Although US President Donald Trump slammed Pakistan on more than one occasion in the last few months accusing it of doing little to curb terrorism even while gobbling up money, the US Department of Defence has recently ruled out hot pursuits into the Pakistani territory to take on terrorists who exit Afghanistan and take shelter there.
While Trump screams at Pakistan, his administration speaks softly
Sources in the Pentagon told Indian and Afghan media outlets that if Pakistan wanted to keep the terrorists within its borders, it was free to do so as long as it did not harm the region's peace and stability. The US officials made it clear that they had no authority to enter Pakistan which is a sovereign country.
The Pentagon said the US would leave things happening in Pakistan to Islamabad and focus on Afghanistan instead. It also said that Washington hopes Pakistan would take steps to ensure that there is no terror sanctuaries in its territory for that would not only help Afghanistan but also Pakistan and India and the entire region. It was also informed on US's behalf that its security aid would resume only after Islamabad addresses the allegation of providing safe havens to terrorists on its soil.
The Donald Trump administration disallowed transfer of security assistance worth over $1 billion to Islamabad saying it did not do enough against the Afghan Taliban and the Haqqani Network - an insurgent group that targets Afghan government and US troops in that country.
Going for hot pursuits in another country is certainly not a wise foreign policy decision for it can have terrible ramifications. But what is striking in the latest words from the US is that it cannot maintain a strong stand on Pakistan consistently and would blow hot and cold with the latter over issues pertaining to Afghanistan and terrorism.
President Trump himself might have blasted Pakistan a couple of times and even threatened to include India wholeheartedly in the power game in Afghanistan to encircle Pakistan but his administration has not been found to be as harsh on Islamabad. And it is so because those who run the foreign policy machinery of the US knows very well that dumping Pakistan altogether will only harm the interests of Washington in the war-torn region in the long run. For Trump as an individual, it is much easier to express disappointments and act politically incorrect.
Unilateral steps on Pakistan haven't paid off in past
The Pentagon's comparatively softer words on Pakistan show that the US is keen to tone down its voice against Islamabad on matters related to terror. In March 2011, Pakistan had strongly condemned a US drone attack on its soil killing many innocent civilians. Again in November the same year, Pakistan retaliated against a NATO attack on a couple of its military outposts killing 25 soldiers by shutting the NATO supply line to Afghanistan.
The US knows very well that repetition of such incidents today would see Pakistan leaning more towards China and Russia, worsening things more in the geostrategic region.
For the US, things have changed in Afghanistan; for Pak, not so much
Pakistan, despite its support for the terrorists in the region as a tool of defence, has a more appropriate stand compared to the Americans on this issue. Islamabad wants the Americans to see it as an ally not through the prism of Afghanistan or India but as an equal partner. It has pointed out to the Americans that they have been allies for many decades now and they even fought it together against the former Soviets in Afghanistan.
The US can't deny this. When it came to the ideological enemies - the Soviets - the Americans had not cared for the Haqqanis' ill deeds or whether Pakistan was giving shelter to the terrorists. Today, in a completely different geopolitical reality, America's old friends have turned its foes and accordingly, Pakistan's status has changed in Washington's eyes. But for Islamabad, things haven't changed so much and hence aligning their foreign policy priorities with those of the US have become a challenging, if not impossible, task.
Pakistan knows it has China and Russia to fall back upon
Pakistan today is little deterred by Washington's warnings, at least in its face, because it knows that ambitious world powers like China and Russia would stand by it if Washington stretches things too far. On the other hand, Washington knows that Pakistan remains a key country for its mission in Afghanistan.
Trump may blast Pakistan a million times on Twitter but the reality is that the US is yet to find a replacement for Pakistan as a key strategic ally. Therefore, there is again a renewed effort from the US to put the wheels back to the bruised relationship so that it can inch forward.
Suddenly, US, Pak & Afghan leaderships engaging a lot more
Pakistan's Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi had a surprise meeting with US Vice President Mike Pence last week where they discussed Afghanistan and it followed a visit by Pakistan's Foreign Secretary Tehmin Janjua to the US where she met officials from the White House and the State Department. Again, a day after Abbasi-Pence meeting, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani invited the Pakistani prime minister to Kabul to start a dialogue.
With the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor taking shape and threatening to bring an irreversible change in international politics, the onus lies more on the Americans today to take Pakistan into confidence it they really want to arrive at a universal solution to the Afghanistan problem.
Taking a harsh stand on Pakistan would not help its cause for as long as the latter perceives a threat to its existence in Afghanistan (in terms of India's involvement for example), it would not mend its ways. Forcing Pakistan, in that case, would only alienate it further and endanger the American interest in Afghanistan.
The carrot and stick policy of Washington are not working anymore with Islamabad. It's high time it thinks out something new and effective - and more inclusive -- on Pakistan.