US relations with Pakistan resemble a broken affair between two unequal partners which will neither be healed nor end in a settlement. It will continue to be troubled as both sides claim and cry betrayal and disloyalty by the other. They think by pretending the act of togetherness they can stand high in the eyes of other nations not realizing that these countries already know well the troubles the two endure.
As Afghanistan and the rest of the world analyse President Donald Trump’s recent comments on Pakistan, complimenting it on the rescue of a US-Canadian couple and their three children, it is my considered view that Pakistan, as the junior partner in this relationship, does strange things, to the extent of even hurting itself sometimes, because it must attract the attention of its longtime ally and patron, the US.
These stunts by Pakistan have often worked in the past, thereby creating a Pavlovian pattern of success and reward from Washington and other capitals who have from time to time needed Pakistan in the geostrategic great game that has unfolded in South Asia since 1947.
In any case, junior partners in any partnership must impress the big partner. That is the nature of the partnership. But what distinguishes Pakistan from other junior partners the world over is its ability to escape punishment each time it hurts the US, either inadvertently or deliberately. Since the end of the Cold War most acts of terror which took place in the US or have targetted the US have been traced back to Pakistan in one way or the other.
Yet this solid, smoking evidence of Pakistan’s hand in terror has not de-merited it from being Washington’s ally. Some of us in the region at least are stunned as to how this works. This troubled, yet surviving relationship and partnership between the two countries, has given birth to conspiracy theories ranging from speculation that the US, in reality, co-manages the Pakistani nuclear arsenal so it doesn’t fall in the wrong hands, to Pakistan being the blessed master of controlled chaos in the region, to Washington controlling a chaotic Pakistan and thus chaos being a joint product.
Or to put it in simple words, without a degree of tolerance from Washington, Pakistan’s Deep State, or its army-intelligence establishment, will sooner than later become an ordinary country which provides both answers and accountability to its own people as well as to the puzzled world community. Perhaps the affairs of the Deep State looks deep for Pakistanis but there is hardly anything secret or deep about it in Washington’s eyes. Or at least that is what we would like to believe.
When President Trump announced his strategy for South Asia there was a blink of hope that Trump’s America would not be fooled by Islamabad’s stunts and particularly, the masters of the Deep State – the deceiving generals of the Pakistan Army and the terror-loving intelligence service, the ISI — would not get either praise or reward, as in the past. It was hoped that piecemeal anti-terror talk or action would not be rewarded, in order to bring a meaningful paradigm shift in the behavior and strategies of General Head Quarters in Rawalpindi.
Visiting US dignitaries have been assuring enthusiastic Afghan government leaders and its political class that Washington indeed possesses a long index of Pakistan’s tricks and would not be deceived any longer. All of this was music to the ears of Kabul. Afghans continue to pay the highest human cost in the ongoing war against terror and have a right to know Washington’s perspective and policies which have direct bearing on their lives.
However, in yet another stunt drama, the Pakistan army has earned the highest praise from President Trump in the form of a public tweet. When the American University of Afghanistan was attacked by the Haqqani Network, its Pakistan-based handlers were on live communication with the suicide attackers, guiding them as to how no mercy should be showed to any student or faculty and how to ensure maximum pain and causality.
It is an open secret in Kabul that the US-Canadian couple and their family that was recently rescued had been kept in Waziristan for some time, in the exact same part of Pakistan where the Pakistan Army only recently declared Mission Accomplished of its Zarb-e-Azb operation and sent all the bad and unwanted terrorists to Afghanistan.
It seems that the Western hostages were in the hands of good terrorists, the ones that listen to GHQ Rawalpindi, don’t hurt Pakistan and in times of need, dance like circus monkeys for visiting spectators according to the diktat of an ISI colonel. The Western hostages were in the hands of good terrorists. So when they were released as a result of a well-planned, well executed surgical operation in which only four tyres of a vehicle were punctured, we all laughed.
At least that is the official story, that professional Pakistan army personnel only fired at the tyres of a vehicle in which the hostages were being moved from one location to another. What’s the need to damage even the engine of such a vehicle? Better to keep it as low-priced an operation as possible. Perhaps the driver of the vehicle will come in handy when the need arises again to puncture four more tyres.
Better to have an experienced and well-rehearsed asset ready for the next time. To be sure, the next stunt or episode is a matter of time, not a matter of if. To the surprise of experts and pundits of Pakistan studies, both in the region and beyond, the Presidential Tweet of praise was disappointing, to put it mildly. Has America been deceived once again? Who advised the President to praise the ISI and show disregard to the very index of tricks we had all reckoned Washington had smartened up about? Is there something much bigger and deeper cooking that we, the Afghans, don’t know?
Or was the operation to rescue the US-Canadian couple entirely done by US Special Forces deep inside Pakistan and the price US paid to keep Pakistan silent was a Presidential tweet? We, again, don’t know. Of course, we would love to know, in order to strengthen our confidence in the new US strategy for South Asia, and especially Afghanistan.
Dear President Trump, indeed the release, rescue or whatever act that was performed to bring five Western hostages back to safety is great news. That is a statement from the bottom of our hearts. But please remember, a few million Afghans are still hostage at the hands of the same group, the reputation and prestige of the US military and NATO is hostage at the hands of the same group, the future of the Western-led world order is hostage at the hands of the same group, and most importantly, your word and promise that you will make America win this 16-year-long war against terror is hostage at the hands of the same group too.
We appeal to you to hold back your future tweets of praise for such deceitful acts of Pakistani army and intelligence until this mission is accomplished. Only then will they merit global recognition and praise. Thousands of American troops’ lives are in line in this fight which is strategically guided and supported by Pakistan. We are sure you know this as you have said so yourself, much clearer and better than any other American or Western leader.
Pakistan has a history of doing less to gain more. We should work together so we can pay the right price for the right work at the right time. Let’s work hard to rescue millions of other hostages before praising the Pakistan army and intelligence who are the masterminds of the ongoing bloody conflict and violence in Afghanistan and in parts of the wider region.