Amid considerable disquiet among lawmakers and the US commentariat over Pakistan’s duplicity in Afghanistan, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken acknowledged at a congressional hearing that Islamabad had played a dodgy role that involved “hedging its bets constantly about the future of Afghanistan,” and in light of this, the US would re-assess ties to formulate what role Pakistan needs to play in the region.
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“(Pakistan’s role) is one that’s involved harboring members of the Taliban, including the Haqqanis… It is one that’s also involved in different points cooperation with us on counter-terrorism. It has a multiplicity of interests some that are in conflict — a clear conflict — with ours,” Blinken said while responding to lawmakers who grilled him on Pakistan’s “duplicitous” role in Afghanistan over the past two decades.
Consequently, the US, going forward, would insist that “every country including Pakistan, make good on the expectations that the international community has of what is required of a Taliban-led government if it is to receive any legitimacy of any kind or any support,” Blinken said.
But lawmakers cutting across party lines demanded more severe action against Islamabad for its subversive role, including ending its status as a major non-Nato ally (MNNA) that opened up a military and financial aid spigot that cost US taxpayers billions of dollars. The US bankrolling of Pakistan came even as its support for Taliban terrorists claimed the lives of American soldiers in Afghanistan.
In a follow-up Senate hearing on Tuesday, the Republican ranking member of the Foreign Relations Committee Senator James Risch said any country that backed Taliban “should risk a strategic downgrade in their relationship with the US,” even as Blinken appeared to warn Pakistan against a hasty recognition of the Taliban government.
Outside the Congressional hearings though, skepticism reigns over Washington’s belated acknowledgement of what has been known for two decades, and what one senator said was Pakistan’s “double dealing” — and whether the US has the leverage to change this.
In scathing critiques on Washington’s kid glove treatment of Pakistan, some of the US commentariats are now calling for outright sanctions against Islamabad even as lawmakers are tentatively proposing less severe measures.
“The American defeat to the Taliban and, by extension, Pakistan is a humiliation rooted not in a US military failure but the corrosiveness and shortsightedness of America’s own political debate. It is a blow the United States might have avoided, but should not take without a response. Simply put, it is time to sanction Pakistan,” Michael Rubin, a Senior Fellow at the American Enterprise Institute wrote recently.
In his analysis, Rubin disclosed that a former head of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency acknowledged to him over tea in the Islamabad Club that Pakistan was playing both sides of the issue—supporting the Taliban insurgency while then charging the United States extortionate fees so that the Pentagon could resupply its forces. “From the ISI’s standpoint, it was like hitting the jackpot. Since the 9/11 attacks, the United States has given Pakistan almost $23 billion in security assistance and Coalition Support Funds,” he wrote.
While successive administrations have had no appetite — and no option for that matter — to impose sanctions on Pakistan given that it provided a supply line to landlocked Afghanistan, concluding the US exit from the country is expected to give Washington more leverage.