US Defense Secretary James “Mad Dog” Mattis has just stated that the US is considering revoking Pakistan’s status as a non-NATO ally.
Pakistan joined a club of US partner which are given non-NATO ally status in 2004. Being classed as a non-NATO ally gives nations outside of Europe and Europe’s often controversial near-abroad, similar rankings and ostensibly privileges as formal members of the US led alliance. Other members of the non-NATO ally group include Israel, Japan, South Korea, Egypt and Jordan.
Mattis has stated that the US may kick Pakistan out of the group because of Pakistan’s alleged support of the Afghan Taliban.
Donald Trump and his cabinet colleagues have worked hard to push a narrative that Pakistan is a state sponsor of terrorism and that in particular, Pakistan aids armed factions in neighbouring Afghanistan. The allegations which have thus far not been backed up by any evidence, are similar to the kinds of things said by Indian mass media and Hindutva politicians.
However, Pakistan’s growing schism with the United States is, in reality, over a host of issues, all of which are related to Pakistan’s pivot away from the US and its related pivot towards China and Russia.
The China-Pakistan Economic Corridor build on the border between the two countries is arguably the most important part of One Belt–One Road. It is certainly the most involved and potentially rewarding part of One Belt–One Road which has been or is being built to-date.
In line with One Belt–One Road, Pakistan has been intensifying economic and political cooperation with China.
At the same time, Pakistan’s relations with Russia have reached an all time high. Pakistan’s membership of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation, which was attained this year (along with India) shows that Pakistan is now a full member of the geo-political security group whose most prominent founder members are China and Russia. By contrast, Pakistan’s effective junior membership of what amounts to ‘NATO Lite’ has been one fraught with bearing the burden of a failed US policy in Afghanistan, a policy that many Pakistanis have come to increasingly resent and for good reason, it has objectively failed to bring peace to Afghanistan and security to Pakistan.
China and Russia’s firm defence of Pakistan which came shortly after Donald Trump’s speech announcing a troop surge in Afghanistan, sent a clear message that China and Russia value their Pakistani ally and will diplomatically defend Islamabad against what amounts to baseless allegations from Washington.
As I wrote previously in The Duran
“Russia learned from experience what the US has failed to learn after nearly 16 years in Afghanistan: no peaceful solution can take place without the Pashtun majority having their interests accounted for. The strongest group around which many Pashtuns now rally is the Taliban and has been so for decades.
Russia who in the 1980s fought against the people who would come to support the Taliban in the 1990s, has realised that there is a time for war and a time for dialogue.
It was this approach that allowed Russia to accept Akhmad Kadyrov as a loyal subject to Russia even though he had been a supreme enemy of the state just years prior to this reconciliation. Likewise, in Afghanistan, Russia realises that the Taliban, the moderate rebels of modern Afghanistan, cannot be disregarded and nor can they be bombed into coming to the peace table, not least because many Taliban leaders have already made comparatively generous peace offers that Afghanistan’s neighbours such as Pakistan could easily work with.
Russia has let the ideological wars of the past slip into memory and Russia’s modern leaders have learned the lessons necessary to formulate a new Afghan policy. This new Russian policy of dialogue with the Taliban is in line with that of Pakistan which seeks a stable country free from American or Indian influence on its western border and it is also what China seeks as China requires a stable Pakistan and a comparatively placid Afghanistan in order to complete a crucial section of One Belt–One Road infrastructure in the region. Iran too has come to this realisation in more ways than one.
Ultimately, Russia’s pragmatic approach to Afghanistan is one of dialogue between the Taliban and Kabul. The Taliban’s popularity among Pashtuns remains strong and most importantly, the Taliban commitment to dialogue is not theoretical but realistic, as many Taliban leaders have stated that they seek a negotiated peace with Kabul once the US vacates the country. This could also help forming a united front against ISIS in Afghanistan, a group opposed by both the Kabul government and the Taliban and of course also Russia, Pakistan and China.
As I wrote shortly after the initial troop surge announcement,
“Today, Pakistan is increasingly supportive of proposals by China and Russia which involve a negotiated settlement to the conflict which involves both the current fractious government as well as the increasingly powerful, influential and in many regions popular Taliban factions. Such proposals fit in with Pakistan’s long term strategy in Afghanistan and suit Islamabad’s contemporary regional desire for stability.
While in the 1980s and 1990s India tended to side with Russia, it is looking increasingly likely that India under Prime Minister Narendra Modi is going to take a more American approach to the conflict.However, it remains far from certain whether India will commit troops to the recently announced ‘Trump surge’ or whether India can offer anything at a peace keeping table beyond joining with the United States to further alienate Pakistan, causing Islamabad to grow even closer to Beijing than it already is. In this context, growing closer to Beijing also means implicitly growing closer to Moscow as China and Russia have offered similar solutions to the conflict, both of which involve fostering dialogue between the government in Kabul and the Taliban.
China is all too aware that The United States is isolated in the region in respect of a peace process. Iran is increasingly seeing things along the same lines as Russia and China and in any case, the chances of Donald Trump working with Iran anywhere are nil. The lone exception to this pattern of isolation is India. Under Modi, New Delhi may use Trump’s offer to try and upset the status quo of the region in which all of the key powers are increasingly cooperating with China’s One Belt–One Road project, India being the lone country which under Modi is increasingly hellbent on antagonising China at every opportunity”.
Ultimately Trump’s plan of drawing India into the Afghan conflict in order to antagonise or ‘contain’ Pakistan, ultimately failed. India is happy to supply the rhetoric to such an endeavour but has not been eager to supply the men or material commitments.
Because of this, the US is now directly threatening Pakistan with a demotion from a US led alliance. The trouble for the US is that Pakistan is increasingly seeing such moves as a welcome change.
Popular Pakistani opposition leader Imran Khan has been calling for Pakistan to distance itself from US military and geo-political power for many years and now mainstream opinion in Pakistan has largely caught up with such a notion.
Pakistan is no longer quietly seething about the US attitude towards Islamabad. Instead, Pakistan feeling confident in its own economic progress and having faith the good intentions of China and Russia, is moving closer to a position of withdrawing from America’s orbit of its own accord. In this sense, James “Mad Dog” Mattis has just threatened Pakistan with something that many in Pakistan want and want badly.