Pakistan and the US: Together adrift


Pakistan and the US: Together adrift

A raft of acerbic public messages has created uncertainty about the course of US-Pakistan relations. Strategic circles in Washington have unleashed a barrage of accusations. Pakistan has been described as a “frenemy,” receiving US assistance while supporting the Afghan Taliban, particularly the Haqqani network, which is responsible for lethal attacks on Afghan and US forces.
Pakistan sees this as scapegoating, and denies any overt or covert support for the Afghan Taliban. The Pakistani Army has cleared terrorist bases in the tribal areas of North and South Waziristan. Safe havens for Afghan refugees exist, but there are no training camps or officially sanctioned sanctuaries for terrorists. Pakistan is fencing its border with Afghanistan to prevent unregulated cross-border flow.
Both Pakistan and the US have common goals in Afghanistan. Pakistan would like to see the US succeed in stabilizing Afghanistan. Besides military and intelligence cooperation, Islamabad has extended vital logistical support for the US/NATO mission across the border. President Donald Trump’s decision to continue to shoulder the burdens of Afghanistan with an open-ended engagement is good for the region. 
Pakistan and the US have identical goals in eliminating terrorism and violent extremism. Islamabad played a pivotal role in ensuring American success in decimating Al-Qaeda. Eliminating Daesh from the region is a shared critical priority. Islamabad’s success in defeating the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and other terrorist groups is indicative of the resilience of Pakistan’s people, and the courage and professional competence of its military.
Throughout the years since 9/11, Pakistan and the US have cooperated at every level. Military and intelligence cooperation and coordination were central to accomplishing shared goals. Even today, there are robust military-to-military consultations. 
Defense Secretary Jim Mattis had useful conversations in Islamabad, while Gen. Joseph Votel, commander of US Central Command, and Gen. John Nicholson Jr., who heads American forces in Afghanistan, are in regular contact with Pakistan’s Chief of Army Staff Gen. Qamar Bajwa and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee Gen. Zubair Hayat.

The two countries have been on the same side of history for almost seven decades, so recent efforts to portray an irreparable rupture in relations are self-defeating and misplaced.

Salman Bashir

Addressing the recent Munich Security Conference, Bajwa said the Pakistani Army “has waged a relentless fight against terrorism and violent extremism at a monumental cost. More than 35,000 Pakistanis have been killed and more than 48,000 critically wounded or disabled.” Only a fraction of the financial cost, which exceeds $250 billion, “is actually shared by our global partners,” he added. 
Significantly, Bajwa said: “Pakistan’s lasting domestic peace hinges on peace and stability in Afghanistan… We are fully committed to the international consensus that political reconciliation is the only solution to the Afghan issue. While we are actively supporting the new US strategy in the region… we are not leaving any stone unturned to try and do our best in bringing the parties to the conflict to the negotiation table.”
This is a sincere and clear enunciation of Pakistan’s policy. Given that our interests converge with those of the US, what is the political ruckus about? Is it really about Afghanistan or factors reshaping Eurasian geopolitics? In-depth conversations about the state of the world may reveal areas of strategic convergence and scope for cooperation between Pakistan and the US.
The two countries have been on the same side of history for almost seven decades. Efforts to portray an irreparable rupture in relations are self-defeating and misplaced. Would our American friends not find a moment to pause and reflect on the costs to the US of losing an old friend? A sense of drift in bilateral relations is momentary and unwarranted. In a changing world and a changed region, the US and Pakistan are together adrift. 
• Salman Bashir is a Pakistani diplomat who served as the Foreign Secretary of Pakistan and as the High Commissioner of Pakistan to India. Twitter: @SalmanB_Isb
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