What John Bolton’s appointment as NSA would lead Pak-US relations to?

What John Bolton’s appointment as NSA would lead Pak-US relations to?

Salman Rafi Sheikh,

What will the newly appointed National Security Adviser (NSA) John Bolton, the well-known hawk, would advise the US president Trumpon matters related to the US national security? This is the question that has been raised almost everywhere since the appointment—and rightly so; for, the appointment doesn’t merely mean a change in the administration, but also reflects a change in the US policy vis-à-vis crucial security issues, issues that not only involve US homeland security, but mainly US security interests in foreign lands, particularly the Middle East, Afghanistan and South Asia.

Therefore, given Bolton’s previous resume, in which Iraq war is mentioned as a glaring achievement, will Bolton lead the already strained Pak-US relations to an all-time low?

The possibility can’t be categorically denied since Bolton is one of those in the US who seriously believe that Pakistan doesn’t have enough capacity to protect its nuclear arsenal and that the Islamists might take over.

The reason, according to Bolton, for this possibility is that the Pakistan state is perpetually pre-disposed to embracing ‘Islamic extremism’ and that this embrace will be deadly for the region and damaging for the US interests in Afghanistan. Bolton, prior to becoming the NSA, had already expressed his concerns that pushing Pakistan too hard might lead it to becoming a “terrorist country with nuclear weapons” or “Iran or North Korea on steroids.”

While Pakistan is still a major non-NATO ally of the US, Bolton doesn’t believe that Pakistan is internally strong enough to prevent an Islamist take over, notwithstanding the success Pakistan has had in curbing terrorism.

And while he doesn’t believe that the US should push Pakistan too hard, its reason isn’t that he recognizes Pakistan’s successes and sacrifices but because he believes pushing too hard would actualize Pakistan’s take over by terrorist outfits. In an interview given in August last year, he said:

“…it’s clear the President wants to pressure Pakistan more. Well, I agree with that, and I think Obama didn’t pressure them enough… But there’s a real problem with simply saying, ‘By God, we’re going to squeeze Pakistan until they finally push the Taliban, the Haqqani network, Gulbuddin Hekmati out of the privileged sanctuaries they’ve had in Pakistan, push them back into Afghanistan, and stop supplying them, stop giving them weapons, stop giving them money’”.

Adding further, Bolton said:

“If you push [Pakistan] too hard, this government in Pakistan is fragile. It has been since the partition of British India …The military in Pakistan itself is at risk, increasingly, of being infiltrated through the officer ranks by radical Islamists. Many people believe the intelligence services unit already is heavily dominated by Islamists…”

Undoubtedly, Bolton is one of the so-called “many people” who believe that Pakistan’s security agencies are under the influence of Islamists, an assumption that then guides the US narrative on Pakistan which paints Pakistan not as an ally but as an enemy, the major reason for American failure in Afghanistan.

The Bolton narrative, as is evident, fits nicely with India’s global pro-terror projections of Pakistan. For Pakistan, as far as its relations with the US are concerned, appointment of John Bolton is a bad news.
Not only will it add to Pakistan’s problems at international level, such as coming out of the danger of being blacklisted by FATF, but also be instrumental in tilting the regional balance of power towards India.
While Pakistan might be able to counter-balance by strengthening its military and defence ties with Beijing and Moscow, the fact remains that Pakistan’s major economic market remains the US and the EU.

Deterioration in Pak-US relations would have far reaching implications. Already, Pakistan is looking to friends (read: China and Saudi Arabia) to get some financial ‘help’ to re-pay the IMF loans. As of 2018, Pakistan still owes about US$ 60 billion to the IMF.

But John Bolton thinks otherwise of Pak-China ties. And while he believes that the US might end up gifting Pakistan to China if the US puts too much pressure, he also believes, as he argued in his article for the Wall Street Journal, that the US should use its leverage on China to persuade Pakistan to “sever ties with terrorists and close their sanctuaries. The Trump administration should make clear that Beijing will face consequences if it does not bring to bear its massive interests in support of this goal.”

It is clear that the John Bolton, very much like President Trump, wants to pinch Pakistan, but he doesn’t want to do so by imposing sanctions on Pakistan or by cutting off the military aid. Instead, his approach is to follow suit India in its policy of isolating Pakistan by putting pressure on its major ally, China.

Were the US to success in prevailing over China, Pakistan will be in serious diplomatic trouble. But the chances of this happening are less than few.

For one thing, China doesn’t share the US view of Pakistan being a ‘terrorist country.’ For another, the growing tension between the US and China i.e., the trade war, is likely to make such a co-operation highly unlikely, if not all together impossible.

And, the fact that the US is actively cultivating India as a counter-weight to China in Asia is also going to make this co-operation all the more difficult. On the other hand, it is by now evident that both China and Pakistan wantthe US out of Pakistan.

However, while this may sound like a good-news in Pakistan’s policy circles, Pakistan can only take the US-China differences on Pakistan as cautious optimism and manoeuvre its foreign policy, both strategic and economic, accordingly; for, if Bolton’s appointment doesn’t guarantee war, it equally doesn’t guarantee an absolute normalization.