In a world witnessing big powers keen on filling diplomatic vacuums, China has smoothly stepped in to avail of the opportunity to be a reliable partner of Pakistan, one of its 14 neighbours.
By P. Kharel
German Chancellor since 12 years,Angela Merkelfinds recent signals from the United States President Donald Trump disturbing. She urges Europe to probe for an effective alternative to the prospect of the US reducing its hitherto seemingly assured commitment to Europe’s core interests. Shortly after Trump completed his first 100 days in office, Merkel, in a clear reference to the United States, assessed that “the times we can fully rely on others are somewhat over”, and called for Europe to focus more on developing self-reliance.
Having just completed his first year in office, the US president is candid—perhaps even blunt—when it comes to speaking out his mind. This disheratens or even angers his critics who want him to appear “presidential” in keeping with the majesty of power the presiding political deity of the White House is supposed to represent and manifest.
Now Pakistan might be the next to take a step significantly more strident than Germany’s displeasure. The world’s fifth most populous countryis accused by Washington of duplictous activity—receiving billions of dollars from the US and hobnobbing with the Taliban that the Americans term terrorists. Pakistani government and political parties have rejected the charges with a firm posture, as if confident of pointers made by American analysts that the US would lose much if the only nuclear weapons-possessing Islamic nation were to be meted out with such treatment.
If Trump dares to make comments that attract considerable criticisms from one section or the other for remarks he makes with regularity, it is no big surprise that he departed from the approach taken by many of his predecessors at the White House in deciding to suspendthe US aid to Pakistan. Accusing Pakistan of the duplicity of receiving $33 billion in the past 15 years and yet allowing terrorist groups to operate, hemeant that Islamabad was running with the US and tracking with the Taliban that Washington terms terrorist.
Now Pakistan might be the next to take a step significantly more strident than Germany’s displeasure. The world’s fifth most populous country is accused by Washington of duplictous activity—receiving billions of dollars from the US and hobnobbing with the Taliban that the Americans term terrorists.
Suspension of the US aid at this stage was a surprise to even some of Washington closest allies in Europe, including key NATO members. Stung by the aid halt, Islamabad must be convinced more than ever of the timely emphasis that Chinese leader Xi Jinping on “all-weather”, rather than ‘fair-weather”, friendhsip in dealing with foreign governments.
After the now-defunct Soviet Union helped engineer a militaery coup in Afghanistan in the bitter winter of 1979 and sent its troops to be stationed there until the start of the 1990s, Washington sought Pakistan’s help in aiding and advising the more than a dozen Mujahedeen militant groups against the “occupying forces” from the communist superpower. At one time, one-third of Afghanistan’s population lived as refugees in neighbouring Pakistan and Iran. Moscow eventually realised that it had committed a folly and confessed its strategic error when it pulled out its troops by 1991.
After the Twin Tower attacks by Osama binLaden’s Al Qaeda members in September 2001, Washington went in hot pursuit of the group. It deployed troops in Afghanistan and persuaded about a score of other countries to show solidarity by joining American troops in that South Asian, landlocked country. Washington has epent more than a trillion dollars in Afghanistan since the 2002 invasion but not succeeded in restoring normalcy. Its prompting of Kabul regime to talk with the Taliban whose rule the invading American forces ended have not resulted in any meaningful success.About half of the Afghan territory is under rebel control—a situtation similar to the one the Soviets faced in the 1980s.
In 2011, American troops made a raid on the Pakistani town of Abbotabad and killed Bin Laden. But Washington’s footprint in Afghanistan continues, even if a reduced one when compared with the situation four years ago. About 100,000 Afghans have lost their lives since the US-led invasion of their country 16 years ago.It would be foolhardy to expect Pakistan to achieve for another country what the best-equipped and lavishly funded troops of the superpower nation have failed so visibly for so many years in that poverty-stricken country.
In a world witnessing big powers keen on filling diplomatic vacuums, China has smoothly stepped in to avail of the opportunity to be a reliable partner of Pakistan, one of its 14 neighbours. Beijing is investing $60 billion in Pakistan’s infrastructure projects. It has also criticisedWashington for the aid suspension. Chinese assistance to Pakistan covers a wide range of areas, including education, health, airport and the Gwadar project, whose harbour gazes at the Arabian Sea and highly busy oil and gas shipping lanes. China has pledged billions of dollars to build power plants, railways and roads designed to cross the Himalayas to connect western Pakistan with the Gwadar port.
More than 40,000 lives have been lost in terrorist attacks in the past decade and a half.Most of these attaks were by the Taliban that not long ago warned that the war had reached the prime minister’s “doorstep”. What is worse, normalcy is far from sight despite relentless promises to restore full order and ensure the local people better living standards. For the past several years Washington has been making desperate efforts at working out some sort of an agreement between the Taliban and the Kabul regime.
Reluctance to hold talks with the Kabul regime which the militants consider to a “puppet” of foreign powers, the Taliban wants all foreign forces to quit Afghan soil. Had Washington decided to withdrawn from Afghanistan soon after it had the Al-Qaeda founder killed in Pakistan, it would have avoided considerable embarrassment andearned better credibility in the international circuit. Afghan history orders foreign troops to quit. The past four decades since the time the Soviets invaded Afghanistan, history has repeated itself again and again.
Coercing Pakistan, which possesses the fifth-largest nuclear arsenal, larger than Britain’s,to whatever bidding Washington calls for will not fetch the results Washington hopes for, particularly at a time when Trump is subjected to relentless criticismsat home that his policies are reckless and not in the country’s interest. When sixteen years of the US troops presence in Afghanistan has failed to end the conflict, putting the blame on Islamabad after all these years is not going to be very convincing to the nations of the world.
Just as the long-time reliable ally Germany is loudly thinking of pursuing a course for finding an alternative to US support to Europe’s interests, Pakistan is bound to take recourse to its own alternative measures to counter American pressure. The great loss would be Washington’s.
P. Kharel is Professor of Journalism, Tribhuvan University, Nepal
Source: The Rising Nepal