Repositioning Pakistan in US Policies By Syed Mohammad Ali

Pakistan is hardly on the list of countries favoured by the United States at present. The Trump administration has not only used harsh language to describe Pakistan’s alleged duplicity, it has also chosen to withhold bilateral aid, and advocated for Pakistan’s name to be included on a global terror financing watch-list. In response, Pakistan has also adopted a more belligerent stance towards the US ranging from retorts by our recently disqualified foreign minister, Khawaja Asif, that Washington is “a friend who always betrays,” to much wider public disgruntlement with unilateral and arbitrary US pronouncements pushing us to do more.
However, despite the prevailing turbulence in their relationship, there is a recognition amongst academics and think tanks in DC that Pakistan is not a country the US can afford to ignore for too long.
One recent example of this ongoing American interest in Pakistan is a recent conference organised by Johns Hopkins University in collaboration with the Lahore University of Management Sciences. This two-day event discussed several emerging dynamics which may shape Pakistan’s political stability, its economic health, and its relationship with the US and with its own neighbours over the coming decades.
Security experts speaking at this event saw an escalating arms race among India, China, and Pakistan, which will include emphasis on bolstering both conventional and nuclear capabilities. This problematic arms race is being aggravated by the Indo-US alignment on the one hand, and that between China and Pakistan on the other. We have already begun seeing shifting military doctrines such as India’s ‘Cold Start’ stance of launching a retaliatory conventional strike against Pakistan, and Pakistan’s development of tactical nuclear weapons to counteract India’s use of conventional force, and now there is growing emphasis on developing sea-based nuclear weapons. This military escalation does not only imply defence hikes, but also brings about higher risks of nuclear proliferation and nuclear use based on poor strategic risk assessments.
Conversely, international Pakistan watchers at the conference recognised that China is not only an arms provider, it has real economic stakes in Pakistan and the wider region due to its ‘One belt, One Road’ initiative. CPEC was also considered a major windfall for Pakistan when Pakistan was experiencing dwindling foreign direct investments and growing alienation. However, analysts cautioned that CPEC was being implemented in a non-transparent and top-down manner which is not conducive to local participation and inclusive development. It is, however, also the case that Pakistan has not achieved better outcomes from years of World Bank and IMF development assistance.
There are a lot of complicating factors, including regional and internal power dynamics, which are hard to predict. However, one thing is for certain: the South Asian region is in a period of major transitions. India and China are trying to overcome mutual suspicions, and it will be interesting to see if these two neighbouring giants can achieve some sort of rapprochement and if that will, in turn, lessen tensions between India and Pakistan.
China’s ‘One Belt One Road’ project has ambitious aims for connectivity and cooperation amongst the Eurasian landmass. However, its ultimate success will depend on China’s ability to create a complex regional network not only of infrastructure but also socio-cultural relations which can bring together former enemies, and bring stabilisation to formerly restive areas like Afghanistan. The US should help achieve this goal rather than try to subvert it.
Published in The Express Tribune, May 4th, 2018.

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