x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

US shortsighted policy only hurts its 'ally' Pakistan

The breakdown in US-Pakistan talks is just a symptom of the illness that has been aggravated by shortsighted US policy.

When the United States officially withdraws from Afghanistan in 2014, it will leave behind a neighbourhood that is even more unstable than it was a decade ago. Washington has failed to achieve permanent progress on most of its goals in the region. It is far too early to conclude that the country will fall back under the control of the Taliban - what a post-withdrawal Afghanistan will look like is still unclear. For the neighbour to the south-east, however, that day cannot come soon enough. Washington has long overstayed Islamabad's welcome, which was coerced in the first place.

On Friday, the latest round of talks aimed at resolving a diplomatic deadlock between the United States and Pakistan failed after Islamabad again demanded an apology for the US air strike that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers near the Afghan border last November. After two days of negotiations, the US special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan, Marc Grossman, left Islamabad with no agreement.

The fragile relationship between the two countries is, arguably, at its lowest point. Pakistan now appears more of a hindrance in Afghanistan than a friend, refusing to open Nato supply routes, and some elements of the security forces support Taliban-related militants such as the Haqqani network. Washington's response has been to withhold $3 billion (Dh11 billion) in military aid.

The US position has a certain irresistible logic. How do you apologise to a country that harboured Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad? President Barack Obama is campaigning on a hawkish plank while claiming credit for bin Laden's scalp one year ago; a conciliatory tone towards Islamabad might seem inconsistent.

The bin Laden case illustrates Washington's conundrum when it comes to its nominal ally. However, the continuing US drone strikes against militants in the border areas and dubious operations of CIA personnel are obvious, self-defeating blunders. The drones have killed some senior figures - including Baitullah Mehsud, the former leader of Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan - but Washington has to realise that it cannot win a war of attrition. Drones are a good way to kill individuals, but an even better way to destabilise an already shaky civilian government.

Pakistan's long-term stability relies on it tackling the militants within its own border and across the Durand Line in Afghanistan. The US "war on terror", paradoxically but undeniably, has consistently undermined the regional stability that would truly threaten the Taliban and their allies.