The current turmoil in Afghanistan next door may have forced Pakistan to push into background several months of campaign against France to the extent that it struck a ‘deal’ with an Islamist outfit that it had proscribed to buy peace on the latter’s insistence on expelling the French envoy in Islamabad. But what one is witnessing in the last few weeks is a virtual tirade against the United States … writes Dr Sakariya Kareem
From Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto to Imran Khan, Pakistan’s Western-educated leaders have engaged in anti-West tirade for domestic consumption and to bully the Western governments, rendering the multiple relationships purely transactional and at times, counter-productive.
In comparison, the home-grown generals, Ziaul Haq and Pervez Musharraf who became presidents, besides successive Army Chiefs, have been more perceptive since, while wielding decisive power in Pakistan’s polity, they realise the need not to annoy the powerful bloc of nations that are also the principal aid-givers. These soldiers have shown a better understanding of diplomacy compared to the civilians – politicians and their rootless security experts. That many soldiers have family members, deep business interests and reach defnce deals, is also a factor.
Long accused by the West of fomenting Islamist militancy and even terrorism, Pakistan hits back accusing the West of ‘Islamophobia’. The Western governments may conduct a ‘cold’ diplomacy since Pakistan is a major Asian nation. But the security experts do not forget its role in stealing nuclear technology way back in the 1980s.
The current turmoil in Afghanistan next door may have forced Pakistan to push into background several months of campaign against France to the extent that it struck a ‘deal’ with an Islamist outfit that it had proscribed to buy peace on the latter’s insistence on expelling the French envoy in Islamabad. But what one is witnessing in the last few weeks is a virtual tirade against the United States.
Posing itself as being ‘concerned’ and ‘nervous’ at the violent campaign unleashed by the Afghan Taliban, Pakistan, when closely scrutinized, is in a triumphal mood at seeing the Taliban that it nurtured for two decades getting close to power in Kabul. In that likely eventuality, it sees itself gaining “strategic depth” Vis a vis South Asian rival India, and also providing a platform to China that is sought to be ‘contained’ by the West.
China is the confirmed new ally Pakistan has cultivated at the expense of the West, particularly the United States that, along with NATO, is ending its military presence in Afghanistan. This all-important change explains its tirade against the United States.
Imran Khan has given media interviews in the West accusing the US of “messing up” in Afghanistan. More importantly, he has roundly condemned Gen. Musharraf who joined the US-led “war on terrorism” in Afghanistan in 2001. Whatever be the ‘mistakes’ the US may have made, Khan’s rubbing the salt in their wounds as they depart from Afghanistan is not something they and Western governments and the intelligentsia are going to relish.
Pakistan currently has perhaps the most loud-mouthed National Security Advisor in Moeed Yusuf who did ten days of grandstanding in the US and returned home, like a victor, as it were, after engaging with the Biden administration and giving media quotes that were nothing short of provocative.
The US at different levels, officially and on record, had sought a military base in Pakistan so as to conduct aerial operations against the advancing Taliban. Yusuf has sought to prove all these Americans wrong by claiming that the world ‘base’ was “not even mentioned” during his talks in the US. He has chosen to ignore parleys and communications with others in the government in the last few weeks.
Yusuf reflects the stand of Imran Khan who has taken a strident stand on the US proposal, obviously to facilitate the Taliban campaign. Physically out of Afghanistan, the use of air raids is the last resort for the Americans and they are said to be firing from naval ships on the high seas.
“Mr Yusuf acknowledged that the Afghan issue came up regularly in his meetings with US officials, lawmakers and scholars,” Dawn newspaper (August 7, 2021) reported. “They talked about the past, saying that had Pakistan cooperated with the US, they could have defeated the Taliban in Afghanistan.”
He was quoted as telling the Americans: “We urged them to focus on the future. What happens in the next three months will determine Afghanistan’s future,” he was quoted as telling the Americans.
Proverbially, Pakistan wants to keep the American cake in Afghanistan and eat it too.
Moeed said: “Pakistan shares US aspiration for peace and stability in Afghanistan. In fact, we think a total US withdrawal will have a negative impact on the entire region,” he said.
The most strident of the Moeed-speak that may not go well with the US is in his August 4, 2021 interview to Financial Times that even the newspaper described as a “diplomatic affront” that may “add to the USPak tensions.”
In that interview, Moeed made an issue of President Biden not speaking on the telephone to Imran Khan, and said: “we have other options.”
The Financial Times reported that in an interview to its correspondent in Washington, Yusuf “complained about President Biden’s failure to contact Prime Minister Imran Khan as Washington sought help to stop the Taliban taking over.”
“The cold shoulder from Washington comes as the Taliban has captured swaths of territory across Afghanistan in a ruthless offensive emboldened by the US pull-out,” the FT report added.
The Financial Times noted that while Mr Yusuf did not elaborate on his options, “Pakistan has cultivated deep ties with its ‘iron brother’ China, which has invested billions in infrastructure projects as part of its Belt and Road Initiative.”
Moeed’s diplomatic fusillades come at a time Pakistan’s economy is in dire stress and has so far failed to get any significant assistance from global financial agencies including the IMF and the World Bank, where the US has a big say.