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Takeaway from Tillerson visit

By Sadia Kazmi

The much awaited and hyped up visit of the US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has on the one hand managed to gather huge attention and hope owing to the fact that it was a quick tour to the three important countries in this region, while on the other hand, at its culmination it seems to have not achieved the desired results. The visit was primarily made as part of the US President Donald Trump’s South Asia policy, especially focusing on the issue of terrorism and efforts of peace in Afghanistan. While the cause had been noble, but the approach adopted, especially the statements issued during, before and after the visit have largely proven to be counterproductive and multiplied the efforts, if any, by zero. Since the US has already embraced India as an anchor of stability in the region, it will not be an exaggeration to say that the pressure on Pakistan to show more concrete efforts against terrorism could have been part of the policy to please India.

Once again, the US biases had been very obvious. Before his visit, the statement made by President Trump alleging Pakistan of harboring terrorism and providing safe haven to the terrorists, didn’t sit well with Pakistan for the obvious reasons. Despite the fact that Pakistan had been fighting the US’ war against terrorism, had been the front line ally in uprooting this menace, and in the process incurred the loss of 70,000 civil and military personnel, and loss of 100 billion US dollars, the US has been un-appreciative and illogical in accusing Pakistan of supporting and promoting terrorism. All the hopes tied with the visit to bring regional peace and stability and improving security situation in Afghanistan have fallen flat. One of the probable reasons as to why the Secretary of the State was given a lukewarm welcome could have been these statements. Although later on he did meet all the high level civil and military leadership in Pakistan. While the facts show and support Pakistan’s stance on its dedicated and honest efforts against terrorism, the US is persistent on pressurizing Pakistan to ‘do more”. This clearly indicates that the US is just not willing to consider the objective reality and wants to illogically continue to harp the threatening tone. This also points to the fact that there is a huge gap between the US and Pakistan that has allowed misunderstanding and distrust to flourish. While both cannot afford it to grow any further but this realization is unfortunately lacking or has intentionally been ignored in view of the US vested interests i.e. threatening Pakistan in solidarity with India.

Tillerson also managed to give contradictory statements leaving the Pakistani leadership and decision makers confused. While he emphasized that Pakistan remains to be the most important country for the US in the region and talked at length about its regional importance, surprisingly in the same breath he stated that the US will eradicate terrorism with or without Pakistan. Although he supported his argument under a guise of “looking at the conditions on the ground”, he seems to have overlooked the factual picture. The objective on-ground fact is that Afghanistan has been sufficiently infiltrated by the IS, since 45 percent of the country is not under the control of Afghan government. This is where the need for the real action against terrorism needs to be carried out, instead of on Pakistan’s soil. Another real fact is that despite the 16 years long engagement in Afghanistan, the US has not been able to bring peace in the country. It needs to understand that it cannot be achieved without Pakistan’s help and that Pakistan itself is the biggest stakeholder in this whole scenario. The terrorist sanctuaries in Afghanistan have direct implications for the peace and stability inside Pakistan. Hence more than any other country, Pakistan is willing to and has been working against terrorism.

Hence, instead of adopting a tough approach against Pakistan, the Us needs to truly look at the ground realities. If the US is genuinely interested in having peace in Afghanistan it needs to carry out anti-terrorism operation inside Afghanistan in which it will find full logistical and military support by Pakistan. For both Pakistan and the US there is much need to work on the mutual trust building and especially for the US to take into account the selfless sacrifices that Pakistan had made every time when the US required. A little acknowledgment and appreciation could actually go a long way.

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Sadia Kazmi

Sadia Kazmi works as a Senior Research Associate at the Strategic Vision Institute in Islamabad. She is a PhD candidate at the National Defense University

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