While the US decision to suspend all security aid to Pakistan hasnâ€™t come as a surprise, Pakistan is not the only country that has seen considerable deterioration in bi-lateral relations with the US. Since the arrival of Donald Trump in the White House, a number of countries have slipped away from the USâ€™ global axis, thanks to Trumpâ€™s decision to discard the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) deal, which was the cardinal aspect of the Obama administrationâ€™s â€˜Asia Pivotâ€™ strategy, a strategy that aimed at re-balancing the US military forces to Asia and the Pacific to counter-balance China and Russia.Â But this hasnâ€™t happened and the obvious result has been a marked decrease in the USâ€™ global influence, leading naturally to an increase in the influence of the USâ€™ strategic peers, Russia and China.
While Pakistanâ€™s slip away from the US isnâ€™t the result of the failure of TPP, it cannot be gainsaid that Pakistan would have adopted a far more cautious policy if Pakistan had not already jumped on the Chinese bandwagon through CPEC and joined the SCO. And, if Pakistan hadnâ€™t done that, the current crisis might not have happened.
While its significance cannot be denied, particularly with regard to the fact that the US is still militarily dominant in Afghanistan and that it has no intention of fully withdrawing, it cannot either be set aside that Pakistanâ€™s own strategy might become instrumental in pushing the US out of the region. This is especially evident from the way Pakistan is engaging both Russia and China in Afghanistanâ€”something that runs counter to the USâ€™ crucial military and strategic objectives in Afghanistan.
As such, it is not just Pakistanâ€™s alleged support to the Afghan Taliban that has become the bone of contention between the two countries as the US has been blaming Pakistan for the last one decade or so, it is the way Pakistan is changing the regional game, or the way Pakistan has become a party to the new game being set for the region, that has now incurred the wrath of the waning empire.
For instance, for last two-three years or so, Russia has been trying to position itself in as a key-player, and as a balancer, in Afghanistan. And, while the US has opposed almost all of Russian initiatives and even accused it of arming the Taliban, Pakistan has welcomed Russia, participated in all of its initiatives and supported a political settlement of the Afghan war.
What it means in both strategic and political terms is that Russia, just as it did in Syria, has projected itself as a player capable of gathering almost all regional players on the negotiating tableâ€”and, by doing this it has been able to project the USâ€”once againâ€”as a weak player incapable of wielding credible influence.
Also Read:Â Pak-US spat will do the US little good
What, therefore, is irking the US is not what Pakistan is not doing against the Taliban; it is the prospect of a strong Russian presenceâ€”direct and indirect– in Afghanistan, making Russia an indispensable party to the Afghan end-game.
In other words, by successfully hosting talks in Afghanistan, Russia has made sure that it will be a part of any future settlement. And by directly shaping the situation on the ground, Russia will both ensure that its influence continues over the long term and force the US to recognize its role in the country.
And, Pakistan is the key to facilitate Russian objectives just as it has been a key country for the US in its longest ever war.
In addition to it, Pakistanâ€™s participation in Chinaâ€™s Belt & Road Initiative has altogether changed the way it has been viewing Afghanistan for last 16 years. Fundamentally, it is clear to Pakistan, as it is to China, that CPECâ€™s success crucially depends upon Afghanistanâ€™s participation, which might remain impossible as long as the country remains under US occupation; hence, Pakistanâ€™s gradual shift away from the US block.
In fact, it was only in the third week of December that officials from Pakistan, Afghanistan and China met in China and announced that China and Pakistan are planning to extend the CPEC to Afghanistan.Â â€œIn the long run, through Afghanistan, we will gradually connect the CPEC with the China-Central and Western Asia Economic Corridorâ€, said Chinaâ€™s foreign minister.
What, in this context, is clearly written on the wall is that the US will soon no longer be the only player in Afghanistan. Very soon, it will be facing a lot of competition from Russia and China and its policies will be facing a serious challenge from them. The Afghan game is most certainly on the verge of a major change.
Targeting Pakistan, therefore, is an outcome of the way Pakistan has been central to changing this game. This has been further reinforced by the support both Russia and China have extended to Pakistan in the wake of the on-going spat between Pakistan and the US.
According to Pakistanâ€™s diplomatic sources, Pakistan has received telephonic assurances fromÂ RussiaÂ thatÂ PakistanÂ should not consider itself â€œisolatedâ€. According to media reports, â€œThe contacts withÂ RussiaÂ after Trumpâ€™s statement have been encouraging. They support our view and are standing with us,â€ said a senior official at the foreign ministry who remains in contact with Moscow. He added: â€œRussia is willing to enhance the bilateral ties and engage further on defense. We have two big powers with us as Washington attempts to pressurizeÂ Pakistan.â€
Such is the official mood in Beijing as well. Following the spat, Global Times, a Communist Party of China affiliated paper, published an editorial criticizing the US policies and upholding Pakistanâ€™s stance on Afghanistan, stating clearly that â€œIf the US and Pakistan break up, then Islamabad will be forced to move closer to China and Russia. Since China and Pakistan enjoy an all-weather strategic partnership of cooperation, Beijing will without doubt not give up on Islamabad.â€
In this context, there remains little for the US to do to rein Pakistan back in its block. Certainly, Pakistan can face economic pressure from the US, and there remains little to doubt that the US might resume direct drone strikes in Pakistan, but the thing that can work to Pakistanâ€™s advantage is that it remains the best territorial route for the US militaryâ€™s logistical suppliesâ€”and it is only this thing that Pakistan can and must use to its advantage when the spat cools down and officials from both countries sit down to renegotiate terms of business.