U.S. ‘Hardline’ Foreign Policy On Pakistan Threatens Regional Cooperation

Recent developments in United States-Pakistan relations have the potential to hinder the capacity for bilateral cooperation between the two nations on Afghanistan and other regional issues. On 4 January 2018, the U.S. State Department announced that it would be suspending security assistance to Pakistan until it takes “decisive action” against militants which are allegedly given safe haven on Pakistani soil. This announcement comes in light of President Trump’s 2 January 2018 tweet, which outlines the giving of 33 billion USD in aid over a 15 year period as foolish, with the U.S. having received nothing in return but “lies and deceit.” The Trump administration’s rhetoric towards Pakistan and the suspension of funding further exacerbates the deterioration of U.S.-Pakistan relations following a mid-December Pentagon report, which announced that the U.S. would “take unilateral steps in areas of divergence.” It is unclear as to what unilateral steps may be taken, however the report does not preclude the use of force on Pakistani soil.

2017 defense spending legislation provides for the disbursement of 900 million in Coalition Support Funds to Pakistan, however none of this has been paid. The suspension therefore amounts to over 900 million, but at present is indeterminable. The implications of this in relation to regional security are ultimately unclear, however it could result in Pakistan taking retaliatory action to effectively impede U.S. operations in the region. In 2011, following the killing of 24 Pakistani military personnel by a U.S. aircraft, Pakistan suspended NATO use of its land borders with Afghanistan, restricting the access of troops to the landlocked nation. Furthermore, Pakistan has allowed drone strikes against militant targets in the Federal Administered Tribal Areas and shared intelligence on militants both in the region and in Pakistani diaspora communities. The continuation of such security cooperation is uncertain in light of these deteriorating relations, and could have a direct impact on the efficacy of U.S. efforts against the Taliban in Afghanistan.

The suspension of funding and hardline rhetoric from Trump and officials within his administration comes in light of frustration over what is seen to be inadequate efforts in fighting the Taliban and Haqqani Network. A Department of State spokesperson said that “the Taliban and Haqqani network continue to find sanctuary inside Pakistan as they plot to destabilize Afghanistan and attack U.S. and allied personnel.” Pakistan anticipates that U.S. involvement in Afghanistan will not last forever, and accordingly its policy towards the Taliban is often termed as one of rapprochement; Pakistan has called for the Taliban to be part of the Afghan Peace Talks. The suspension of U.S. aid has done little to coerce Pakistan to act in accordance with U.S. demands.

The Pakistani National Security Committee released a handout stating that the allegations made by Trump were “completely incomprehensible as they contradicted facts manifestly.” Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi said that tens of thousands of Pakistanis had lost their lives fighting terrorism inside its borders and that this “could not be trivialised so heartlessly by pushing all of it behind a monetary value – and that too an imagined one.” From 2009 onward Pakistan conducted a large scale military operation to retake Swat and Dir from Taliban occupation, districts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province which previously gave militants free passage between Afghanistan and Pakistan. Furthermore, the Pakistani Army has conducted operations against former militant safe havens in both North and South Waziristan.

U.S. hardline rhetoric and aid cuts are yet to have an impact on Pakistan’s policy towards militants which are allegedly operating within its borders. Rather, U.S.-Pakistan relations have become defined by mistrust. This has the potential to undermine the efficacy of future peace talks on Afghanistan, which both nations have previously played a major part in.