The US Suspension of Security Aid to Pakistan: Will It Give Geopolitical Space to China?

The loss of the US’s strategic space in Pakistan is an advantage for China. Given the South Asia Policy and recent tweet, anti-US sentiments are growing exponentially in Pakistan, whereas on the other, China has been emerging as a trustworthy regional ally of Pakistan. – Dr Bawa Singh*

With the declaration of Washington’s South Asia Policy and Trump’s Tweet of the New Year, the US-Pakistan relations have reached the verge of collapse.  Given Pakistan’s strategic salience particularly in the context of 9/11, the US has given generous security aid to Pakistan during the last 15 years. However, when in reciprocation, being failed to get the anticipated results of controlling the terror groups, President Trump’s frustration and annoyance found it’s let out via his tweetnado. He lambasted Pakistan for providing a safe haven to the terror groups rather than controlling them. Consequently, Trump puts Pakistan on notice with a warning of security aid suspension.

Notwithstanding, more than one lakh military boots in Afghanistan (2001-2014), the US and the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) had failed to root out terrorist groups like Taliban and Haqqani network in Afghanistan. The US has been frequently charging Pakistan for providing safe haven to Taliban and Haqqani network. On the other hand, Pakistan has been openly criticizing the US for its failure to ensure the security of turbulent eastern Afghanistan. It is a serious security concern for Pakistan as its most-wanted terrorist (Mullah Fazlullah) is believed to be operating from there. Moreover, the issues like Raymond Allen Davis, the killing of Osama bin Laden, and the Salala incident, had further enervated the bilateral relations. Thus, these two countries have been accusing each other over the Global War on Terror (GWOT) strategy since the 9/11 attacks. Trump’s New South Asia Policy and tweetnado have further dented the favourable status of the US among the people of Pakistan.

Trump has reversed his earlier stand and re-engaged with South Asia in general and Afghanistan-Pak in particular through the framework of his South Asia Policy. The policy had created a lot of anti-US sentiments in Pakistan. It was further fuelled by Trump’s tweet wherein, he accused Pakistan of providing safe haven to terror groups rather than controlling them and suspended the security aid to Pakistan.

US Security Aid to Pakistan

Since the establishment of diplomatic relations, the US has been providing security aid to Pakistan to control the expansion of communism and expand its strategic interests in South Asia. Though the provision of the security aid to Pakistan has been on the see-saw mode for many decades, intervention of the USSR in Afghanistan (1979), the 9/11 attack and GWOT, had once again made Pakistan as a linchpin for expanding and protecting the US’s strategic interests in the region.

American civilian and military aid to Pakistan, once the third-largest recipient of U.S. foreign assistance, is expected to total less than $1 billion in 2016, down from a recent peak of more than $3.5 billion in 2011, according to U.S. government data. The United States has not appropriated less than $1 billion to Pakistan since at least 2007.

During the presidential campaign, candidate Trump was against the Afghanistan-Pak policy and castigated his predecessors George Bush and Barack Obama for their military engagement in the turbulent countries. Being in office for just one year, he reversed his stand and re-engaged with South Asia in general and Afghanistan-Pak in particular. The main objectives of his South Asia policy are to increase the military strength in Afghanistan, to put Pakistan on notice to do more to control the terror groups and emphasized to encourage the role of India in Afghanistan. For Trump, Pakistan has become bête noire and charged it by saying that, “The United States has foolishly given Pakistan more than 33 billion dollars in aid over the last 15 years, and they have given us nothing but lies & deceit…”

Security aid is the main backbone of the US-Pakistan relations; however, it has come with many strings. In 1954, the US and Pakistan had signed Mutual Defence Assistance Agreement (MDAA), to train the latter’s soldiers. In reciprocation, the US was allowed to establish a Military Assistance Advisory Group (MAAG) in Rawalpindi. In 1956, Pakistan has leased Peshawar Air Station to the US.  President Ayub Khan (27 October 1958 – 25 March 1969) allowed the US to fly a spy mission to watch the Soviet Union from Pakistan’s territory. In 1981, about $3.2 billion security and economic aid were provided to Pakistan to deal with the strategic threats out of the USSR’s intervention in Afghanistan. In 1987, Pakistan has become the highest recipient of military and economic aid.  Given the 9/11 attack, the US has given an important place to Pakistan for the success of Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF) to root out the terrorism. In 2004, President Bush declared Pakistan as a non-NATO ally under which it can purchase advanced military equipment. During the last one and half decade, the US has provided security assistance for about US$ 33 billion.

On the eve of new year, Trump chilled the spine of Pakistan by suspending security aid of  US$ 1.1 bn. The aid includes US$ 255 million as Foreign Military Funding (FMF) for the fiscal year of 2016. The Department of Defence has also suspended US$ 900 million disbursing as Coalition Support Fund (CSF) for the year 2017. Disbursement of $255 million has been put on suspension until Pakistan extends it cooperation to control the Haqqani and Taliban groups. However, it has not become clear either suspension would remain temporary or permanent. Many spokesmen and officials of the US government have given an indication that security assistance to Pakistan has been put on hold. The US ambassador to the UN  Nikki Haley said, “There are clear reasons for this. Pakistan has played a double game for years…. We expect far more cooperation from Pakistan in the fight against terrorism.”

What is the rationale for withholding the security aid to Pakistan? Is it only Pakistan’s passive attitude for not doing more as anticipated by the US or some other factors are at play to do the same. It is believed that some sort of internal political and economic factors of the US are at play in this context. On the other hand, Pakistan leadership is of the strong opinion that the US wanted to use Pakistan as a “whipping boy” to distract the attention of the people from its strategic failures in the Afghanistan operation.

Pakistan’s Reactions

In this background, does Pakistan have any leverage to compel the US to continue the security aid? Of course, Pakistan has not only important place in the US’s South Asia policy rather for the entire Asian geopolitical landscape. It has been providing safe passage for the logistic and strategic supplies to the US forces fighting the Taliban and other terror groups.

Over the charges of Trump, Defence Minister Khurram Dastgir-Khan hit back angrily by saying that Pakistan, as an “anti-terror ally” had provided land and air communication, military bases, and intelligence cooperation to root out Al-Qaeda during the last 16 years. and in return, Pakistan got only invective and mistrust. Pakistan’s PM Abbasi has called a meeting of the National Security Committee (NSC). In this meeting, Military Chiefs, Intelligence Chiefs, and some cabinet ministers have participated to discuss the future course of action and also expressed deep disappointment over the charges. Foreign Minister Khawaja Asif has also blamed President Trump for covering US’ failure to control the terrorism in Afghanistan. While talking to Pakistani TV network Geo on 1 January 2018, he said, “We have already told the US that we will not do more, so Trump’s ‘no more’ does not hold any importance.” Moreover, the US ambassador David Hale has also been called by the Pakistan Foreign Office and lodged a strong protest over the tweet.

What are the leverages of the US in Pakistan? In order to understand this question, one statement is worth to quote here. Pakistan’s Army Chief (Pervez Musharraf, 1998) said, “You may love America, you may hate America, but you cannot ignore America. Such is the reality of our times and we must live with it.” The critical situation of Pakistan has made it dependent on the US. Without external debt, Pakistan does not have sufficient finance to meet its day to day expenditures. On the other, its external debts are swelling and likely to reach US$ 110 bn. in the next two years.  There is a serious threat to Pakistan’s solvency. In this situation, Pakistan has options only to go to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank, where the US enjoys a monopoly in decision making. However, on the other hand, Livemint on 5 January 2018 claimed that major sections of American academia are of the opinion that the US has not substantial coercive leverages vis-a-vis Pakistan.

Geopolitical advantage for China

Given the strategic calculations of South Asia, China is a major actor in the bilateral relations of the US-Pakistan. The loss of the US’s strategic space in Pakistan is an advantage for China. Given the South Asia Policy and recent tweet, anti-US sentiments are growing exponentially in Pakistan, whereas on the other, China has been emerging as a trustworthy regional ally of Pakistan. The Global Times claimed amidst the US hostility, Chinese ties are set to get closer. Moreover, China has already made a strong foothold in Pakistan through roads, railways tracks, economic corridor, airport, Gwadar port. Currently, Beijing had made investment nearly of $60 billion (€50 billion) in China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), part of the One Belt One Road initiative. Not only defence cooperation, rather nuclear cooperation is also exponentially growing between Pakistan and China.

Chinese Ambassador to Pakistan Mr Sun Weidong with Pakistani Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi

Geopolitically, China as an “all-weather friend,” has extended strong diplomatic and moral support to Pakistan over the US’s action and reaction. Soon after the Trump’s tweet, the Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Geng Shuang said in a press conference, “We welcome Pakistan and other countries’ cooperation on counter-terrorism and in other fields on the basis of mutual respect and their joint commitment to the security and stability of the region and the world.” China is committed to extending cooperation to Pakistan on counter-terrorism, security, and stability of the region and world. China is a bulwark for Pakistan against all odds not only from arch-rivals rather from the regional and international organisations.

The US and Pakistan have been remained complementary to each other and with the growing diplomatic distance; the bilateral strategic and economic interests will be seriously implicated. There is a probability of political instability and sagging of economy can happen in Pakistan. Even selling of the nuclear technology on part of Pakistan can take place. It would likely to create serious impacts on the United State’s Afghanistan policy as well. At last, it is concluded that for the success of the US Afghanistan policy, Pakistan holds an important place in the strategic calculations. In case, if the US fails to keep Pakistan within its ambit, the void of security assistance will be filled by China. The US loss is a geopolitical advantage for China.

Dr. Bawa Singh has been teaching in the Department of South and Central Asian Studies, School of Global Relations, Central University of Punjab, Bathinda-India. He has been contributing articles in Modern Diplomacy, Diplomat, Eurasian Review, South Asian Monitor, Dialogue AIDIA and IPPR.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Kootneeti Team.

Also Read: Strategic importance of wheat shipment to Afghanistan by India

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Kootneeti Team

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This report has been written by The Kootneeti Team. For any feedbacks/query reach Editor@thekootneeti.com || Twitter: @TheKootneeti

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  1. 2nd February 2018

    […] Also Read: The US Suspension of Security Aid to Pakistan: Will It Give Geopolitical Space to China? […]

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