US Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s statement that some of Pakistan’s interests were conflicting with that of the United States and that Washington would reconsider its ties with Islamabad, are of immense significance. His was the first public pronouncement of the Joe Biden administration’s Pakistan policy. President Biden’s phone call to Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan, which he and his men have been publicly hankering for, is yet to materialize, even after nine months of Biden being in office. This should give an inkling that not all is well between the two countries. But what was unsaid, was finally said at the Congressional hearing, where Pakistan came in for severe criticism for the role it has played for decades to keep Afghanistan on the brink, while nurturing and using all sorts of terrorist groups to serve its own interests. Blinken was clear that Pakistan has been “involved in harbouring members of the Taliban, including the Haqqanis”.
Blinken also said, “What we have to look at is an insistence that every country, to include Pakistan, make good on the expectations that the international community has of what is required of a Taliban-led government if it’s to receive any legitimacy of any kind or any support… So Pakistan needs to line up with a broad majority of the international community in working toward those ends and in upholding those expectations.” Valid words. But how far is the US willing to go to punish Pakistan for the “duplicitous” role it has played—and still plays—specifically, by “using the US to defeat the US in Afghanistan”, as one of ISI’s ex chiefs, Hamid Gul had boasted? There is no reason to believe that a rogue country such as Pakistan will “line up with a broad majority of the international community” on the issue of Afghanistan, and thus give up the leverage it has acquired by installing a terrorist regime in Kabul. Instead, with the PRC as its backer, it now feels even more emboldened to continue with its misadventures. No US administration has taken any substantial action—except for some token aid cuts—against a rogue Pakistan, and this in spite of the perpetrator of 9/11, Osama Bin Laden found on Pakistani territory, right on the Pakistani military’s doorstep. Bizarrely, as the perusal of some recent articles in the US media show, even the discovery of Laden is now sought to be spun, at least by a section, as having resulted from Pakistan’s cooperation with the US. The US has publicly expressed its displeasure with Pakistan earlier as well, but when it comes to the brass tacks, Pakistan is still the US’ Major Non Nato Ally (MNNA), and thus eligible for special financial and military largesse. Public opprobrium has never translated into action from the US. Thus, Pakistan has got away with murder, every time. In fact, such was Pakistan’s confidence in US inaction—and in its own ability to gull the US—that it was, until recently, hoping even to come out of FATF’s grey list, because it was “helping” Washington to pull out American troops from Afghanistan.
However, this time it may not be so easy for GHQ Rawalpindi to get off the hook, in spite of the backing from the US Democratic Party’s pro-Wahhabi “progressive”—in reality, radical and regressive—fringe. This time Pakistan may have crossed the red line of “defeating” the US in a battlefield the superpower had invested itself for two decades. Ironically, things may not have come to such a pass for Pakistan, if Imran Khan and Company had not resorted to exulting over US’ exit from Afghanistan; or the GHQ had not inserted its pet terrorists such as the Haqqanis in the Taliban government. There is too much public scrutiny now of the role Pakistan has played, as evident from the severe criticism it received in the Congressional hearing. Also, no US President wants his people to see him as having been taken for a ride.
In spite of all this, if the US again falls into the trap of employing the arsonist to douse the Afghan fire, then it will have only itself to blame. Blinken must make good his promise to “reconsider ties” with Pakistan. A slight rap on the knuckles will not do, maybe by removing Pakistan’s Major Non Nato Ally (MNNA) status, or something similar. The need of the hour is sanctioning Pakistan and that is the process that the US must initiate.