Pakistan is trying to crackdown on terrorism, but will this boost its foreign ties?

By Vipul Gupta

Pakistan, the only Islamic state with nuclear weapons, has many times in the past managed to shrug off international pressure over its alleged links to terror groups. The country has increasingly been admonished by foreign countries for its inability to curb the terror menace unleashed by groups that have found refuge within its borders. Recently, US President Donald Trump even went on a Twitter rant about the country’s alleged “lies and deceit”.

The Taliban, the Haqqani Network, the Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), the Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM), and the al-Qaeda are some of the terror groups thought to have a safe haven in Pakistan. The latest entrant to this list is Hafiz Saeed’s Jama’at-ud-Da’wah, which claims to be a social and political wing of the LeT. This recent addition means Pakistan now has 139 entities on the UN’s terror watchlist.

Pakistan, in the past, has enjoyed the conditional support of the US, primarily because of its air and ground support for the US-led Afghanistan war. Moreover, it’s two all-weather friends, Saudi Arabia and China, have long opposed any financial or military aggression against Pakistan. However, this status quo has been changing, with the Trump administration reportedly looking to end the Afghan war. The Trump administration has alleged that Pakistan gives the US and Afghanistan limited ground intel.

Terrorism hurting Pakistan’s foreign relations

To up the pressure on Pakistan, the US recently cut its $1.3 billion financial aid, adding the country on the Financial Action Task Force’s watchlist. Pakistan is considered to be the only neutral member of the highly divided Arab world, making it a favourable ally for both Saudi Arabia and Iran. Despite this advantageous position in the Arab world, Pakistan is slowly becoming increasingly globally isolated.

“Terrorism has become an issue that is now not only hurting India, Pakistan relations but also US-Pakistan relations. Many other countries are also becoming negative in their approach to Pakistan. So, Pakistan will have to change that perception around the world,” Hussain Haqqani, former Pakistani envoy to the US, told ANI.

Pakistan’s domestic turmoil

It is no secret that Pakistan’s flawed power structure favours its military over the democratically elected government. This limits the scope of direct negotiations between the Pakistani government and the US. Since the US cut off its $1.3 billion aid, Pakistan has been working on improving the optics and trying to win back the support of its allies, including China and Saudi Arabia.

To begin with, Pakistan has beefed up its anti-terror operations and is now considering a permanent ban on the Hafiz Saeed led outfits—JuD and LeT. Although these actions seem to be irreversible, there remains the possibility of the new leadership, which will come into power after the general election later this year, doing away with the proposed bill to ban several terror groups. If that happens, and a stable central leadership takes over, Pakistan’s response to the American aggression might change.

Imran Khan, leader of the opposition in Pakistan, has advocated for cutting diplomatic and intelligence ties with the US, and the need for establishing diplomatic parity. Though this seems to be his way of mustering support from the highly influential military ahead of the elections, if he keeps up with this rhetoric, the US might lose a strategic ally in Asia. Moreover, they will have to look for alternative routes to get supplies to Afghanistan, which have proved to be highly expensive in the past.

Will India-Pakistan relations improve?

Although the underlying hostility between Pakistan and India has now been acknowledged by the US and its NATO allies, it is essential to note that neither India nor Kashmir has featured in any of the recent dialogues between the US and Pakistan.

Although the Trump administration has urged both India and Pakistan to resolve the Kashmiri insurgency issue, formal diplomatic talks between the nations have yet to address this issue. The diplomatic ties between the US and Pakistan, as of now, are limited to the Afghan war, and in a bid to keep Pakistan at the negotiation table, the US has so far refrained from mentioning Kashmir.

Since the Uri attacks and the Indian Army’s “Operation All Out” in the Kashmir Valley, India has increased its rhetoric against Pakistan, both internationally and domestically. It is debatable though if any good has been achieved out this new policy, as many argue that the increased Indian aggression has pushed Kashmir away from India, resulting in a wave of sympathy for the separatist movement. However, the Modi government has chosen to keep up its anti-Pakistan agenda, to justify its aggressive policy of dealing with the clashes in the Valley. The strategy was likely designed to ensure that the Modi government avoid any political backlash from voters.

What’s next?

Over the past 16 years, the US has spent more than $1 trillion on the Afghan war. Trump, however, blames Pakistan for the US’ failures in Afghanistan. With a new Secretary of State and National Security Advisor in the cabinet, it is expected that the US will be much more aggressive and authoritative when it comes to dealing with Pakistan. Only time will tell whether Trump is likely to go for Iran-like sanctions or Russia-like diplomatic cut-off when dealing with Pakistan.

However, Pakistan’s recent move to impose a permanent ban on terror groups may go some way in easing the current tensions with the US. Given Trump’s unpredictability, however, it is unclear whether Pakistan’s move may be enough to appease the current US administration.

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