A lot is going on in Pakistani-US relations: There was US President Donald Trump’s New Year’s tweet and various American attempts to put Pakistan on the global terrorist-financing watch list. More recently the Trump administration imposed sanctions on seven Pakistani firms for supposedly nuclear trading, thus minimizing Pakistan’s chances of joining the Nuclear Suppliers Group. The list of events which point to a widening rift between the US and Pakistan is growing.
Nonetheless, the government of Pakistan maintains workable ties with the US although relations are not as good as before. The past 70 years’ experience of relations with Washington has engendered distrust among the people of Pakistan. The increased cooperation between the two countries which was overwhelming at the start of the new century and Pakistan’s status as a close ally of the US has faded away over time. It took Islamabad a long time to realize that Washington cannot be a trusted ally, and that proved to be a turning point in Pakistan’s foreign policy.
There has been a visible change in Pakistan’s foreign policy since 2007 when, disappointed by the US, it extended a friendly hand to Russia. Before that the country had pursued a stable monotonous foreign policy for decades, where good relations with the US, China and Saudi Arabia were the priorities.
Since 2007, there has been remarkable progress in ties between Moscow and Islamabad. At the same time a series of foreign visits started where Pakistani leaders were going all over the world seeking partners. The diversification of Pakistan’s foreign policy continues and there will be more partner countries for Islamabad than today.
On March 21, a Pakistan-Russia joint working group meeting on terrorism was held in Islamabad. Both countries not only expressed concern over the growing IS threat in Afghanistan, but also agreed to continue cooperation for the eradication of terrorism and extremism from the region. The working group meeting signifies an improvement in Russia-Pakistan relations. Both countries increased cooperation in energy, counterterrorism, defense and technology. As relations between Pakistan and the US cool, Moscow and Islamabad are coming closer to each other.
Pakistan-Russia relations are often viewed through the lens of the Cold War. However, there is much more to bilateral ties than the Cold War. There have been regional strategic developments coupled with a change in foreign policies of the two countries. Moscow and Islamabad have enjoyed a stable relationship for the past few years.
There is visible improvement. Step by step advances are laying the foundations for sustainable ties. Several intergovernmental agreements exist between the two, which include cooperation in counterterrorism, trade, energy and military. Russia on occasion has openly supported Pakistan’s counter-terrorism policies and realizes the sacrifices the people of Pakistan have given in their war against terrorism. At the same time Beijing-Islamabad ties continue to prosper.
Trump may be tough on Pakistan and will issue harsh statements, but the fact remains that it is not easy even for the US to just alienate a strategically located Asian country. The US keeps an eye on how Pakistan is fostering ties with big powers such as Russia and China and would not want Pakistan to slip out of its area of influence. Keeping in view US-Russia ties, where both countries are expelling each other’s diplomats and ties are becoming increasingly stressed day by day, it would not be wise for Washington to push Pakistan away.
On the other hand, Pakistan does not intend to completely disengage from the US. Russia or Pakistan’s all-weather friend China cannot be a substitute for the US. For the promotion of its national interests a balanced policy is adopted where Islamabad is working with Russia, China and the US. “We are willing to work with all officials with an open mind and open heart,” said Pakistan’s Ambassador to the US Aizaz Ahmad Chaudhary.
The recent stand by the US against Pakistan is on the issue of terrorism. Washington needs to carry out an analysis based on the ground realities of the country.
Islamabad has been engaged in a war against terrorism for more than a decade and has paid a huge price. The war has damaged its economy. A more sensible solution calls for the US to provide more resources to empower the country to fight terrorism. Punitive measures will result in further weakening of the state and Pakistan will not be able to fight terrorists as effectively.
In this critical time, Islamabad needs the international community’s support rather than being left alone. A stable Pakistan can play a much greater role in peace in Afghanistan and the region.