Since the Musharraf era, despite the numerous changes in the faces of both Pakistan’s civilian and military leadership, the support of America’s occupation of Afghanistan has been a constant and central theme to defining Pakistan’s foreign policy. This is has taken several forms amongst which are the provision of logistical support for supplying US troops in Afghanistan, the use of military bases in Pakistan, intelligence sharing and political support by way of Pakistan using its connections with the tribes and groups which straddle the Af-Pak border regions in a bid to reach a negotiated settlement.
Despite this, there are regular calls from America that Pakistan needs to “do more”, most recently being expounded by President Donald Trump in a New Year’s day tweet. The United States, he tweeted, had “foolishly” given Pakistan more than $33 billion in aid and
they have given us nothing but lies and deceit, thinking our leaders as fools. They give safe haven to the terrorists we hunt in Afghanistan, with little help. No more!”
Whilst this caused much diplomatic consternation, further compounded by the actual suspension of financial contributions to Pakistan, Trump’s words are not unprecedented in the US-Pakistani relationship that has been often characterised over successive administrations by public demands to “do more” and accusations that elements of Pakistan’s establishment are not fully behind the US led war; claims supported by Pakistan’s own leadership at points. Neither is the start-stop nature of the payments to Pakistan unprecedented, given that on multiple previous occasions America has withheld payments from the Coalition Support Fund (CSF), which are made to Pakistan for services rendered in support of its Afghan occupation. Yet despite these sentiments, Pakistan has expressed that it continues to view the US as an ally.
Some have attempted to explain the contradictory nature of this relationship by suggesting that in reality, Pakistan is playing a “double game” with the US where it ostensibly agrees to follow the US strategy and even executes some parts, at times to its own detriment, whilst actually carrying out actions to protect and further its own interests in the long run. It is this double game that is said to lead to frustration on the part of the US and the context in which any losses or damage to Pakistan’s interests should be viewed.
Deception and manoeuvring are a part of state politics, however like any view on a political situation the assertion of a double game must be backed up by evidence that is linked together with impartial analysis that matches with reality.
Without this, the existence of a view that a double game between Pakistan and America is being played becomes a matter of baseless assertion, established upon the emotional hope that one’s view is true or pleas to merely trust one’s viewpoint of a situation or stakeholder.
It would be useful to help define the meaning of the term double game: namely that one party (i.e. Pakistan) is successfully engaging the other (i.e. the United States) in a way that deceives the latter in to thinking the former is in agreement with and pursuing the policies that would benefit it from the relationship they have, whilst in reality the former (Pakistan) is actually benefiting from the arrangement whilst frustrating the latter’s (US) objectives by way of pursuing its own unique set of objectives.
With this definition, it becomes a matter of analysing the reality and any opinion as to whether or not a double game exists will depend on the volume and quality of data points being used to support the argument either way.
Looking at the effects of the last 15 years, it seems that Pakistan has gained very little whilst losing a lot on multiple fronts. From a foreign policy perspective, there has been a dramatic shift for the country where it has gone from having Afghanistan as a friendly neighbour that would support it in any conflict with India, to an antagonist which is now courting its arch rival. This loss of strategic depth has left Pakistan exposed on both sides whilst India, buoyed by American support, establishes a presence safe in the knowledge that US influence has led to the de-prioritisation of the Kashmir issue for Pakistan in its relations with India.
Militarily, whilst it has received aid from the US in the last 15 years this has not been strategic in nature, rather it has been supplied with the tools necessary to execute the American war on its own soil. This has led to the loss of lives of thousands of military personnel and civilians, whilst diminishing the prestige of the army in the eyes of the people. The alliance has also seen a shadowy security apparatus established where US intelligence agents and contractors are seeded in the country, free to make alliances with guerrilla groups that threaten the peace and attack military installations. The most famous of such incidents was the Raymond Davis affair, where the then CIA station chief was caught after murdering two Pakistanis with the contact numbers of such groups and pictures of sensitive military installations.
Economically, whilst Pakistan may have received $33 billion from the US in a mixture of aid and payments for services rendered in the US occupation of Afghanistan, it has lost an estimated $123.1 billion as a result of participating in this conflict. This figure equates to approximately 41% of Pakistan’s economy as of 2017.
In terms of logistics, apart from some brief interruptions most notably due to the Salala incident, Pakistan has faithfully provided the US a key transit lifeline of supplies as well as giving it refined fuel and military bases within Pakistan. These bases have been used to launch attacks in to Afghanistan as well as carry out drone strikes in Pakistan, leading to the deaths of thousands of civilians.
With these few data points considered, it becomes very hard to accept that Pakistan is playing any sort of double game with the US. Rather, it is more feasible to believe that any double game being played is actually upon the people by the Pakistani establishment whereby America is regularly decried and noises made about withdrawing support, yet nothing of the sort materialises.
Even with this latest spat with Trump, the Pakistani establishment is quick to assert that the two remain friends and key aspects of the relationship, such as supply lines and intelligence sharing, continue as normal.
When scrutinising Pakistan’s double game, what becomes clear is the costs incurred are so high that the tangible benefits are irrelevant. The timing of this double game theory evolved when the US began to sink in a quagmire in Afghanistan and needed Pakistan to do much of the heavy lifting. It was in this context the double game theory evolved in order to justify Pakistan’s position. Those who support the double game theory and argue a skilful double game is being played need to consider whether this is just an expression of naïve hope or one of wilful misdirection at worst.