Changing Phase in US-Pakistan Relations

Washington has to be very resilient and careful in what it promises to Pakistan.
Keywords: Pakistan, ISI, Israel, US, Resilient, Conflict, Nuclear, Iran, War, Economic, China, Development
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Pakistan’s antics

Recently, Pakistan hosted a meeting of some leaders of Islamic countries that have expressed concern for the situation in the Gaza Strip arising out of Israel’s rejection of the cease-fire unless some of its demands are met. The Hamas chief Haniyeh, based in Qatar, was also among the participants. In his address, he exhorted Pakistan to hand out a nuclear threat to Israel if it did not change its policy.

Pakistan knows it cannot do so but certainly would draw political mileage out of the irresponsible utterances of the Hamas chief. Israel could easily remind Pakistan that during the Iran-Iraq war, it was Pakistan that facilitated the transshipment of Israeli arms to Iran.

Pakistan army chief Gen Asim Munir and ISI head, Nadeem Anjum, together travelled to Washington. They met with the Secretary of State, Blinken. It is rare for Pakistani’s top military commander and the ISI chief to go to the US and meet together with the US foreign minister. There must have been an extraordinary reason for the two topmost functionaries of Pakistan to pay that visit.

Pakistani duo in Washington

There is a good deal of speculation in political circles about this mysterious and sudden visit. Some consider it a prelude to something big expected to take place in the sub-continent or in West Asia. Others link it to the fast deteriorating security scenario in Pakistan owing to the steep escalation of the Pakistan-TTP conflict.  Some commentators see a connection with the deepening rivalry between the US and China and its impact on regional and international levels.

It is interesting to reflect on these speculations though nothing can be conclusively said about the purpose and result of the talks between Pakistani and American stakeholders and policy planners.

TTP factor

The most plausible motive of the two Pakistani officials is the concern about the increasing anti-Pak army activities of TTP. The TTP is striking ferociously and relentlessly at Pakistan military and police bases and posts. Knowledgeable sources say that it has almost established its autonomous civil administration in the Waziristan region adjoining the Afghan border. The TTP has the upper hand and, in all probability, the Khyber-Pukhtunkhwa province is its next target as it enjoys enormous support in the civilian population of the province, owing to ethnic and linguistic kinship.

The Pakistani army chief may be compelled to seek military and financial support from the US to meet the challenge from the TTP. The role of the ISI chief could be to convince the Americans that the Afghan Taliban regime is lending substantial support to the TTP and that the US should use its influence to dissuade Kabul from giving shelter and support to the TTP activists.

US’ handicaps

Two decades of US fighting against the Taliban in Afghanistan culminating in an ignominious withdrawal, has taught many lessons to the American think tanks. The TTP are none other than the kith and kin of the Taliban of Afghanistan who fought shoulder to shoulder with them in their war against the American occupiers. They are connected by ethnicity, language, culture, and religion. Neither can the Afghan Taliban close their doors on them nor can they delink themselves from the larger interests of the TTP activists. The crux of the conflict is the Durand Line that Pakistan wants to maintain at all costs but that the TTP will never accept. Nothing on earth can stop the TTP from retreating to their hideouts in the Afghan border villages if and when they are forced to do so. Moreover, the US is not enjoying much influence with the Taliban regime in Kabul so that it cannot force the latter to withdraw its outright support to the TTP.

Secondly, Washington would like Pakistan to remain under the pressure of the TTP so that at the end of the day, Pakistan, faced with an existential threat, moves away from China and requests an American intervention. That the relationship between Pakistan and China has soured and that China has second thoughts about making more investments in Pakistan is no longer news.

The India factor

In the background of rising internal turmoil in Pakistan aggravated by an economic crunch that has made the normal life of the people miserable, the Biden administration has been advising Islamabad to mend fences with India so as to gain a respite on their eastern border. This was in response to the oft-repeated complaint of Pakistani authorities that they are finding Modi’s uncompromising handling of relations with them a major threat. 

In all probability, the suggestion is taken in good stead at some level in the policy-planning hierarchy of Pakistan. Commentators believe that this has been the motive behind the decision to arrange for the return of Mian Nawaz Sharif after four years of self-imposed exile. The former Pakistani Prime Minister is said to have understood the need for improving relations with India, a process towards which Prime Minister Narendra Modi had taken the first step by paying an unscheduled visit to Pakistan.

In a recent address to his party men, Nawaz Sharif said that he does not hold either India or the US responsible for the decline of Pakistan; he said that the causes of the nation’s regression have to be sought within the Pak polity and not outside it. This is a significant statement and amounts to a direct onslaught on the ISI and the army, both of which have the habit of blaming India for all the ills that befall Pakistan. 

However, the key to amending Indo-Pak relations is in the hands of Islamabad and not in New Delhi. Islamabad has so far failed to understand the consequences of nurturing terrorism on its soil. This suicidal policy has boomeranged and the people of Pakistan are facing the consequences. Pakistan is radicalised to the extent that it is hard to believe that Mian Nawaz Sharif, in spite of his apparent goodwill, will succeed in normalising the temper of his country.

The Baluch Liberation Movement

Some sections of the Pakistani press opine that the Pakistani army and ISI chiefs are trying to project the threat to Pakistan’s territorial integrity not only from the TTP and India but also with regard to the Baluch insurgency which has escalated beyond imagination in recent months. Projecting these threat scenarios forcefully, Pakistan hopes for military as well as developmental aid from Washington. Maybe the duo is selling to the Americans the publicised demand of the Islamic radical leadership (recently assembled in Pakistan) for Pakistan taking recourse to brandish the nuclear threat against Israel. Yet the question is whether Pakistan has the freedom to exercise the nuclear option. If the grapevine is to be believed, it is said that the ultimate control of Pakistan’s nuclear weapon is in the hands of the Americans.

However, the Baluch liberation movement has gained much ground because the movement is using a double-edged weapon. On the one hand, the BLS has multiplied its attacks on police and army posts and state assets to the extent that the Pak army is not able to move freely in various regions of Baluchistan. On the other hand, Baluch public dissent, usually non-violent, has increased considerably. A few days thousands of Baluch dissenters were on a long march to Islamabad protesting the discriminatory treatment meted out to them and demanding an autonomous province. Pakistan security forces have unleashed violence against the non-violent demonstrators. Hence, the world is watching with keen interest what is happening inside Pakistan.


Pakistan is beset with not one but numerous serious problems. It is not only the security issue that is urgent; the economic issue is probably reaching a breaking point. America’s main interest in receiving the high-powered delegation is to wean Pakistan away from China. Washington has to be very resilient and careful in what it promises to Pakistan. The vital issue on which the future of Pakistan hinges is whether power shall remain concentrated in the hands of the army and its intelligence wing or whether it should flow to the people of Pakistan through a fairly and honestly elected government. By and large, there is great popular resentment against her army accused of interfering in all internal and external affairs of the state. If this awakening goes deep in the mindset of the people then alone can there be some hope of this rogue state returning to a normal and stable situation.

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K N Pandita

K N Pandita has a PhD in Iranian Studies from the University of Teheran. He is the former Director of the Centre of Central Asian Studies, Kashmir University.

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