The recent action by the US Congress to deny F-16 aircraft to Pakistan as part of the military aid it provides raised alarm bells and angry counter-comments. To add insult to injury, were comments by Presidential hopeful Donald Trump, who stated that he would have Pakistan release Doctor Afridi, the man who gave the inputs on Bin Laden’s presence, ‘in a jiffy’, as Pakistan is dependent on US aid. Pakistan retorted angrily claiming US aid was peanuts and that it would never accept such diktats. Simultaneously, Pakistan was also targeted by Hillary Clinton, another Presidential hopeful, who stated that the Pakistan leadership had been aware of Bin Laden’s location, though she did not have any proof. However, the saving grace were remarks by the state department spokesperson, John Kirby, who stated that the US has no intention of losing focus on the relationship between the two countries.
For a long time, Pakistan was considered a major link in the battle against terror. It received equipment and funding from the US government in the hope that it would rein in terrorist groups located within the country, mainly the Haqqani network and the Taliban, and bring them to the negotiating table. Sartaj Aziz, the Pakistan Foreign Affairs advisor even stated in Washington that since the Taliban leadership was based in their country and obtained medical and other support from them, they do possess some influence over them.
However, with no action on the ground and a powerful summer offensive in progress by the Taliban, a frustrated Afghan government threatened to take the matter to the UN Security Council. In addition, domestic pressures made the US realize the futility of its flawed Pakistan policy. The present front-runners for the White House have openly criticized Pakistan for its support to international terrorism. Meanwhile in Europe, UK and the US, Pakistani nationals are being arrested for terrorist activities. This led to the slow slide in relations.
In spite of increasing Indo-US cooperation, Washington tended to turn a blind eye to Pakistan-sponsored attacks within India, only admonishing them lightly. The Americans needed Pakistan’s support for their operations in Afghanistan, without adding to their woes. Further, with US improving ties with Iran, Pakistan’s usefulness reduced. This change is now becoming evident, especially as the battle for the While House gathers heat. There is a realization that India is becoming strategically important in the region, especially to deal with growing Chinese assertiveness and a nuclear Pakistan.
However, America’s fear of Pakistan’s nuclear status and security of its arsenal would compel continued support to Islamabad. It is evident, that whenever US-Pak relations tend to move away from the normal, there is always a statement by Pakistan stating that it would seek to maintain a credible nuclear deterrent. This vague statement conveys a lot. In summary, it appears that somewhere down the line Pakistan is losing its way and its advantage of it being a frontline nation in the battle against terror.
In the recent past, China has been supporting Pakistan to the hilt, by even blocking the Indian proposal to declare the JeM leader as an international terrorist. India raising the issue at every level with China made no impact. Subsequent Chinese statements showed no change in their approach. As per latest reports, work on the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) is in progress, along with the development of the Gwadar port. Pakistan has deployed over 4,000 troops to ensure security to Chinese personnel employed in their country.
China needs the CPEC and the Gwadar port to bypass any threats to its maritime trade and oil imports in the Malacca Straits, in case of any deterioration in relations. Further, it would cut down costs, distance and time, as also lead to development in the Xinjiang province. In addition, it has always considered Pakistan as an alternative to balance India’s rising influence and military power. By enhancing Pakistan’s military power, it would compel India to also increase its defence spending as India would always be wary of a two-front offensive. Therefore, it has invested heavily in the CPEC and in arming Pakistan.
Pakistan is looking for its own gains from the corridor. Whether it would actually gain, only time will tell. However, for obtaining benefits, Pakistan has to ensure the security of the corridor and of the Chinese personnel employed. Other than employing additional troops and raising more forces, specifically for the corridor, Pakistan has begun ethnic cleansing in the Baluch region, to curtail their anger against this project. This has only worsened the situation which in time would increase threats to the CPEC and Gwadar.
While China would support Pakistan in its quest to counter India, it is equally wary of Pakistan’s terror export policy. Chinese Muslims from Xinjiang province are also part of the Taliban and the IS. Their return to the region would escalate the existing levels of violence. As the situation worsens in Afghanistan, the same would manifest itself in Xinjiang. While China supports Pakistan, it would be with riders, which Pakistan may not be able to ensure. While the two nations consider themselves as ‘all weather friends’ at present, the future may be different.
Core amongst the issues is the security of the CPEC, Gwadar development and denying Taliban support to insurgents from Xinjiang. Pakistan’s selective terrorism policy, which ensured its importance to the West, is today its base. The same policy has backfired both in the international arena and also domestically. It is amongst the countries worst affected by internal terrorism, a monster created within. The world has started to move away, leaving it isolated, with only China being its pillar of support, which is also incumbent on core issues. The time is now ripe for India to push hard for international pressure to compel Pakistan to dismantle its terrorist networks in return for international support, Chinese backing notwithstanding. Source
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