The U.S. relationship with Pakistan has always been essentially transactional since the early days of the Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union. What would the quid pro quo look like between Pakistan Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi and the Trump administration in the current differences over America's new Afghan policy? Let's try and answer this question.
Aid and cooperation has been forthcoming whenever successive American administrations needed something from Pakistan and then suddenly stopped and sanctions imposed on Pakistan when the US goals were accomplished. This happened in 1960s, 1990s and likely to happen yet again now under the Trump administration.
The history of the relationship is such that Pakistan has often been described variously as "the most allied ally" and "the most sanctioned ally" in the last few decades.
Trump's Tough Talk:
U.S. President Donald Trump, a real estate developer, sees all bilateral and multilateral negotiations with other nations through the lens of his experience in real estate deals. The Trump administration has shown itself to be far more transactional with US allies than any previous administration. President Trump is now threatening to get tough with Pakistan after 16 years of Afghan war with no end in sight as the Taliban continue to expand influence in the country. There's talk in Washington about cutting off aid and possible sanctions on Pakistan yet again. What cards does Pakistan hold in any negotiations with the Trump administration? Can Pakistan play hardball with the United States?
Speaking at an event organized by the Council of Foreign Relations in New York, Pakistani Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi said the following:
"... the (US) military assistance (to Pakistan) is very limited at the moment. In the past, if you want to do an accounting of the past, that can also be done. But I’m telling you that today, for example, over a million (US) sorties are flown by coalition aircraft through Pakistan territory, and we never bill for that. Millions of tons of (US) equipment moves through Pakistan territory on the ground. We never bill for that, because we believe in the war against terror. We supported that coalition, we continue to support efforts to bring peace to Afghanistan. So if we want to go back into history and start accounting for how many dollars were spent, Pakistan, as I said, post-9/11, the most conservative numbers: We lost $120 billion in economic growth."
If the Trump administration decides to cut whatever little aid Pakistan receives from the United States, Pakistan could demand significant fees for the use of Pakistani territory by the United States to supply its troops. If the US refuses, Pakistan could simply cut off the NATO supply route as it did back in 2011 after the Salala incident.
Given the transactional nature of the relationships the Trump administration seeks, what would a transaction look like between President Donald Trump and Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi? It could be in the form of Pakistan continuing to allow the use of its airspace and land routes to supply US troops in Afghanistan for substantial fees that could add up to more than the US aid to Pakistan today. If the US balks at it, Pakistan could simply cut off US supply routes as it did back in 2011 after the Salala incident.
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