As U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson heads to Pakistan on Tuesday to pressure Islamabad to act over militants targeting Afghanistan from its soil, anxious Pakistanis may be equally interested in dissuading Washington’s deepening ties with India.
Nuclear-armed Pakistan, a staunch U.S. Cold War ally and key player in the U.S.-backed invasion of Afghanistan after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks on the United States, has watched warily as Washington has in recent years pivoted towards its arch-foe.
Islamabad views its much-bigger neighbour as an existential threat and the two nations have fought three wars since their violent separation at the end of colonial rule in 1947.
Tillerson, due to meet Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi and Pakistan’s powerful military chiefs in a one-day visit, is expected to urge Pakistan to do more to root out Afghan Taliban and Haqqani network militants operating on its soil.
But he is also expected to hear Pakistani officials warn him that drawing nuclear-armed India deeper into Afghanistan would destabilise the region and do little to end the 16-year war that is now America’s longest military conflict.
“Bringing India into the mix is like adding kerosene to fire,” said Miftah Ismail, a state minister and close ally of Prime Minister Abbasi.
“It’s a complete red line. India has no political role to play in Afghanistan as far as we are concerned.”
Many Pakistanis feel betrayed that its traditional ally is now cosying up to India over Afghanistan.
But the anger runs both ways.
The United States accuses Pakistan of playing a double game since 2001, offering public backing to Washington while turning a blind eye, or even at times assisting, the Afghan Taliban and other militants who carry out deadly attacks against U.S. forces and their allies in Afghanistan.