Pakistan’s war on terrorism: A misunderstood history
At an international level, Pakistan’s role in fighting terrorism continues to be not only misunderstood but totally misrepresented. As a perennial victim of both terrorist spillover from the instability of neighbouring Afghanistan and provocations on its soil orchestrated by foreign intelligence agencies including India’s RAW, Pakistan has been uniquely unfortunate in terms of being located in a region where terrorist actors are able to converge from all sides.
Secondly, when George W. Bush coined the term “war on terror”, far from being named as an enemy in such a war, Pakistan became one of America’s foremost allies. Under President Pervez Musharraf, the US was allowed to use Pakistan for its own operations in the region which primarily targeted Afghanistan, while many alleged refugees from Afghanistan that Pakistan gave shelter to, were in fact terrorists who began conducting violence in Pakistan – against Pakistanis.
The instability of border areas with Afghanistan therefore led to terrorism being proliferated on Pakistani soil while Pakistan’s civilians and security services repeatedly paid the ultimate price including in multiple so-called “friendly fire” incidents where US drones would shoot at and slaughter Pakistani civilians mistaken by poor US intelligence as terrorists.
Therefore, in fighting terrorism at the behest of the United States, Pakistan only brought more hardship upon its own people while the security services had to shoulder not only their own national burden but much of the burden placed upon Pakistan by the United States, a country which at the time was considered a partner.
No good deed goes unpunished
Under the Trump Presidency, the US has targeted Pakistan as a state sponsor of terrorism. This is partly owning to Trump’s desire to cut so-called “foreign aid” whenever possible, thus reducing capital outflow from the US. In the case of Pakistan, the terrorist sponsorship epithet was invoked to justify the severing of £255 million worth of “aid” to Islamabad – “aid” for which Pakistan paid dearly in more ways than one.
Moreover, with the US finding that a partnership with India is useful as part of its “China containment” strategy for Asia, the US has likewise adopted classic ultra-nationalist Indian rhetoric regarding Pakistan. Increasingly, US State Department press releases regarding Pakistan are almost indistinguishable from that which can be read in right-wing Indian newspapers regarding Islamabad.
Finally, because of Pakistan’s ever more important economic relations with its all-weather partner China, the US is seeking to “contain” China by punishing Pakistan for its warm ties with Beijing whose crowning achievement has been the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) which links the Chinese mainland to Pakistan’s Arabian Sea port at Gwadar.
Because of this, Pakistan is not being punished by the US for its links with terrorism but is being perversely punished for engaging in economic connectivity projects to bring peace through prosperity, which when fully developed will help dry the regional swamps from which terrorism has often fomented. This implies that while no one denies that terrorist organisations do operate on Pakistani soil and have done so more and more ever since the 2001 American invasion of Afghanistan – it is Pakistanis who are victims not enablers of terrorism. Pakistanis have sacrificed themselves in the fight against terrorism and in recent years this hard fight is beginning to be won. Rather than applaud this achievement, the US has condemned it in the most cynical and dishonest way imaginable.
The FATF smokescreen
The Financial Action Task Force (FATF) is a multi-national body designed to fight the spread of dirty money used to finance terrorism among other nefarious activities. The body which remains heavily under the influence of the United States has just “greylisted” Pakistan, following on from Washington’s allegation that Pakistan is covertly sponsoring terrorism. While not officially a blacklist, the “greylist” clearly implies a slippery slope so far as Washington is concerned.
Pakistan’s Foreign Office has vowed to work with FATF in order to be removed from the “greylist”. This cooperative and dignified attitude is helpful in accurately portraying modern Pakistan as a nation which does not actively seek confrontation with any international bodies, including those which have clearly adopted the biases of countries that are hostile to Pakistan. But in order to fully counteract the provocation from FATF and to form a plan of action for further independence in security and financial agreements in the future, Pakistan must take initiative to distance itself from the unhelpful partnerships of the past.
Just say no to NATO
With the United States piling on the economic pressure against Pakistan, there is less and less of an incentive for Pakistan’s leaders to allow the country to be used as a transit route for NATO assets into the region. Furthermore, Pakistan should seriously review all agreements which have allowed the US to use Pakistan’s territory on a virtually “at will” basis. If the United States only sees Pakistan as a country whose territory it can use when it suites Washington’s strategic interests, this means that Pakistan too must begin to do a similar cost-benefit analysis regarding its relationship with the United States.
Intensifying security relations with China
Geopolitical expert Andrew Korybko recently discussed the prospects of China and Pakistan forming a Logistics Exchange Memorandum Of Agreement (LEMOA) which would allow each nation to use the other’s military facilities when appropriate. Regarding this proposal he stated,
“The time hasn’t yet come for a Chinese-Pakistani LEMOA, but it could be right around the corner in reaction to India’s possible eschewing of Eurasianism and tightened embrace of Atlanticism, which would itself be enough of a provocation to legitimately justify this joint escalatory measure that could more accurately be described as a “responsive rebalancing”. Figuratively speaking, the ball is in India’s court right now, and the South Asian state has become the most pivotal one at the moment in determining the long-term trajectory of Eastern Hemispheric geopolitics and therefore the overall course of the New Cold War. Its planned century-long military-strategic (junior) “partnership” with the US would completely upend the multipolar project by turning India into a dual mainland-maritime “forward operating base” for unipolarity’s southern thrust through Eurasia and its disruptive activities in the IOR, while turning its back on America would strengthen Afro-Eurasian security for years to come”.
The timing of the FATF “greylisting” and US Ambassador Nikki Hayley’s meeting with Indian Premier Narendra Modi just hours earlier makes it obvious that while under Donald Trump’s ultra-protectionist policies, India may not get the desired commercial benefits deriving from its new security partnership with Washington. It will instead get increasingly anti-Pakistan policies in return for acting as America’s barking dog in the region against Chinese economic connectivity initiatives.
In other words, while the US may not do for India what New Delhi initially sought in exchange for surrendering its old security partnerships to form a new one with the US, Washington is more than happy to “gift” India anti-Pakistan financial actions, thus proving that in order to satisfy the current Indian government, one needn’t make India rich, so long as one attempts to make Pakistan poor. This mercenary strategy of the US has thus far succeeded in solidifying an Indian partnership that is embarrassingly one-sided.
The time is now right for Pakistan to begin systematically detaching itself from the US/NATO apparatus which for decades but especially since 2001 has taken advantage of Pakistan’s geography and economic hopes in order to exert control over neighbouring Afghanistan, all the while forcing Pakistan to be America’s hostage to (mis)fortune. This strategy has come back to haunt Pakistan by creating more terrorism on Pakistani soil than there ever was prior to 2001 and now that Pakistan has successfully combated much of the terrorism that the US unleashed, it is not being thanked let alone rewarded but is being punished and humiliated as a result.
A Chinese partnership offers Pakistan the best potential for a long lasting economic and security relationship that will help to genuinely create sustainable economic development while insuring that Pakistan’s top security partner is one looking to work in a win-win format against extremism, rather than simply take advantage of Pakistan as the US has clearly done.
Russia and Iran are also potential security partners that will become invaluable to Pakistan. As a neighbouring state, Iran and Pakistan ought to work together against mutual threats from extremist terror groups in the Pakistani province of Balochistan and the neighbouring Iranian province of Sistan and Baluchestan. There is no longer any excuse not to work towards securing each other’s sovereignty against a common threat. This can help to forge a renewed understanding between the neighbouring states and end an atmosphere of distrust that has only ever worked against the mutual advantage of both Tehran and Islamabad.
In respect of the Russian superpower, as India is no longer able to transact security arrangements with Russia as it once did oweing to the threat of US sanctions, Pakistan can and should intensify its growing relations with Moscow in order to position itself at the centre of a genuine pan-Asian security alliance which will include China to the east, Russia and its central Asian partners to the north and Iran to the west.
Pakistan should take the experience it has had with the US and use this to develop a new way of thinking about itself and its position in the world so as to avoid asymmetrical partnerships while fomenting new ones that will put Pakistan in a position of diplomatic respect and economic independence, all within the framework of looking after the country’s genuine security interests.