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US President Donald Trump’s recent tweets blaming Pakistan for all the failures in Afghanistan are seriously distorted. Since previous US administrations have also failed to achieve anything substantial in Afghanistan — the “graveyard of empires” — the current administration is desperate to find scapegoats.

Besides Trump’s scathing tweets, the recent US National Security Strategy (NSS) is likely to further undermine Pakistan/US relations. The strategy’s major pillars over-emphasize the vicious geopolitical competition and exaggerate the use of military power to curb the challenges Washington faces.

Now that Pakistan/US relations are sliding and are likely to deteriorate further, one interesting question arises with regard to the Trump Administration’s stated policy of so-called “Principled Realism”: How can Pakistan maneuver through the American strategy?

Pakistan/US relations stand on four pillars: Afghanistan and counter-terrorism policies; India; Pakistan’s relations with China; and Pakistan’s nuclear assets.

Washington and Islamabad at odds strategically

As far as Afghanistan and counterterrorism policies are concerned, there seems to be no strategic congruity between Washington and Islamabad. With regards to India, its quarter of strategic convergence has also become too constricted. Pakistan’s increasing tilt to Beijing is a concern for the US, especially when the recent NSS document terms China one of its major rivals.

The dilemma of Pakistan’s foreign policy has been its Indo-centric prism which shapes its relations with other countries. In a bid to alleviate its concerns vis-a-vis New Delhi, Islamabad prefers to use the major powers as a shield. But a problem emerges when a major power uses India as a bargaining chip.

This is a recurring theme in South Asian politics and a favorite bargaining chip for the external powers. The US wants to use India against China and Pakistan. Afghanistan will become a theatre for a US proxy war again but this time against China and Pakistan.

Such a critical moment is facing Pakistan, again. Fully aware of this regional strategic environment, Pakistan’s Chief of Army Staff (COAS), General Qamar Bajwa, stated that the military was ready to back the political leadership’s initiative for normalization of relations with arch-rival India. However, India’s intransigence remains. Without New Delhi reciprocating the general’s goodwill, the strategic stability of the region remains uncertain.

The US has always wielded its negative influence by criticizing Pakistan’s ability to protect its nuclear arsenal. Given that, the prospects for Pakistan/US relations are not bright.

The US has always wielded its negative influence by criticizing Pakistan’s ability to protect its nuclear arsenal. Given that, the prospects for Pakistan/US relations are not bright.

The message that Pakistan’s civil-military leadership has conveyed to the Trump administration recently is a step in right direction. The country should not be provoked into making hasty statements and rash actions.

Whether Washington accepts it or not, America’s international influence is slipping away. A multipolar world order is rapidly developing. The national security strategy appears aimed at reviving America’s predominance but it lacks foresight and won’t help stop the decline of the US global influence. Sailing under the flag of populist-nationalism, Donald Trump appears to be encouraging a multipolar world order faster than expected.

Second, decreasing the trust deficit between Kabul and Islamabad is the key to framing the regional narratives. It is commendable that building bridges with Afghanistan is the top agenda of the country’s civil and military leadership. Recent Pakistan-China-Afghanistan talks is again a shrewd tactic. However, these conciliatory measures shouldn’t be restricted to talk and negotiation which usually lead nowhere.

Pakistan should step up its effort to develop infrastructure in Afghanistan. Torn by decades of war, the country is badly in need of development. The irony is that even US aid failed to help develop the country, and the problems of the Afghans are worse than they were in early 2000.

It is true that Washington and Islamabad are on a divergent path. At present, Islamabad may not be the strategic partner of the US but we should become “frenemies” at least.

International relations have always been tricky. The parties that learn to maneuver the shifts and transitions survive. It is in this rapidly changing strategic environment that Pakistan must showcase to the world its comprehensive and diversified foreign policy and security strategy. nationally and internationally.

Ghazanfar Ali Garewal

Ghazanfar Ali Garewal is a lecturer in the international relations department of the National University of Modern Languages in Islamabad and coordinator of the department. He holds an MS degree in international cooperation from Yonsei University, Seoul, an MSc in international relations from Quaid-i-Azam University, Islamabad, and an MA in English from NUML.

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