The Pakistan-US Relationship in Jeopardy-Way Forward
Institute of Strategic Studies Islamabad
January 29, 2018
“The Pakistan-US relationship is a terrible marriage where divorce should not be considered because the costs of breaking up are too high”. This was stated by Associate Vice President of the Asia Centre at the United States Institute of Peace, Dr. Moeed Yusuf at his Public Talk on “The Pakistan-US Relationship in Jeopardy-Way Forward”, organised by the Institute of Strategic Studies Islamabad (ISSI) today under its Distinguished Lecture Series.
Dr. Yusuf stated that the strategic divergence between US and Pakistan is very real. Not only are both sides accusing each other of undermining their respective security interests, each side is also desperately trying to convince the other to agree with their point of view. He went on to say that the global alliance structure has become fairly complex – the more India and US work together, the more Pakistan and China relationship is converging. He pointed out that the increasing strand of conversation in Islamabad, that the US has no significance because of Pakistan’s relationship with China, is particularly worrisome.
Speaking about peace in Afghanistan, Dr. Yusuf stated that though both Pakistan and US want peace in Afghanistan, the peace that suits US in Afghanistan may not neatly overlap with the kind of peace that suits Pakistan. The US has a new strategy and the view from Washington is that the Pakistan part of the puzzle must be fixed in order for Afghanistan strategy to go through. Simultaneously, it is improbable that that Pakistan will agree to do anything that brings the war in Afghanistan onto Pakistani soil. Added to this is the increasing presence of Daesh in Afghanistan – a non-state actor, which benefits from problems in Pakistan-US relationship.
Dr. Yusuf said that even though neither side wants a rupture, however, there are chances of things becoming worse. He said that the Trump phenomenon – whether good or bad – is real. Hence, the chances of things going to the brink and pulling back cannot be guaranteed anymore. He added that the champions of US-Pakistan relationship – people within US government who used to argue that Pakistan is crucial for US – no longer exist. For the way forward he said, that probably the best that can be done is to avoid a rupture. Mistrust must be overcome. Every decision that is taken in terms of tactical cooperation should be verified, both sides should agree not to keep changing goal posts, and benchmarks should be disconnected from the security situation in Afghanistan. It is highly crucial for both sides to keep their expectations realistic and limited.
Earlier, Ambassador Khalid Mahmood, Chairman ISSI, in his welcome remarks talked about the Trump Administration’s South Asia policy, which was followed by the Security Strategy in December 2017, the infamous tweet and most recently the National Defense Strategy. He said that whereas Pakistan and the United States were the most allied of nations, their relationship has now hit an all time low. Currently, terrorism has taken a secondary position and inter-state strategic competition has taken precedence – primarily the competition with China and Russia – in the Trump Administration’s policy towards South Asia.
Later, in his concluding remarks, Ambassador Khalid Mahmood stated that it is the overall geostrategic alignments which are more important. Pakistan should try to avoid rupture and try to find common ground and overcome the deep mistrust that exists between the two countries. He also said that there is a lack of interlocutors between the two countries, and the relationship cannot move forward unless there are people who are willing to talk on either side. This, he concluded, needs to rectified.