Neighbourhood Watch: With Imran Gone, Pakistan Is Back In US Lap. What This Means For India

Pakistan’s Chief of Army Staff General Qamar Jawed Bajwa is set to demit office in a little more than one month from now. But just before his retirement, he has managed to bring several trophies for Pakistan from the United States of America. The all-powerful General has not only succeeded in securing a $450 million package deal to revive the combat potential of the Pakistan air force’s F-16 fighter fleet, he was also successful in getting the US to do something on Pakistan Occupied Kashmir that no leader could since the creation of the country. During his three-day official visit to Muzaffarabad earlier this month, US Ambassador to Pakistan Donald Blome referred to POK as “Azad Kashmir”. This will allow Pakistan to describe the region as sovereign territory of Pakistan.

Gen Bajwa could also claim credit for effectively pleading Pakistan’s case before the US top leadership to take it off the grey list of terror funding watchdog Financial Action Task Force (FATF) after four years. Inspite of terrorist groups still roaming free in the country, Pakistan was found to be “compliant” in the action plan set out by the FATF, which is meeting in Paris from October 18-21.  

Gen Bajwa, who is due to retire on November 29, seems to be a man in a hurry. Given the unstable political atmosphere in the country, there are speculations in the strategic circles about his real intent — whether he will graciously retire from Rawalpindi or seek some leadership or mentor role in the military-politico establishment in Pakistan? The  way he has manipulated his position as the army chief and impressed the Americans to recognise him as the de facto ruler of Pakistan has surprised many. Bajwa was personally received by US Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin in front of the Pentagon when he last visited Washington.  

Looking Ahead: India@2047

Clearly, Bajwa has been able to place Pakistan back in the American lap. After the exit of Imran Khan as the prime minister, who very often alleges in public rallies that he was ousted from power at the behest of the “American masters of General Bajwa”, the Pakistani strongman has been able to achieve for his country what the previous democratic rulers or generals have not been able to. Bajwa, who made several visits to Washington after the removal of the Imran Khan government, has also been able to bring a very generous flood relief aid of $66 million from the US.

After Imran’s exit, which had forged deep ties with Russia, the new coalition government led by Shahbaz Sharif, which is more amenable to the Army headquarters in Rawalpindi, has opened its doors to America. In fact, the Pakistani army was said to be instrumental in helping the US eliminate Al Qaida leader Ayman-al-Jawahiri from a safe hideout in Kabul.

Facing economic and political instability, Pakistan is in dire straits with the recent devastating floods only adding to the woes of a nation barely struggling to survive due to foreign currency crunch and a dying economy. Pakistan, which has somehow managed to obtain a loan of US$1.2 billion from the International Monetary Fund, can hope to manage its expenses on essential items like petrol and gas, whose prices have soared sky high. In this difficult situation, Pakistan is looking for help not only from its friends but also from India. However, the US flood assistance will go a long way in reducing any anti-US  sentiments among the common Pakistani masses.

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What US U-Turn On Pakistan And Kashmir Means For India

On January 1, 2018, then US president Donald Trump tweeted: “The United States has foolishly given Pakistan more than 33 billion dollars in aid over the last 15 years, and they have given us nothing but lies & deceit, thinking of our leaders as fools. They give safe haven to the terrorists we hunt in Afghanistan, with little help. No more!”

The Trump administration had stopped all military aid to Pakistan, even though the US forces were still in Afghanistan and they needed Pakistan’s support to sustain the huge military presence in the war-torn country. 

Earlier, during Barack Obama administration, then US secretary of state Hillary Clinton had said Pakistan was rearing snakes in its backyard. 

The recent U-turn by the US administration on Pakistan and Kashmir has hence left the Indian strategic observers perplexed. India has taken this seriously and registered its protest. 

With the US also describing Pakistan as an important contributor in the fight against terrorism, thus promoting the Islamabad narrative that Pakistan is itself a victim of terrorism and should be taken out of the FATF grey list, there is apprehension that this might just encourage the Pakistan-based terrorist groups to reorganise, come out in the open and launch attacks against India with impunity, forcing India to divert more of its resources to fight the enhanced threat.

In the past, whenever Pakistan has received military assistance from the US, India has faced increased military pressure on its borders. 

Since India is also an important and indispensable member of QUAD, the Indo-Pacific grouping of four nations whose primary aim is to reduce Chinese domination. And China will gain if India diverts attention from China to Pakistan. 

The US embracing an important loyal China ally and enhancing its military capabilities will in fact strengthen China, which has already developed an access to the Arabian sea through the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, through Kashghar-Gwadar highway. 

In fact, a militarily boosted Pakistan could prove to be an asset for China in countering the QUAD agenda. The Trump administration had realised this when it stopped all military aid to Pakistan. 

The present coalition government led by Shahbaz Sharif is a temporary regime and does not appear to have any political will to take a firm stand against terrorist groups. This is evident from the way the Pakistan government has been blocking all moves in the United Nations Security Council, with the help of its all-weather friend China, to include the name of some of the dreaded terrorists nurtured by Pakistani intelligence agency ISI in the UN sanction list under the 1267 committee. Interestingly, the US was earlier in the forefront of bringing the proposals to ban Pakistan-based terrorists. The US had also been supporting the FATF resolution to keep Pakistan in the grey list for not taking enough measures to take suitable actions against terrorists and their organisations. Observers wonder what the US administration will gain from this sudden embrace of a country that is often described as a failed state and  internationally known for producing terrorists.

This kowtowing before the Pakistani general will only embolden the Pakistani military establishment to get more aggressive against India, thus fuelling tension in the region. This will not only widen a trust deficit in the Indo-US bilateral relations but also create turbulence in the Indo-Pacific region where India and the US along with Australia and Japan are committed to ensuring peace, security and stability.

The author is a strategic affairs analyst.

[Disclaimer: The opinions, beliefs, and views expressed by the various authors and forum participants on this website are personal.]

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