- Can ongoing secret US-Pak diplomacy salvage ties?
Last rites, it would appear, need not be performed any time soon over the lately severely troubled relationship between the sole superpower and its apparently forsaken chief ally in the war on terror. The dire implications of a complete separation or divorce for both parties have belatedly sunk in and reportedly resulted in a more rational and mutually beneficial dialogue behind the scenes. The appeal of simpler logistics, cost-cutting, short and safe, a quarter-master’s dream, employing Gwadar port and its proximity to Kandahar, the latter an import-export hub for the rest of Afghanistan, might explain NATO’s recent offer, indeed eagerness, to exploit this new route, as confirmed by Federal Minister Hasil Bizenjo. Though still early days for the proposal, it could eventually restore lost mutual trust, and US–led forces in Afghanistan, instead of becoming a ‘beached whale’ without Pakistan’s cooperation, as former US Ambassador Richard Olsen warned, would instead benefit immensely in the matter of cheaper and timely essential supplies and hardware. Pakistan’s sacrifices in men and material cannot be callously ignored.
The Foreign Office spokesman, professionally guarded and muted in his tone after the recent fire-breathing rhetoric and posturing of the foreign and defence ministers, also confirmed back-channel communication ‘on various issues of mutual interest at different levels’, while a US official source corroborated ‘robust ongoing’ talks between the two militaries, significant because retired US generals currently hold overwhelming sway in drawing Afghan policy. The ISPR spokesman too spoke optimistically of removal of ‘apprehensions’ on future cooperation. Pakistan desperately seeks peace and stability in Afghanistan and an end to terrorism, to direct its full focus on its eastern border, and Trump’s threatening tweets, which often end in a diametrically opposite somersault in practice, need not deflect or divert us from this primary goal. But, how China, Iran and especially India react to this venture in-the-works is quite another matter. And of course, the overriding reason for the breach in relations, the accusation of Taliban safe havens in Pakistan, which is vehemently and repeatedly denied by the authorities, would also need to be toned down and the situation assessed realistically.