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Is The US Really Concerned About ‘Child Soldiers’ In Pakistan?

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The United States has placed Pakistan in its Child Soldiers Prevention Act (CSPA) list. The CSPA holds into account governments involved in the recruitment of child soldiers and enforces restrictions on them along with potential sanctions on military assistance. The move comes as Pakistan and the United States look for new dimensions in bilateral ties.

The CSPA requires listing states that deploy child soldiers in the annual Trafficking in Person (TIP) report. These states are listed after annual review, which can also restrict their inclusion in peacekeeping programs.

The CSPA defines the term ‘child soldier’ as a person under the age of 18 who participates in, or is recruited into, governmental armed forces, police, or other security forces, including in noncombat roles.

In addition to Pakistan, the 2021 CSPA list includes Afghanistan, Libya, South Sudan, Burma, Mali, Syria, Democratic Republic of Congo, Nigeria, Turkey, Iran, Venezuela, Iraq, Somalia and Yemen. Pakistan and Turkey have been added to the CSPA list for the first time.

Pakistan Foreign Office has categorically rejected all US allegations, saying “Pakistan does not support any non-state armed group; nor any entity recruiting or using child soldiers” dubbing inclusion in the CSPA list a result of “factual error and lack of understanding”.

Given that Pakistan already establishes 18 as the legal age to join defence services — combat or noncombat — the listing can be seen as a continuity of recent US policy towards Islamabad.

Pakistan-US relations weren’t exactly smooth under the Donald Trump administration, which accused Islamabad of deceiving Washington along with harbouring terrorism. Trump imposed sanctions on Pakistan instead of recognising the country’s sacrifices in the war on terror. However, with Joe Biden coming to power, some hoped that the US’s “do more” policy, and the baggage that comes with it, would be reconsidered.

Clearly, not to be.

If anything, the CSPA listing will only aggravate US relations with Pakistan by reaffirming that the distrust, along with Washington’s bid to dominate Islamabad, persists.

There are indeed political ramifications. Since Pakistan has reportedly rejected the US’s demand of providing air bases, this action can be considered as a move to pressurise Islamabad. Pakistan should not pay heed to US pressure and continue to seek ties based on civility and equality.

There are also lessons for the United States, which maintains its illusion of power and its policy of meddling in other states’ internal affairs. Washington historically does this through skewed laws to impose sanctions, by pressurising allied states to replicate its policies on a country, or via direct invasion.

Vietnam, Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq, and Yemen, among others, testify to Washington’s catastrophic strategy. They also bear witness to the US returning empty-handed. And now with the emergence of other powers, as alliances reshuffle, the United States is losing its global hold.

Pakistan being an important state in the region, with key geostrategic location, continues to be the centre of attention. The US is keeping tabs on Pakistan’s ties with Russia, Afghanistan, India, Iran, Central Asian republics, and indeed China. CPEC, which has Washington especially concerned, has underlined Pakistan’s strategic significance.

Therefore, the US can use any pretext it desires to reprimand Pakistan, but it cannot blackmail it into compromise.

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Naya Daur