External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar was candid at a recent interaction about the US and Pakistan. “A lot of India’s problems with Pakistan are directly attributable to the support that the United States gave to Pakistan,” he said. He mentioned this in the context of India’s relationship with Russia. The gist of his statement was—every country, which is a part of the Quad, has its independent stand on foreign policy issues, and just as there is no consensus among Quad partners about Pakistan, there is no similar consensus about Russia. Such a statement assumes greater importance when one looks at US State Department spokesperson Ned Price’s recent statement that Pakistan is a partner of the US and that Washington would look at ways to advance ties with Islamabad in a manner that serves US interest and their “mutual interests”. Almost in the same breath, Price also mentioned that “we (the US) have made clear to our Indian partners that we are there for them, we are ready and able and willing to partner with them, and we’ve done just that”. It’s a different matter that US’ long-time partner, Pakistan, smartly led it up the garden path, ensured a Taliban takeover of Afghanistan and the defeat of the US, apart from ensuring that the US’ “chosen one”, Mullah Baradar was thrown under the bus and Rawalpindi GHQ’s favoured Haqqani network held sway in the Taliban government. And even though Pakistan has lost a Prime Minister, in the form of Imran Khan—whose anti-US rhetoric was reaching a crescendo by the time of his exit—and gained a new more malleable one in Shehbaz Sharif, it has not changed its army, which continues to decide its state policy of terror. India has been hearing for eons about Pakistan rearing snakes in its backyard—Hillary Clinton said it first about Pakistan’s terrorist networks—but what has the US done to make Pakistan give up those snakes? Except for some itsy-bitsy aid cuts during Donald Trump’s time, a bulk of which was restored, what has the US done to put pressure on Pakistan? And now Pakistan is even set to get out of the FATF grey list, which will open doors for easier loans and more money for a country that has terrorism as its state policy and is bound to push terrorism with renewed vigour. While a finger is being pointed at China for quietly lobbying for Pakistan to get out of the grey list, questions are bound to arise if such an eventuality is possible without US support.
It is said that Pakistan has lost its place in US’ geopolitical scheme of things in the second decade of the 21st century. Is that really the case? From the recent statements coming from Washington, it seems as if US is starting to renew its interest in that country, still driven by the false belief that to stabilize the highly volatile situation in Afghanistan, Pakistan is needed. It is like asking the arsonist to douse a raging fire. And of course there is the China angle. Can the US wean Pakistan away from China at a time when Islamabad is one of Beijing’s biggest client states?
Then there is the theory—some say conspiracy—that the US is trying to make India toe the US line on the Ukraine war by raising the Pakistan bogey. But given the depth of the strategic partnership between the two countries, it may not be that simple. Even though there are times it seems as if the US State Department, under Antony Blinken, is following an independent policy of needling India unnecessarily, based on the pure canard of human rights violations, while India’s actual partnership is happening with the Department of Defense and the Pentagon. Whether this schism is an eyewash or if there is some substance to it is of course a matter of speculation. But New Delhi is surely watching the pro-Pakistan sound-bites emanating from Washington and telling itself that a lot of India’s problems with Pakistan are directly attributable to the support that the United States gives to Pakistan.