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What Is The Future Of Pak-US Relations?

By Polina Tikhonova. Originally published at ValueWalk.

As Pakistan finds itself in the crosshairs of U.S. President Donald Trump’s Afghan strategy, cracks continue to deepen in Pak-US relations.

US-Pak Relations
Pakistan / Pixabay

It has been over six years since Washington turned from rosy to thorny in its approach to Pakistan in the wake of U.S. Navy SEALs the killing Taliban’s chief Osama Bin Laden on Pakistani soil, but President Trump’s announcement of Afghan strategy on Monday night put an even heavier strain on Pak-US relations.

In a televised address to the nation, President Trump unveiled his long-awaited strategy on the handling of the deadly war in Afghanistan, the one that is America’s longest war in history and that has claimed the lives of more than 2,200 U.S. troops since 2001.

trump on pakistan

In his remarks about the Afghan crisis, Trump saved his harshest words for Pakistan, warning to cut financial aid and security assistance to its decades-old South Asian ally if it doesn’t stop providing “safe havens” to “agents of chaos.”

The U.S. President’s remarks, in which he warned that Islamabad had “much to lose” by continuing to harbor terrorists, sparked a furious response in Pakistan, with Pakistani Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi rejecting Trump’s allegations and calling his Afghan strategy an attempt “to scapegoat Pakistan” during a high-level meeting of Pakistan’s national security committee.

abbasi quote on trump afghan strategy

Gloomy future of Pak-US relations

The future of Pak-US relations remains undecided, as pressure on Islamabad is mounting. For months, senior U.S. officials in the Trump administration have criticized Islamabad for allegedly providing safe havens to militants and not taking sufficient action against the Haqqani Network group.

The White House is said to be considering options to strong-arm Pakistan into fighting terrorists on its soil. While some analysts suggest Islamabad could be declared a state sponsor of terrorism by the U.S., the Trump administration has publicly hinted it is considering stripping Pakistan off its status of a non-NATO ally.

This was the sentiment voiced by U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on Tuesday, less than 24 hours after the U.S. President unveiled his Afghan strategy.

tillerson quote on pakistan

The U.S. Secretary of State warned Pakistan would be removed of its status as a privileged military ally of the U.S. if it continues harboring militants on its soil, the claim Islamabad has long rejected. However, Tillerson stressed that Washington would “work with Pakistan in a positive way” if its changes its approach to dealing with militants.

US drone strikes, ‘hot pursuit’ operations in Pakistan: What to expect?

As Pakistan walks a diplomatic tightrope amid strained Pak-US relations, tensions could reach an unprecedentedly high level as some analysts say Trump’s Afghan strategy could lead to an “uptick” in U.S. drone attacks on Pakistani soil, as suggested by Aljazeera’s Asad Hashim.

It wouldn’t be the first time U.S. drones carry out attacks inside Pakistan without its official consent, as four such attacks have taken place in the nuclear-armed nation this year alone. By contrast, data by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism shows that 132 assaults by U.S. drones occurred in Pakistan in 2010 alone, during the height of Washington’s efforts to eradicate terrorism from the South Asian nation. According to the same source, up to 427 Pakistani civilians have been killed in U.S. drone attacks since 2010.

While an “uptick” in U.S. drone strikes on Pakistani soil without its consent would most likely lead to deterioration in Pak-US relations, the possibility of U.S. troops, the increased number of which was announced during Trump’s televised address on Monday, chasing down suspected terrorists into Pakistan territory could also be in the cards as well.

Pakistan-US ties have previously taken a tumble during such past operations by U.S. forces. In a statement released on Tuesday, the Pakistani Foreign Office warned that “Pakistan does not allow use of its territory against any country.”

Declaring Pakistan a state sponsor of terrorism would put a heavy strain on Pakistan-US ties

In a paper published by U.S. think tank Hudson Institute earlier this year, analysts argued that Washington should cut financial aid and military supplies to Islamabad, and possibly consider declaring Pakistan a state sponsor of terrorism, the move that many in Islamabad would most likely view as a point of no return in Pak-US relations.

Besides, “the U.S. must warn Pakistan that its status as a Major Non-NATO Ally (MNNA) is in serious jeopardy,” the paper advises. Being a major non-NATO ally allows Islamabad to have access to military spare parts and some U.S. defense programs.

Such radical options may be on the table in the White House if Pakistan doesn’t “appease” the U.S., something Pakistan has done “every time it has been pressured,” as told by Hussain Haqqani, one of the authors of the Hudson Institute report, to The Atlantic’s Krishnadev Calamur.

Haqqani, who is also a former Pakistani ambassador to Washington, said every Pakistan’s “great leap forward” in “appeasing” Washington “has been followed by two steps backwards.” This time, however, it could be an unprecedented situation, as (1) Pak-US relations have never been so cold in the past, and (2) Pakistan has made a dramatic political tilt towards China lately, the move that prompted criticism in the U.S., which could leave no room for “appeasing” its former ally.

China comes to Pakistan’s defense amid Pak-US crisis

Even though Pak-US relations had been strong since the end of Cold War era, they took a turn to the worst in the wake of U.S.-led NATO forces killing 28 Pakistani soldiers in a 2011 airstrike. For decades, Islamabad was torn apart by China and the U.S., but the tensions in Pak-US relations pushed the nation deeper into the arms of Beijing, at the same time driving it away from Washington.

In fact, China has already replaced the U.S. as Pakistan’s key economic partner. The total volume of Pak-US bilateral trade is standing at $5.78 billion, while bilateral trade between the two Asian neighbors amounts to a whopping $13.36 billion. Not to mention that their joint connectivity project – China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) – offers unique economic opportunities for Pakistan as well as solves the nation’s power shortages, something the U.S. has failed to address in the decades being Pakistan’s major ally.

On Tuesday – the next day after Trump’s warnings to Islamabad – Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying defended its “all-weather” friend and praised her country’s neighbor for making “great sacrifices” and “important contributions.”

chunying quote on pak-us relations

Despite the U.S. cutting its aid to Pakistan dramatically in the wake of its allegations of Islamabad sheltering militants, Islamabad still remains the fifth largest recipient of U.S. aid. This year alone, the South Asian nation is expected to receive a staggering over $740 million in military and civilian assistance.

However, the aid plan is standing on thin ice following the harsh remarks about Islamabad from President Trump. Strained Pak-US relations are starting to become evident under the Coalition Support Fund, where the U.S. withheld $50 million in reimbursements to Pakistan last month.

Pakistan to respond to Trump’s criticism with action

With Pak-US relations reaching

The post What Is The Future Of Pak-US Relations? appeared first on ValueWalk.

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