While Pakistanis may entertain many ideas about their importance or otherwise in the region, it is also imperative to find out what Americans are thinking about Pakistan. America has been part of Pakistan’s national psyche since almost its independence and their mutual relationship has been and is not free from doldrums and vicissitudes. The current US administration has publicly shown its distaste of the policies pursued by Pakistan in respect of Afghanistan and almost all US financial assistance has dried-up.
In a recent public analysis, Director of American National Intelligence observed that South Asian region is heating up in wake of the elections in Afghanistan and India in which anti-Pakistan rhetoric will play a substantial role. The American-led alliance in Afghanistan is also being subjected to heavy Taliban military pressure that has unnerved the American establishment. The clear American tilt towards negotiating with Taliban while abandoning their long-held stance of keeping parleys subservient to Taliban recognition of Kabul regime is indicative of the worry emanating out of the inefficacy of Western efforts to mould Afghanistan according to their plan.
Facing difficulties in Afghanistan American security establishment is quite used to shifting the responsibility of failure towards Pakistan by stating that “Pakistan’s recalcitrance in dealing with militant groups” is actually the main hurdle. Such excuses do not wash as Americans are well-acquainted with the scenario since the last 18 years and they exactly know that the Taliban is an indigenous force supported by large segments of Afghanistan’s populace.
The US National Intelligence director gave vent to his fears that the fighting elements in the vicinity of Afghanistan may take advantage of their Pakistani support and involve in activities harmful to American interests. This is highly unjustifiable fear because Pakistan has curbed such armed elements with tremendous effort after a tough fight in which its forces were made to give heavy sacrifices of life and limbs. It is actually Pakistan that is fencing the porous border with Afghanistan wherefrom extremists come into Pakistan and engage in violent actions.
The intelligence assessment of an American official have come at a time when Pakistan is playing a pivotal role in aiding talks between the Taliban and the US in order to further the Afghan peace process and end the 18-year-long war. It is very well-known that Pakistan has been very sincere in brokering peace in Afghanistan and its efforts date back many years. It has always denied allegations of providing support to extremists and there is no tangible proof of Pakistan’s involvement in such actions.
The American intelligence assessment predicts that neither the Taliban nor Kabul will be able to gain a strategic military advantage in the Afghan war in 2019 “if coalition support remains at current levels”. This may also not be close to reality as the American desperation to conduct parleys with Taliban testify. The report further notes that the Taliban has stepped up large scale attacks although Afghan forces “generally have secured cities and other government strongholds”. This is the key part of the Taliban strategy as it plays to the rural support though it also keep Kabul under continuous pressure.
The report maintains “Afghan security suffers from a large number of forces being tied down in defensive missions, mobility shortfalls and a lack of reliable forces to hold recaptured territory.” There is factual inaccuracy here as well because the Defence Forces of Afghanistan primarily suffers from tremendous lack of discipline with regular desertions being the order of the day along with many incidents of the government troops turning against their own colleagues and opening fire on them.
In a typical twist, the intelligence assessment mentions their concerns about Pakistan’s continued development control of nuclear weapons but did not express any concern about India’s nuclear programme, although the report notes that India had, in 2018, conducted its first deployment of a nuclear-powered submarine armed with nuclear missiles. While adding that Pakistan continues to develop new types of nuclear weapons, including short-range tactical weapons, sea-based cruise missiles, air-launched cruise missiles, and longer range ballistic missiles, the intelligence report conveniently ignores the fact American think-tanks have repeatedly pointed out that India’s nuclear security measures “may be weaker than those of Pakistan”.
The report notes the Indian elections are also expected to play their part in stoking communal violence within the country which “could alienate Indian Muslims and allow Islamist terrorist groups in India to expand their influence,” the report warns. Furthermore, the US expects relations between India and China to remain tense despite efforts on both sides to manage tensions since the border standoff in 2017, elevating the risk of unintentional escalation. Although Chinese and Indian leadership held an informal summit in April 2018 to defuse tensions and normalise relations, border issues were not addressed, the report notes. “Misperceptions of military movements or construction might result in tensions escalating into armed conflict.”
It may be worthwhile to note that President Donald Trump mocked his intelligence chiefs and called them “extremely passive and naive” and mentioned “Perhaps Intelligence should go back to school!” Although he retracted his comments later and said that he and his intelligence chiefs are on the same page but there appears to be some perception deficiencies existing on their part. TW
Shahmir Kazi works in the private sector with interest in socio-political affairs