Trump’s Afghan Strategy Eclipses US-Pakistan Relations

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As U.S. President Donald Trump puts immense pressure on Pakistan, Russia and China’s role in Islamabad could eclipse America’s and further strain US-Pakistan relations.

While millions of Americans, including President Trump himself, were captivated by a total solar eclipse on Monday – the first in nearly four decades – Pakistan was bracing for a possible eclipse in US-Pakistan relations.

Trump’s long-awaited Afghan strategy puts a great deal of pressure on Pakistan to “demonstrate its commitment to civilization, order, and to peace.” Meanwhile, Islamabad is reportedly bracing itself for a “tough time” in relations with its long-time ally. Even though Washington and Islamabad have been close since the Cold War era, their relations have gotten particularly cold in the past few years.

In his televised address to the nation on Monday night, President Trump slammed Pakistan for giving a “safe haven to agents of chaos, violence, and terror” and warned the South Asian nation that it has “much to lose” from continuing to harbor “criminals and terrorists.” Trump also hinted that the U.S. could cut financial aid to Islamabad if it fails to commit to the fight against terrorism on its soil.

“We have been paying Pakistan billions and billions of dollars, at the same time they are housing the same terrorists that we are fighting,” the President said. “But that will have to change. And that will change immediately.”

His warning to Pakistan and his Afghan strategy are expected to strain US-Pakistan relations, pushing Islamabad further away from its Cold War-era ally. Meanwhile, Russia and China could outstretch their metaphorical arms to catch Pakistan as it falls off America’s support-jet. Two senior Pakistani officials familiar with Islamabad’s foreign policy plans told The Express Tribune that Islamabad is prepared for any outcome from Trump’s Afghan strategy, including seeking deeper ties with Moscow and Beijing.

Timeline: How did US-Pakistan relations go sour?

May 2, 2011: U.S. Navy SEALs kill Osama Bin Laden, Taliban’s head, on Pakistani soil. Islamabad was not aware of the secret operation.

2011: US-Pakistan relations reach an all-time low as the administration of President Barack Obama accuses Islamabad of sheltering other terrorists on its soil and withholds $800 million of aid to Pakistan.

November 26, 2011: US-led NATO forces kill 28 Pakistani soldiers in an airstrike.

2011: Pakistan immediately cuts off all NATO supplies to Afghanistan in the wake of the deadly airstrike and orders the US army to evacuate the Salala air base.

2011: Russia condemns the airstrike in Pakistan, calling it an assault on Islamabad’s sovereignty.

2011: The Pakistani government pushes to broaden its foreign policy options, including seeking closer ties with Russia despite their decades-long hostilities.

June 2012: Washington and Islamabad hold talks to end the blockade on NATO supplies. No consensus was reached.

July 2012: Secretary of State Hillary Clinton apologizes for the loss of lives in the 2011 airstrikes, and Pakistan reopens key supply routes in Afghanistan.

2014: Russia lifts embargo on arms sales to Pakistan.

2014: Later, Russia and Pakistan sign an agreement to expand their defense and military ties, resulting in an energy deal worth $1.7 billion.

2014: After years of tense ties, US-Pakistan relations somewhat improve after an unprecedented two-week-long visit by Pakistan’s most senior military official, Gen. Raheel Sharif.

Russia’s role in Pakistan grows as US loses its biggest ally in the region

2015: The Pakistani Army takes part in Russia’s Army War Games 2015 held in the Russian Far East.

2016: US Congress proposes $860 million in aid for Pakistan during the 2016-17 fiscal year.

2016: The Pakistani Army and Russian Army hold their unprecedented joint military exercises under the name of “Friendship 2016.”

January 20, 2017: Trump assumes office as President of the United States.

August 21, 2017: Trump gives the green light to deploy 4,000 additional US troops to Afghanistan, announces that he will put more pressure on Pakistan to stop giving safe havens to terrorists.

2017: The Trump administration is said to be considering more radical options to pressure Islamabad into fighting terrorism on its soil, such as: cutting aid, stripping Pakistan of its status as a non-NATO ally, and threatening to declare Islamabad a state sponsor of terrorism.

What does Trump’s Afghan strategy mean for Pakistan?

Trump’s actions to put new pressure on Pakistan to fight terrorism on its own soil could mark a new all-time low in US-Pakistan relations. But Islamabad is prepared for any outcome of Trump’s Afghan strategy, according to two unnamed senior Pakistani officials cited by the Tribune.

The officials claimed that in case of any radical measures by the U.S., the Pakistani government would have “no option but to seek even deeper and enhanced cooperation” with China and Russia. While the cooperation between Islamabad and Beijing has been consistent throughout the last few decades decades, it has been reaching new peaks since China announced the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) project in 2014.

Even though Russia and Pakistan were rivals during the Cold War era, the two nations have managed to put their historic disagreements behind them in recent years. Moscow and Islamabad have stepped up their diplomatic, military and economic cooperation as Washington continues to lambaste Pakistan for allegedly sheltering terrorist elements on its soil.

It would not be surprising if the Trump administration’s mounting pressure on Islamabad drove the South Asian nation even closer to Russia and China. In fact, Pakistan has been on that course for quite a while, if the growing Pak-Russia and Pak-China cooperations are any indications.

Growing Pak-Russia partnership could end Afghan crisis

With China boosting its investment into CPEC from $46 billion to $62 billion earlier this year, the Pakistan-Russia partnership is on the rise as well. Last week, Pakistani Ambassador to Russia Qazi Khalilullah declared that the two nations will increase their cooperation in areas of mutual interest, including the energy and military sectors.

At a gala dedicated to the 70th anniversary of Pakistan’s independence, Khalilullah revealed that Pakistanis would participate in Russia’s Army 2017 exhibition from August 22 through August 27. The visit of a Pakistani delegation is set to explore the possibilities for further cementing defense ties between the two nations.

Russia’s businesses are already embracing the vast potential of strong relations with Pakistan. Earlier this month, Russian firms signed a deal to bring investment to Pakistan and establish a medium-sized oil refinery in district Kohat of KP province.

Even though Trump has been criticizing Pakistan for what he would describe as an ineffective fight against terrorism in Afghanistan, Russia views Islamabad as a robust ally to help achieve peace and stability in the war-torn nation. Earlier this year, Moscow, Islamabad and Beijing held a series of talks aimed at bringing long-awaited peace to Afghanistan.

The new Afghan policy crafted by the Trump administration could not only throw Islamabad deeper into a growing alliance with Russia and China but also help find a long-term solution in Afghanistan. As noted by Pakistani analyst and The News commentator Mosharraf Zaidi, Pakistan is the “only country in the region that has the kinetic battlefield experience of victory against Daesh types” on Afghan soil.

“Not only does Pakistan have a robust and battle-tested military, it also has been traditionally the most sympathetic to Afghanistan’s parties to conflict,” Mr. Zaidi concluded.

Trump’s Afghan strategy could backfire

While many experts view CPEC as China’s ambitious plan to challenge U.S. strategic interests in Asia, others believe that America’s role in the world is shrinking.

Trump’s Afghan strategy could backfire and act against the interests of the U.S., which has spent more than $117 billion in Afghanistan alone since 2002. With Beijing, Moscow and Islamabad working together to resolve the Afghan crisis, any radical measures by the Trump administration are expected to further deteriorate US-Pakistan relations and, as a result, drive Islamabad closer to China and Russia.

If China, Russia and Pakistan manage to find the key to the Afghan crisis collectively and bring peace and stability to the warn-torn nation, it could play a cruel joke on U.S. influence in the region.

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