U.S. military commander in Afghanistan, Gen Joseph L. Votel, in a recent statement said that Pakistan needs to guarantee that “there are no instructions, direction, other things coming from Taliban leadership that remains in Pakistan to their fighters on the ground in Afghanistan.” He further said that “The Pakistanis also need to use their influence with the Taliban to force the Taliban leadership to come to the table.”
With both states’ inability to address the question of a “mismatch of interests” in Afghanistan, not much can be expected from the United States and Pakistan’s bilateral relations in the near future. However, this environment of confrontation may hurt Pakistan more than the United States.
Pakistan’s current government’s effort to normalize ties with the U.S. has not made any considerable headway. Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi, during his recent visit to U.S., tried to address Washington’s security interests in the region by stating that his country remains committed to Afghanistan’s peace and development.
Moreover, Qureshi while speaking at a seminar at the U.S. Institute of Peace (USIP) questioned the prevalent assumption related to Islamabad’s alleged policy of allowing different militant groups to use Pakistani territory to carry out militant attacks in Afghanistan. “We’ll take you anywhere you want to go, to show there are no safe havens any longer and that over the last two years, the dynamic in Pakistan have changed in regard to what Islamabad is doing to help bring a political solution to Afghanistan,” said Qureshi.
Islamabad’s growing interest in smoothing over differences with Washington is not likely to result in anything tangible unless the latter delivers on the former’s wishes, which appears improbable. However, Washington expects action from Pakistan. While answering a question about Pakistan influence over the Afghan Taliban, Gen. Votel said: “They can do this, they can put pressure on them [Afghan Taliban] to do this.”
There are two major arguments when it comes to the question of Pakistan’s influence over the Afghan Taliban. One argument deals with the Afghan Taliban’s growing independence from Pakistan, which over the last decade has decreased Islamabad’s influence on the group. The other major argument deals with Pakistan policy of not deteriorating ties with Afghan Taliban which could, in the long run, cost Pakistan an ally in Afghanistan. In any case, Pakistan, like other regional states, is interested in keeping ties with a group that has been termed a legitimate political stakeholder when it comes to finding a solution to the Afghan crisis. Strategically, Pakistan is not interested in annoying the Afghan Taliban regardless of whether the country has an influence over the group or not.
One can argue that Islamabad expects to improve its working relationship with Washington without making any considerable changes to its security policy. Moreover, one can also argue that Washington is aware of what a series of tough policy actions which the former took against Islamabad over the last couple of years, have done to the country. Pakistan may not like to recognize the pressure it has felt due to Washington’s growing pressure on the country. However, one can clearly see a growing desire in Islamabad to improve ties with the United States.
The ongoing deterioration in bilateral ties have not only brought security risks for Pakistan, but has also created diplomatic challenges for the country. Washington’s decision to cut all of Pakistan’s security and development assistance has only added to the country’s ongoing economic woes. A week ago, Pakistan’s Foreign Minister asked the U.S. to resume military as well as development aid for the country. While Washington may have lost influence in Pakistan during the past few years due to Islamabad’s inability to align its regional security policy with the former’s interests, it is Pakistan that is feeling the pressure of the United States’ lost interest in Pakistan. China, Russia, and Saudi Arabia may be willing to economically fill the vacuum which is being left by the U.S., such developments have their own risks. There are already reports of how China’s economic investments have placed Pakistan’s long term financial stability at risk. Recently, Saudi Arabia refused to help Islamabad economically when the latter showed an inability to affiliate its strategic interests with those of Riyadh.
The U.S. may be wary of war in Afghanistan, but it is Pakistan that is on boil economically with growing domestic security challenges. While Washington can afford to stay in Afghanistan for years, it is Pakistan that cannot afford U.S. hostility for a long time.