Return of US military education in Pakistan significant despite political differences
With increasing strategic competition among the world’s most powerful states, both global and regional powers have been realigning their foreign and strategic policies. In Pakistan’s case, its geopolitical significance and strategic rivalry with India makes it utilitarian in the foreign and strategic calculations of great powers — the US, China, and Russia.
Last week, the Trump administration’s resumption of the US International Military Education and Training Programme (IMET) signaled some improvement in Islamabad-Washington relations. It is safe to assume that Prime Minister Imran Khan and President Donald Trump’s two summits (in July and September) and the army chief’s meetings with the American military establishment have resulted in the recommencement of IMET. The revival of the program indicates that Pakistan remains an important state in US strategic policy despite the termination of its frontline-state status.
The IMET program is a financial funding program established by the US Congress as part of the Arms Export Control Act of 1976. It serves three interlinked objectives; the first is to encourage mutually beneficial relations and increased understanding between the US and foreign countries in furtherance of the goals of international peace and security. Second, to help foreign countries utilize their resources, including defense articles and defense services obtained by them from the US, and contributing to greater self-reliance by such countries. Third, to increase the awareness of foreign nationals participating in such activities of basic issues involving internationally recognized human rights.
IMET will provide an opportunity to understand each other’s military organizational philosophy, recruitment policy, and training procedures and strategic outlook.
Dr. Zafar Nawaz Jaspal
Indeed, the resumption of IMET will have a lasting and constructive impact on both states’ armed forces. The program will provide an opportunity to understand each other’s military organizational philosophy, recruitment policy, and training procedures and strategic outlook. It will increase bilateral strategic cooperation and reestablish a military-to-military relationship that is very useful in times of crisis — and will be so, especially during the withdrawal of US and NATO troops from Afghanistan.
Islamabad’s role in ending the deadlock between the US-Afghan Taliban talks was accredited in Washington. The American strategic elite is cognizant about the Pakistani armed force’s effectiveness in resolving the Afghanistan imbroglio. The IMET program assists in furthering both sides’ cooperation in Afghanistan affairs.
The revival of the IMET program for Pakistani armed forces is a positive development. However, there are a few obstacles that could disrupt steady improvement in bilateral relations. The Trump administration approved the resumption of IMET, but Congress authorization is awaited.
Notwithstanding Pakistan’s positive initiatives to safeguard minorities’ interests, the US has retained Pakistan in the State Department’s 2019 annual blacklist for religious freedom violations. Ironically, Prime Minister Khan’s commendable Kartarpur corridor initiative for the Sikh community was ignored, as was the Modi government’s discriminatory acts against Indian Muslims.
According to the 2018 National Defense Strategy of the US: “Inter-state strategic competition, not terrorism, is now the primary concern in US national security.” Therefore, it seems the Americans have been giving preference to their strategic alignment with India and deliberately ignoring the massive human rights violations by the Modi government. This policy of the Trump administration overshadows Pakistan’s struggle to improve its relations with the US.
Furthermore, Pakistan’s increasing military cooperation with Russia, especially Pakistani troops training at Russian military training institutes, is not viewed favorably in Washington. The American strategic community is uncomfortable due to the increasing role of Russia in Afghanistan and the growing axis between Beijing and Moscow against Washington. It also finds the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor equally troubling. Simultaneously, US critique on CPEC agitates Islamabad.
In summary, new trends in global politics are both promising and challenging for Pakistan. The country’s foreign policy-makers need to maintain a reasonable balance in their strategic engagement with China, Russia, and the US. Instead of following its traditional policy of bandwagoning with one great power, it ought to intelligently cultivate efficacious bilateral relations with all leading powers.
*Dr. Zafar Nawaz Jaspal is an Islamabad-based analyst and professor at the School of Politics and International Relations, Quaid-i-Azam University. E-mail: [email protected]