the ignorant- knew that the moment its engagement in Afghanistan was over, the US would decamp from the region.

The US and British officials, high and low, kept insisting to the opposite; that they were here for a long-term commitment and wouldn’t abandon the region or its people. Belying these statements, they have proved true to their past conduct and have hurriedly abandoned the region.

However, even before the US exited from Afghanistan, it had practically frozen its relations with Pakistan for the preceding six months. All interactions between the two nations during this period have only been to secure US withdrawal.

A decade ago, the US ambassador to Pakistan was often referred to as the viceroy. Now it doesn’t even have an ambassador since 2018.

Every head of government of Pakistan since President Musharraf has been feted in the White House. Every Army Chief after him too has been received at the highest levels in Washington to seek their council. According to US diplomat Vali Nasr, President Obama even received a 13-page memo from Gen Kiyani himself on the Afghanistan situation. There were frequent high-level US military and diplomatic visits to Islamabad and GHQ to coordinate future steps. There were many tiers of intelligence sharing. Now the silence is very loud.

The current frost in relations is so deep that the most glaring missing phone call in the world is between US President and Pakistan’s Prime Minister. US officials, including members of the cabinet and Congress, are openly blaming Pakistan for their military defeat in Afghanistan. There are calls in Congress to assess Pakistan’s complicity in aiding the Taliban and its links with the Haqqani network.

US suspicions on Pakistan’s conduct during this long conflict lack any rationale. Pakistan facilitated the US beyond its national interest-paying heavy costs in terms of severe internal conflict. Pakistan had consistently been advising US policymakers as far back as 2010, as has now been acknowledged by some sections of western media, to cut a deal with the Taliban and make a graceful exit.

The divergence of national interest over Afghanistan between the nations is evident. The US wanted to give India a large role in economic and political Afghan affairs. They would have known Pakistan’s anxiety over this but they chose to ignore and browbeat it. US-installed a brazenly anti-Pakistan puppet government in Afghanistan and did little to refrain them from open hostility. Things came to such a state that some policymakers rightly felt that one of the hidden objectives of the US-India alliance is to denuclearize Pakistan. Unfortunately, the US did not address any of these concerns.

American decision to abandon Pakistan along with Afghanistan can be dangerous. The US and the West need Pakistan to create stability in Afghanistan. The two neighbors have a shared religious and social history dating back to centuries. It is, after all, the US diplomats who coined the term Af-Pak to highlight the symbiotic relationship between the two. Pakistan will remain vital to ensure that Afghanistan doesn’t descend into anarchy and become a safe haven for international jihadi movements. The previous US chilling of relations with Pakistan in the early 1990s created Al-Qaida that lead to 9/11. Now even more sophisticated organizations like ISIS and its affiliates are looking for a similar opening.

Constructive outcomes of a peaceful settlement in Afghanistan are numerous. Taliban have indicated their intentions to join the One Road One Belt initiative (BRI), integrating Afghanistan with CPEC. This may finally bring to fruition the long-stalled TAPI gas pipeline (perhaps just TAP, without the trailing ‘I’), Tajik-Afg-Pak electric transmission line, or even a Russia-Pakistan petroleum pipeline. Landlocked Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan too would be able to use Gwadar as their trading outlet. Hopefully, considering these developments, US attention on the Indo-Pacific region will not be at the cost of neglect of this region.

US policymakers would certainly be mindful of those possibilities. Hopefully, they will see their constructive engagement with Pakistan as their own national interest.

The writer has served in the PAF for three decades in Air Traffic Control and Administration branch. 

*The views expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not necessarily reflect the position of this magazine.

The Diplomatic Insight, Pakistan's premier Public Diplomacy Magazine, has been at the forefront of promoting Peace Through Informed Dialogue since its inception in 2009. With both print and electronic versions, this decade-old media house is offering research, analysis, and public diplomacy outreach to clients in Pakistan and across the globe. TDI is now offering Amazon Kindle Self Publishing Services to diplomats, ambassadors, political leaders, academicians, and other civil society leaders to be the next best-seller authors. With access to 11 global markets and the option to translate your work into 11 languages, you can reach up to 300 million readers worldwide and unlock your personal and country branding.

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