The Pakistan-U.S. alliance has taken a turn for the worse, threatening Pakistan’s security intelligence capabilities and the U.S.’ military personnel in the region. The two states, allies since the early 1950s, have suspended their sharing of security intelligence to one another. On January 3, 2018, the U.S. State Department announced the decision to suspend security assistance to Pakistan due to the Pakistani government’s failure to satisfactorily address terrorist activities within its borders. CNN reports that Heather Nauert, State Department spokeswoman, guarantees that military equipment and security-related funds will only be provided if “required by law.”
Approximately US$1.1 billion is expected to be suspended by the U.S., including funds previously withheld from the foreign military financing section of the budget. The issue at hand predates the Trump administration, with the Obama administration also withholding millions over concerns of a similar nature in previous years. Consequently, of Trump’s actions on January 14, 2018, Pakistan called for all intelligence sharing with the U.S. to be suspended. Nevertheless, Al Jazeera reports that Pakistani and U.S. officials have continued to cooperate “at all levels,” despite the cut in intelligence sharing.
Relations between the two states have been a consistent concern for the U.S. government. U.S. knowledge of Pakistan’s cooperation with well-known terrorist groups against its troops based in Afghanistan has caused tensions between the two governments dating back to the Clinton administration’s accusations of Pakistan arming insurgents in Kashmir, in the 1990s. The recent decision made by the Trump administration, on December 18, 2017, to act unilaterally in areas where Pakistani-U.S. interests diverge, as well as to increase cooperation with Afghanistan to combat militant groups in the region, has caused historic tensions between the two states to resurface.
Succeeding inflammatory rhetoric exchanged between the U.S. and Pakistan across social media platforms has further escalated tensions, threatening to terminate Pakistan-U.S. security relations for the foreseeable future. Despite growing international concerns, the BBC reports that although the rhetoric may appear concerning, the two states are acting “cautiously,” revealing an optimism that the tension between the two states is merely temporary. Nevertheless, possible consequences of both President Trump’s and Prime Minister Abbasi’s actions on the region have begun to circulate, such as the possible growth of terrorist-related threats to Afghanistan and U.S. troops stationed within its borders.
The current plan of action, the U.S.’ expectations that Pakistan will cut ties with all terrorist groups due to the U.S.’ threat to cut aid, fails to address tensions and improve relations between the two states; validated by Pakistan’s decision to suspend intelligence sharing with the U.S. Both states have conflicting strategic interests in the region, primarily the U.S.’ objective to rid the region of terrorism and Pakistan’s interest of nurturing close relations with what it considers to be the possible future Afghan state leaders, the Taliban. Additionally, Pakistan has assured that it does not rely heavily on U.S. aid, therefore its absent surrender to U.S. pressures, due to the inconsistency of U.S. aid for numerous years.
Although provocative rhetoric between officials of the two states is a large contributing factor towards the escalation of these issues, Al Jazeera reports that a trip by a “high level” and “senior US diplomat” to Islamabad is still expected to occur in the near future. Additionally, Richard Snelsire, spokesperson for the U.S. embassy in Islamabad, confirmed that “no notification” has been communicated by the U.S. government regarding a suspension in defense and intelligence cooperation.
Given Pakistan’s unwillingness to halt cooperation and assistance offered to terrorist groups based in Afghanistan, the U.S. has little to gain from any continued sharing of security intelligence. Additionally, its sharing of intelligence and security-related aid may prove to only harm its homeland and troops stationed in Afghanistan in the future. The U.S. may, therefore, be praised for the recent actions it has taken, excluding Trump’s use of rhetoric on social media platforms.
Regardless, abandoning relations with Pakistan will not address the long-standing issue of growing terrorist action across the region. Ultimately, the U.S. must work with Pakistan to avoid causing a collapse of relations altogether and to persuade Pakistan that alternative methods to maintaining its security and influence in the region may be found. The BBC notes that tensions between the two states could continue to escalate and that further harm could be done. Possible future consequences include Pakistan ceasing U.S. access overland supply routes to Afghanistan, which the U.S. relies on for supplying military and intelligence personnel. To ensure that transit fees of U.S. supplies and delivery delays are not impacted by the rising tensions between Pakistan and the U.S., and to allow Pakistan to regain the privilege of receiving U.S. intelligence, the U.S. must create an incentive for Pakistan to adhere to its strict standards.
For the U.S. to maintain its significant and strategic relationship with Pakistan, it must offer Pakistan benefits which it cannot receive from any possible terrorist organizations. Current regional politics determine that Pakistan’s alleged relations with groups such as the Haqqani network and Afghan Taliban are of more significance to Pakistan’s regional position than its relationship with the U.S., due to the threat that the Taliban poses to Pakistan as a neighbouring state. Additionally, U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan is a contributing factor towards Pakistan’s regional behavior. Therefore, rationally, it is in Pakistan’s interest to retain close relations with powerful non-state actors in Afghanistan, following the withdrawal of U.S. support and troops, as this action would reduce threats from a neighbouring destabilized threat.
The solution presented is, therefore, that the U.S. offer long-term military reassurance to Pakistan in the event that non-state actors based in Afghanistan were to take control of the state. Offering military reassurance in the event that Afghani terrorist groups threaten Pakistan would reduce Pakistan’s fear of terminating ties and ceasing support to such insurgent groups. Additionally, Pakistan must recognize the legitimacy of U.S. military reassurance compared to the disloyal and untrustworthy nature of terrorist organizations. Due to the geographical fluidity of the bureaucracy and targets of terrorist organizations, the U.S. should expand the military reassurance beyond actions conducted by terrorist groups based within the Afghani state border and into Pakistan. Prime Minister Abbasi and previous Pakistani governments have assured that the Pakistani government are in no way affiliated with the Pakistani Taliban, Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP). Director of Policy and Programs at the Jinnah Institute, a Pakistani think tank, reported to the CNN that the TTP is closely linked with the Afghani Taliban group although are not related and have different goals, primarily targeting the Pakistani state and military. Consequently, by extending the offer of military reassurance into Pakistan’s borders to combat the TTP, the U.S. is relieving the Pakistani government of a large domestic concern.
Possible consequences stretch beyond the borders of the U.S. and Pakistan, affecting Afghanistan and other regional players fighting terrorist factions. It is unclear whether the fragile Afghani state will survive the U.S.’ security-based aid cuts. Similarly, to the U.S., Afghanistan also suspects Pakistan’s influential military and intelligence departments of colluding with the Taliban and Haqqani terrorist networks. Afghanistan is therefore faced with an additional security risk, Pakistani support and influence over Afghani-based terrorist organizations, and should consequentially adopt a ‘bandwagoning’ approach and align itself with the U.S. Therefore, additionally to the initial solution proposed, the U.S. must encourage the fragile Afghani government to liaise with Pakistan to propose a bilateral security arrangement. This may be achieved by the U.S. funding, and building a trilateral security conference, equipped with the objective of igniting long-term security intelligence sharing and future guarantee of bilateral military reassurance between the two states.
The ultimate goal for the U.S. must be to restore intelligence sharing relations with Pakistan, thereby serving the security interests of the whole region. Hasan Askari Rizvi, a senior Pakistani political analyst, supports the understanding that the two states must move forward with a diplomatic solution, that they must try to “find common ground.” The U.S. must urge Pakistan to realize that its state will be affected by Afghanistan’s future, whether led by the Taliban or a democratic government, and it is in the best interest of the Pakistani people to maintain strong relations with the leading intelligence and military power of the international system, the U.S.
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