Team Trump places Pakistan in a paradox

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Pakistani Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi’s meeting with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani in Kabul recently has raised expectations about the viability of the peace process between Kabul and Islamabad while highlighting India’s success in peeling Kabul away from dependency on Pakistan’s ruling elite.

As well, the meeting served to cement US regional policy goals: If realpolitik supplants rigid ideology, then policymakers in Islamabad will need to rethink their approach to China, India and the US while revisiting their Afghanistan strategy.

In April, Pakistani Foreign Secretary Tehmina Janjua and her Afghan counterpart met to discuss rapprochement between India and Pakistan. This procured a meeting in Kabul where Pakistan’s army chief, General Qamar Javed Bajwa, remarked that regions develop as a whole, not individual countries.

This provides political and strategic insight into Pakistan’s regional objectives. Islamabad is reeling domestically, fiscally and socially. Its military establishment isn’t used to securing or mobilizing political support for objectives that remain out of its scope. Islamabad is looking into different alternative approaches to the Durand Line while parrying domestic, bilateral and global challenges.

Pakistan is nearly insolvent and cannot secure long-term funding to address its encirclement by Islamic State, al-Qaeda and others. This is why US President Donald Trump’s Financial Action Task Force (FATF) badly damaged Pakistan, for it exposed a profound fallacy that anchored Pakistan’s security establishment, namely its bilateral relations with China.

Thinking that both China and Saudi Arabia would screen Pakistan from international scrutiny enabled Islamabad’s military leadership to ignore the very socio-political and economic trials that affect both Beijing and Riyadh. Having secured Pakistan’s isolation, the US has placed Pakistan in a dangerously precarious position. Hence the high-level diplomatic meetings in Kabul referenced above.

Islamabad continues to watch New Delhi outmaneuver both the US and China in securing Kabul’s interest in the opening of Chabahar Port. With the port fully operational, Kabul’s dependency on Pakistan is over.

According to Zubair Motiwala, chairman of the Afghan-Pakistan Joint Chamber of Commerce and Industry, “India has succeeded in penetrating Kabul, slashing Pakistan’s market share more than 50% in two years.” This only exacerbates what every member of the ruling establishment in Islamabad knows: Pakistan cannot secure its interests in the tribal regions and remains dependent on US drone strikes.

Being seen as incapable of protecting its own territorial integrity grossly exacerbates what the Pakistani deep state cannot acknowledge: domestic fallout from US dependency. Call it the Pakistani paradox.

Islamabad continues to watch as allies become dependent rivals. Team Trump seeks to solicit openly what the Pakistani citadel cannot manage, namely the rough regional politics of civil-military relations in spheres of interest antithetical to Pakistan’s ruling elite, while India shifts its base to a strategic level harnessing Afghan independence.

With the US willing to invest deeper into Afghan connectivity, ignoring Pakistani security interests while watching socio-political pressure build on its western borders, Islamabad must address a horror it has never faced, namely vacant alliances and dwindling security resources.

Here’s the Pakistan paradox that haunts the ruling elite: Having been led by military and security agencies, Islamabad’s Afghan objectives have virtually no room or concern for the very requisite sources needed to win its engagement with multiplying domestic enemies.

Pakistan needs what every credible Western critic of the citadel has exposed, namely a vibrant civil society and polity. Having enjoyed its life and identity as a rentier political economy, Pakistan’s security establishment has become the domain of a deep state divorced from sound allies and secure resources for the long war.

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