FeaturedInternationalVolume 14 Issue # 03

Resetting the terms of engagement

After decades of expecting too much from each other, the US and Pakistan have realized that they need to rest their relationship on the basis of reality. Pakistan is no more reliant on the US for military and financial aid and cannot be mistreated like in the past. Its geostrategic position is too important to be ignored and the US seeks a new beginning with it on the basis of its needs in the region.

 

Experts say the nature of ties between the two countries has changed over the past few years and both have realized that they had demanded too much of each other in the past. US Secretary of State Michael Pompeo’s recent visit to Pakistan marked the beginning of a new start between the two countries as the US avoided to ask Pakistan “do more” in the war on terrorism and Pakistan made it clear that it was not willing to fight its war in Afghanistan but offered cooperation for peace in the war-torn country. The positivity shown by the two sides after their meetings was in contrast to the clouds of negativity, which followed after a row over the readout of a phone conversation between Prime Minister Imran Khan and Secretary Pompeo and the US announcement about the reprogramming of the remaining $300 million reimbursement under the Coalition Support Fund.

 

Before the arrival of the US officials, the US military said it was cancelling $300m in aid to Pakistan over, what it called, Islamabad’s failure to take action against militant groups. President Donald Trump previously accused Pakistan of deceiving the US while receiving billions of dollars. Pentagon spokesman Lt. Col. Koné Faulkner said the US military would aim to spend the money on other “urgent priorities”. The move, which needed approval of the US Congress, was part of a broader suspension announced in January. The US State Department criticised Pakistan, a key ally, for failing to deal with terrorist networks operating on its soil, including the Haqqani network and the Afghan Taliban. “We continue to press Pakistan to indiscriminately target all terrorist groups,” Col. Faulkner said in a statement, adding that the $300m aid – which had earlier been suspended – should be used elsewhere due to “a lack of Pakistani decisive actions” in tackling the issue. In January, the US government announced it was cutting almost all security aid to Pakistan.

 

Pompeo, who was accompanied by Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joseph Dunford, stayed in Islamabad for nearly five hours during which he met with Prime Minister Imran Khan, Army Chief Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa and Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi. At the meeting, Prime Minister Imran Khan said he was hopeful of finding a new way forward with Washington. “A sportsman is always optimistic. He steps on the field and he thinks he’s going to win,” he told the US delegate. Experts say the inclusion of the newly-appointed US adviser on Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad, who has been hostile towards Pakistan and is also unacceptable to the Taliban, in the delegation raised questions about the US administration’s seriousness about reaching a political settlement in Afghanistan.

 

Speaking to journalists at the Foreign Office, Foreign Minister Qureshi said: “Today’s meetings set the stage for a reset. And the stalemate, which has been weighing down the relationship, has been overcome”. He said the meetings were “productive” for “understanding each other’s point of view” and “chalking out the future course”. Qureshi and Pompeo will now meet in Washington later this month on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly session. Secretary Pompeo and Gen. Dunford made it clear that a military-to-military relationship would provide the actual basis for the way forward. Pompeo also gave a positive impression about his meetings. He said: “I’m hopeful that the foundation that we laid today will set the conditions for continued success as we start to move forward. We made clear to them that — and they agreed — it’s time for us to begin to deliver on our joint commitments, right. So we’ve had lots of times where we’ve talked and made agreements, but we haven’t been able to actually execute them.” Gen. Dunford said the visit aimed to “reset the relationship” and military relations would be leveraged “to support the Secretary and the prime minister, and more importantly, President Trump’s South Asia strategy”.

 

Analysts say challenges persist despite the positive optics. The five-hour-long visit may have set the stage for an effort to resolve the differences, but it was too short to achieve substantive progress. The issue of terrorist sanctuaries was taken up by the US side during the meetings. “Secretary Pompeo conveyed the need for Pakistan to take sustained and decisive measures against terrorists and militants threatening regional peace and stability,” US State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert said. The hope about the two sides making progress in ties hinges on their cooperation for peace in Afghanistan. Pakistan is optimistically looking at the realization in the US that its Afghanistan strategy has not worked well and the resultant shift in its policy on dialogue with the Afghan Taliban. Pakistan has long advocated a peaceful and a political settlement of the Afghan conflict.

 

Pakistan also seeks an active US role in improvement of its relations with India, especially the situation on the Line of Control, so that the focus on the western border with Afghanistan could be increased. Prime Minister Imran Khan also made it clear in a Defence Day speech that Pakistan would never again fight someone else’s war. It was a clear message to the US that Pakistan would not fight its war in Afghanistan. It is time both countries realized the ground realities and move ahead. However, Pakistan also needs to be cautious about its relations with China after the past arm-twisting tactics of the US. It will have to become self-reliant economically and militarily to earn a respectable place in the comity of nations.

 

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