Pakistan cannot be ignored for longby Rupert Stone / February 14, 2017 / Leave a comment
Pakistan, though sometimes ridiculed as a failed state, is a critically important country, with the world’s sixth-largest population and fastest-growing nuclear arsenal. Furthermore, it is key to the United States’ strategic interests in South and Central Asia, whether that be winding down the war in neighbouring Afghanistan, combatting terrorism, or preventing the escalation of hostilities with Pakistan’s arch-rival and fellow nuclear power, India, over the disputed region of Kashmir.
But Donald Trump said little about Pakistan (or Afghanistan) during the US presidential election and his administration is yet to articulate a strategy towards the region. Last year he had a bizarrely enthusiastic phone call with Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, which was heavy on flattery and light on substance. And last week General John Nicholson, US commander in Afghanistan, told Congress there would be a “holistic review” of America’s approach to Pakistan. But it is unclear how long that will take, and what the results may be.
An effective policy is urgently needed. First, because Pakistan is crucial to resolving the disastrous war in Afghanistan. Trump has pledged to keep American troops in the country, where the Kabul government is steadily losing territory and casualties hit record highs last year, according to a new UN report. It is assumed that Pakistan backs the US’ main adversaries, the Afghan Taliban, by granting them sanctuary across the border. If the Taliban is to be defeated, then Pakistan will have to stop supporting them and help force a truce.
But Washington is limited in its ability to crack the whip, because Pakistan provides access through its territory for supplies to reach US troops in Afghanistan. Islamabad has closed the border before, after skirmishes with NATO forces in late 2011, and could do so again. Russia allowed access from the north back then, but it is far from guaranteed that Putin would play ball now.
The best way for America to influence the Pakistanis, according to Afghanistan expert Barnett Rubin, is via China, which has close ties with the government in Islamabad. Moreover, China and the US have a shared interest in confronting militancy in the region, as a new report by the Hudson Institute emphasises. Beijing has terrorism concerns of its own, relating to the Uighurs, and also worries about the security of its…