The United States-Pakistan relations seem to be at its lowest point in the last many years and the first-ever visit of America’s Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo to Islamabad, even could not cut the ice in the ties between the two states.
The relations between Pakistan and the US have been strained for the last many years, particularly after coming into power of the sitting president Donald Trump in January 2016. Although during Trump’s predecessor, Barack Obama’s eight-year-long tenure as president of the US, the relations between the two states remained strained particularly when the US Special Operation Forces (SoFs) had carried out an airborne operation from their bases in Afghanistan into the Pakistani city of Abbotabad to kill Al Qaeda founder, Osama bin Laden, who was hiding in a compound there. However during Obama’s era there were also cooperative engagements between the two states. But since Trump’s coming into power, he has taken a very stiff stance regarding Pakistan. On the one hand, Washington under Trump has been blaming Pakistan for providing hideouts to Afghan Taliban and the Afghan Haqqani Network on its soil, while these groups of militants have been inflicting critical losses on US and coalition forces in Afghanistan. On the other hand, the Trump administration has been mounting pressure on Pakistan to deliver more on US demands for defeating the Taliban insurgency.
As the new government in Pakistan led by Prime Minister Imran Khan came into power last month it was feared that the relations between the two states would further deteriorate because of the strong anti-US stance of Khan and his party, the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI). It may be mentioned here that PM Khan has been consistent in arguing that Pakistan was affected by religious extremism and terrorism after it joined the US-led war on terror (GWoT) after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attack by Al Qaeda on the US mainland. Khan has been stating that the GWoT never has been Pakistan’s war and Washington pushed the former into it. Therefore, he has been campaigning critically against the US drone strikes on Taliban and Al Qaeda hideouts and militants inside Pakistan. This is despite the fact that these drone strikes, operated by the US intelligence agency, the CIA, have been the most effective weapons against Taliban and Al Qaeda, who wreaked havoc in Pakistan.
So with Trump in place in Washington and Imran Khan coming into power in Islamabad, the relations between the two states could deteriorate even further.
Nevertheless, if history is any guide, US-Pakistan relations have had seen a lot of ups and down, but every time both the states felt the need of a partnership, relations were revived. Therefore, one thinks that the Pak-US relations could be revived and once again could improve. Because the US still needs Pakistan as a stabilizing element in the most volatile region of the world. For Washington, Pakistan’s crucial role in the stability and functionality of Afghanistan is so important that despite blaming Pakistan consistently for supporting the Afghan insurgents, it has always sought Pakistan’s help to defeat or negotiate with the Taliban. Then the US has consistently tried to block Pakistan from following in the footsteps of Iran, which was once called a member of the “Axis of Evil” by former US President George W. Bush. Apart from the strategic and diplomatic importance of Pakistan for the US, it is also potentially economically significant from Washington’s standpoint. Because Pakistan geographically sits at the crossroads of South and Central Asia and greater Middle East, areas where Washington has economic interests.
There cannot be two opinions that in recent decades the US’s growing relations with India have reduced the significance of Pakistan for Washington. However, it has been our poor diplomacy which could not convince the US of the importance of Pakistan which has nothing to do with Indo-US relations.
Washington on its part in recent years has been desirous of having Pakistan root out the sanctuaries of extremists and terrorists because they have been a threat to US interests in the region, particularly in Afghanistan. But the presence of militants and the Jihadist narrative has cost Pakistan far more than it has the US and its interests. Therefore, whether the US demands it or not, it is imperative for Islamabad, keeping in view its own national interest, to have a zero tolerance for the presence of extremists and terrorists on its soil. This is the point where the interests of both Pakistan and the US coincide and astute diplomacy demands that both countries should cooperate and coordinate to achieve their aims. Pakistan has done a great job by eliminating the sanctuaries of extremist and terrorists on its soil in a long and arduous military operation. However, the US although seeming to appreciate Pakistan in this regard, it has still been accusing it of not rooting out hideouts of Afghanistan-specific militant and terrorist groups. Pakistan has been arguing that it could only eliminate terrorist networks operating from its soil and is not responsible for instability in Afghanistan, which apart from the Taliban has many other factors most of them domestic, fuelling the insurgency.
From the US standpoint the issues of counter-terrorism, Pakistan-Afghanistan border management and non-proliferation are of utmost concern to be taken up in the upcoming rounds of talks between the two states. The irritants in Pak-US relationship have also cropped up because both the countries, particularly the US, have pegged their ties on the issue of counterterrorism and the war against terror. Pakistan is a very important country both strategically and economically and its relationship with the US must be multidimensional. In this way cooperation in most of the areas could be used to offset irritants in some other areas. However, in order to remove the irritants both the countries have to think strategically. As pointed out by PM Imran Khan, the US is an important world power, which cannot be ignored by any state of the world. Breaking ties with a premier power is not a rational foreign policy decision. On the other hand, the US needs to be convinced by Pakistan that it has its limitations and cannot do whatever it wants, therefore, it should not be subjected to demands which it cannot meet. The fact of the matter is that in the past Pakistan had been serving the US interests even by setting aside its own foreign policy objectives, which set a standard of expectations from Pakistan in the US. The US strategists must realize that it is not the Cold War era and many things have also changed in Pakistan and in such an atmosphere making unrealistic demands on Islamabad is merely counterproductive.