Categorized | South Asian Politics

Pakistan-US relationship under constraint – again

Posted on 27 May 2016 by admin

Dr. Hasan Askari

 The bilateral relations between the United States and Pakistan can be described as important and complex. Both want to maintain this relationship on positive lines but it experiences problems from time to time.

 The latest problem in their bilateral relations developed in the last week of April 2016, when the U.S. Congress declined the State Department proposal for contribution of $ 742 million towards the supply of eight F-16 aircraft to Pakistan. The arrangement for the sale of eight F-16 aircraft proposed that Pakistan would contribute $ 270 million and the U.S. would provide $ 742 million towards this deal. The Congress conditioned the American contribution to definite actions by Pakistan against the militant groups that engage in violence in Afghanistan. These include the Afghan Taliban and the Haqqqni group.

 Within two week of this decision, the Congressional Committee also placed a restriction on military aid amounting $ 450 million for Pakistan for failing to take action against the Haqqani group. The Congress would require a statement from the Secretary of State that Pakistan was taking specific action against the Haqqani group if military aid or funding from Coalition Support Fund is to be released to Pakistan.

 The statement issued by the State Department has underlined the importance of the U.S. relations with Pakistan and it maintained that the decisions of the Congress would adversely affect U.S. relations with Pakistan. The U.S. Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, Richard Olson, was in Pakistan on May 18-19 and met with Pakistan’s Army Chief, the Interior Minister and the Finance Minister, emphasizing the importance of the relations between the two countries.

 Pakistan has expressed its disappointment on this decision but it has also talked about continuing with the relationship with the U.S. The fear is being expressed in Pakistan that the U.S. was gradually returning to the policy of the 1990s when it cut off all bilateral economic assistance, military sales and military training programs between the two countries by invoking the Pressler Amendment to its Foreign Assistance Act. More economic sanctions were applied on Pakistan after Pakistan exploded nuclear devises on May 28 and 30, 1998. These restrictions were lifted after the terrorist attacks in the U.S. on September 11, 2001, and Pakistan decided to join the U.S- led global effort to eliminate terrorism.

 The U.S. presence in Afghanistan has declined during the last two years. It will reduce some more troops by the end of December 2016. The Five-Year economic and social assistance program for Pakistan under the Kerry-Lugar-Berman Law (2009) has come to an end. No new such law is expected to be passed by the Congress for continuing this aid. Therefore, economic assistance to Pakistan is bound to be reduced in 2016-2017. If military funding is not revived, the military sales and training programs will also suffer.

 The U.S. State Department and the White House are exploring ways to overcome the negative attitude of the Congress towards military sales and economic assistance to Pakistan.

 The U.S.-Pakistan relations have become a victim of a number of developments outside of Pakistan. The growing tension between the Democratic Party and the Republican Party against the backdrop of the forthcoming American presidential elections has partly contributed to the current impasse in the aid relationship. The Republican members who took the lead in criticizing Pakistani policies and placed restrictions on military sales and economic assistance to Pakistan viewed this as an opportunity to pressure the Obama Administration on foreign policy.

 The inability of the Afghan government and the U.S./NATO troops to control the Afghan Taliban violence in different parts of Afghanistan has led the U.S. and Afghanistan to take out their frustrations and anger on Pakistan. Both want Pakistan to take the lead in doing what they failed to achieve: elimination of Afghan Taliban and others fighting inside Afghanistan. They are talking about one type of movement across the Pakistan-Afghan border, that is, from Pakistan to Afghanistan. They want Pakistan to stop the movement of armed groups from Pakistan to Afghanistan.

 The other movement across the Pakistan-Afghanistan border includes the movement of militant groups from Afghanistan to Pakistan. The leadership of the Pakistani Taliban is based in Afghanistan, close to Pakistan border. These Pakistani Taliban and their affiliates are based in Afghanistan and they cross into Pakistani territory and engage in violence against the personnel of the security establishment. When Pakistan asks the Afghan government to take action against Pakistani Taliban, the Afghan government denies their presence in Afghanistan.

 The U.S. expects Pakistan to facilitate a dialogue between the Afghan Taliban and the Kabul government. Pakistan is trying hard to bring the Afghan Taliban to the conference table. However, if Pakistan uses excessive violence against the Afghan Taliban, it will not be able to bring them to the talks.

 Both the U.S. and Pakistan continue to share the goal of elimination of terrorism. The difference is about the precise policies to achieve this goal. What should be done fist, who should be the first target. Currently, Pakistan’s priority is to focus on Pakistan Taliban and their affiliates that are undermining the Pakistani state. This policy is being pursued as a high priority. Currently, it is not interested in expanding the domain of conflict by targeting the Afghan Taliban located in Pakistan.

 The U.S. is able to build pressure on Pakistan because Pakistan relies on the U.S. for assistance for socio-economic development, military sales and military training. Pakistan needs to reduce its dependence on the U.S. The current U.S. restrictions on assistance to Pakistan have built strains on their relations but they are not going to abandon each other.

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