Is there a rethink in DC on Pakistan?
Is Biden ready to strip Pakistan of the MNNA designation? Both Democratic and Republican lawmakers have called for it, and a bill has been moved
Washington DC moves slowly, but it does. A drumbeat has started for stripping Pakistan of the designation of a Major Non-NATO Ally (MNNA) for its role — “duplicitous” is the word used most frequently for it — in the 20-year Afghanistan war.
Pakistan allied itself with the United States (US) in the war and collected billions of dollars for its support. It also harboured and sheltered the Taliban leaders and fighters, helping them escape capture or death by the American-led international forces that Pakistan was allied with. “Pakistan worked against us in some very fundamental aspects with their support for the Taliban,” Ryan Crocker, a former US ambassador to both Pakistan and Afghanistan told lawmakers at a hearing on October 5 on Afghanistan.
Asked by a lawmaker why the Joe Biden administration was not terminating Pakistan’s designation as an MNNA, HR McMaster, who was national security adviser to former President Donald Trump, said, “I think they should. I think they are assessing it. But I think this is a good idea.”
The MNNA status was conferred on Pakistan in 2004 by the George W Bush administration. No specific reasons were cited for it, but it was supposed to be a reward for Pakistan’s participation in the global “war on terror” declared by the US after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, with Afghanistan at the heart of it.
Pakistan was not a willing participant though. The Bush administration — deputy secretary of state Richard Armitage, actually — threatened to bomb Pakistan “back to the Stone Age” if it did not cooperate, as former Pakistani dictator Pervez Musharraf recalled years later. But the designation, which the US has endowed on 16 other countries, was a significant recognition for Pakistan.
Apart from material benefits such as easier defence deals, the MNNA, as described by the state department, is a “powerful symbol of the close relationship the United States shares with those countries and demonstrates our deep respect for the friendship for the countries to which it is extended”.
The US shares neither a “close relationship” with Pakistan anymore, nor has it demonstrated “deep respect” or “friendship” for Pakistan. Not for many years now, at least since 2011, when US commandos found and killed Osama bin laden in Pakistan. Former President Trump blasted Pakistan in 2017 for giving the US only “lies and deceit” for the $33 billion it got over the past 15 years. President Biden has still not called or spoken to Prime Minister Imran Khan.
But is Biden ready to strip Pakistan of the MNNA designation? Both Democratic and Republican lawmakers have called for it, and a bill has been moved. Sanctions are also on the table, as proposed in a legislation moved last month by Republican lawmakers.
The Biden administration has said it is reviewing the relationship with Pakistan in the light of its role in Afghanistan, which, secretary of state Antony Blinken has said, amounted to “hedging its bets”. Maybe it will hear the drumbeat.
The views expressed are personal