- USA must keep Pakistan’s interests in mind
Islamabad denied that any discussion on “terrorists operating in Pakistan” took place between Prime Minister Imran Khan and US Secretary of State Michael Pompeo over telephone recently. During the forthcoming visit of Pompeo, probably accompanied by Alice Wells, to Pakistan on 5th September the question of Islamabad’s role in bringing peace to Afghanistan will be on the cards as may be the allegations of Pakistan offering safe havens to terrorists within her borders.
In July 2018, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs had visited Islamabad and met Pakistan’s top civil and military leadership including General Qamar Javed Bajwa. Her focus was on the role Pakistan can play to bring peace to Afghanistan. During her visit she had reminded the Pakistani leaders of their commitment to take a strong action against all terrorist outfits operating in Pakistan.
Earlier in 2017, accompanying the then US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on a visit to the region, including Pakistan, Wells had told the reporters, “The secretary stressed the importance of Pakistan moving quickly to demonstrate good faith and efforts to use its influence to create the conditions that will get the Taliban to the negotiating table.” She was quoted as stating, “It’s up to them whether or not they want to work with us. And if they don’t … then we’ll adjust accordingly.” (October 28, 2017)
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo views Pakistan as a close ally to China and a short few weeks ago had issued a strong warning on increased Chinese involvement in Pakistan. In response to the speculation that Imran Khan’s incoming government might approach the IMF for a possible bailout package, Pompeo had categorically stated, “There’s no rationale for IMF tax dollars — and associated with that, American dollars that are part of the IMF funding — to bail out Chinese bondholders or China itself.”
A negotiated political settlement is the need of the day no doubt but ahead of the visit, Pakistan leadership, both military and civil must meet and realistically evaluate how this can be achieved
According to a report by Lee Ferran, “Pompeo’s admission comes more than three months after Trump announced the US was taking a stronger stance towards Pakistan, designed to dissuade the nation from harbouring terrorists once and for all, as part of a broader strategy for Afghanistan:
We can no longer be silent about Pakistan’s safe havens for terrorist organisations, the Taliban, and other groups that pose a threat to the region and beyond. Pakistan has much to gain from partnering with our effort in Afghanistan. It has much to lose by continuing to harbor criminals and terrorists. In the past, Pakistan has been a valued partner. Our militaries have worked together against common enemies. The Pakistani people have suffered greatly from terrorism and extremism. We recognize those contributions and those sacrifices.
But Pakistan has also sheltered the same organisations that try every single day to kill our people. We have been paying Pakistan billions and billions of dollars at the same time they’re housing the very terrorists that we are fighting. But that will have to change. And that will change immediately. No partnership can survive a country’s harbouring of militants and terrorists who target US service members and officials. It’s time for Pakistan to demonstrate its commitment to civilisation, order and to peace.”
These combined views make one thing clear. The impending visit will not be a comfortable one for Pakistan. Pakistan will be expected to respond with a concrete road map of action. Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi stated recently after the telephonic talk between Pompeo and Khan that the US had made huge investments in Afghanistan and it also was imperative for Pakistan to convey its “priorities and requirements” to Washington in order to have a better relationship.
The relationship between US and Pakistan has gone past the stage of vapid exchanges. US want Pakistan to ‘do more.’ The do more may entail helping US initiative to bring peace an Afghanistan. This may include besides dealing with the terrorists, bringing of Taliban to the table for negotiations. In mid-August 2018, US had asked Pakistan to help bring peace by bringing an end to the 17 year old war.
Erroneously perhaps, USA thinks Pakistan has the same clout with Taliban that it had during the era of creation of Mujahedeen under General Zia ul Haq with CIA funding. This is just not true anymore.
A negotiated political settlement is the need of the day no doubt but ahead of the visit, Pakistan leadership, both military and civil must meet and realistically evaluate how this can be achieved. They must preempt US demands and view it in the prism of Pakistan’s existing and present influence over Taliban and if this is evenly spread over different shades of groups within to bring about the desired outcome. The influence is not enough to bring a change in their combined objective. The outfit has shown no sign of flagging over the 17 years of war and therefore dealing from a position of strength, it is just not feasible to think that by being asked by Pakistan’s powerful military, they will show submission. Unless, the political settlement envisaged offers them a big chunk of the pie if not the pie itself.
If US wish any participation by influencing the Afghan Taliban — the one segment it can talk to, USA must then keep Pakistan’s interests in mind. USA cannot expect Pakistan to sacrifice her interests at the altar of theirs. It is a reality that the Afghan Taliban has never attacked Pakistan. They have neither undertaken any step to undermine Pakistan’s regional interests. Which is why they may be more open to talk to Pakistan, not having been in conflict.
What is important for US to understand is that Pakistan is in a difficult position as well in this equation. Twisting arms and threats will be self-defeating. Understanding of Pakistan’s fix will be a better approach with drafting mutually beneficial roadmap to peace.