Pompeo claimed the visit to Pakistan to “reset the relationship” with the new government of PM Khan. Days before the visit, the American Congress passed a bill to cut Pakistan’s defence aid — casting a doubt on the cause of visit.
US and Pakistan’s relationship has been facing a downward trajectory of unprecedented proportions since some time and the visit was welcomed by Pakistan as a positive step. The five hour visit by Pompeo with US Joint Chief of Staff General Joseph Dunford was too short to engage in any substantive dialogue and future course of action. They met with met with Prime Minister Imran Khan, Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi, and Chief of the Army Staff Gen Qamar Bajwa. ISI Director General Lt Gen Naveed Mukhtar and some other officials too were present.
It was a smart move by the government to set the meeting with the army brass on board conveying a clear message of both the civil and military being on the same page. The practice of meeting the civil and military leadership separately led to space easy to lead to a misunderstanding between both.
According to a press release by US State Department “Secretary Pompeo expressed hope for deeper counter-terrorism cooperation between both countries. Secretary Pompeo emphasised the important role Pakistan could play in bringing about a negotiated peace in Afghanistan, and conveyed the need for Pakistan to take sustained and decisive measures against terrorists and militants threatening regional peace and stability.” (September 5, 2018: An Extract)
The last line is the crux and yet again places emphasis on ‘do more’ stance taken by US with Pakistan.
The decision not to raise the issue of cut in military aid in the meeting by Pakistan was an intelligent move. This placed them on a stronger wicket rather than on a weaker one of being with a begging bowl. The cut of $300m from CSF does not convey a vote of confidence in Pakistan. Zahid Hussain in his piece is right in stating that, “There is nothing much left in the partnership wrecked by allegations of ‘double game’ and ‘deceit’. (September 05, 2018) However, neither Pakistan nor US has the option to give up on the other at this point if a negotiated settlement on Afghanistan is to be reached. Pakistan understands this. So should US.
The importance of Pakistan in the Afghanistan equation must be understood by US to achieve a desirable outcome
The approach from US toward dealing with Pakistan is two-pronged: First; US feels Pakistan has not done enough in countering terrorism and second, US views Pakistan as an ally to China and US wants to curtail China’s regional and global influence.
Though economic-geo-political issues are intertwined, if US truly wishes an amicable solution to Afghanistan, she must treat Pakistan as an ally and not as a suspicious enemy. This can only be self-defeating.
The circle comes around in full with the duo’s visit to India and the joint statement issued. “The ministers denounced any use of terrorist proxies in the region, and in this context, they called on Pakistan to ensure that the territory under its control is not used to launch terrorist attacks on other countries. On the eve of the 10-year anniversary of the 26/11 Mumbai attack, they called on Pakistan to bring to justice expeditiously the perpetrators of the Mumbai, Pathankot, Uri, and other cross-border terrorist attacks. The ministers welcomed the launch of a bilateral dialogue on designation of terrorists in 2017, which is strengthening cooperation and action against terrorist groups, including al Qaeda, ISIS, Lashkar-e-Tayyiba, Jaish-e-Mohammad, Hizb-ul Mujahideen, the Haqqani Network, Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan, D-Company, and their affiliates.” (Extract) Signed on September 6th 2018, this statement must be viewed at three different levels.
– Puts greater pressure on Pakistan to ‘do more’. US clearly ignored the Bajwa Doctrine. (Leading British security think-tank Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) has said in an analysis that Pakistan army under “Bajwa Doctrine” is now “battle-hardened after 17 years of war on its western frontier and regular skirmishes on its eastern border” and the world, in the shape of China, Russia, Turkey and Iran, have all come to Pakistan’s defence as America loses influence in Islamabad. “Pakistan is now adamant that the time for American threats and directives is over.”)
– To appease India hit by the trade war with increased import duties on aluminum and steel by Washington. An angry India suggested a retaliatory increase in tariff on 29 products which was delayed in light of talks with US officials. India can also be pressurised by opening up her agriculture sector whereas India has high import tariffs opposed to US desire for lower tariffs. US is implementing stricter rules for H-1B visas that may threaten Indians service sector employing a huge number particularly in technology sector.
– It conveys a message that Pompeo wanted to convey as part of US strategy; strengthening US ties with India.
The joint statement has however set off a spark of anger in Pakistan, from a brief but cordial meeting to what is viewed as back stabbing with her arch rival is not being taken kindly in Pakistan.
The importance of Pakistan in the Afghanistan equation must be understood by US to achieve a desirable outcome. Mixing relations with India and with Pakistan so far as Afghanistan is concerned is a dangerous error. For this reason appointment of Zalmay Khalilzad as Trump’s new as US Advisor on Afghanistan is a surprising inclusion as Taliban are as hostile to Khalilzad, as Khalilzad is hostile to Pakistan.
End Note: With a new government on board it will only be prudent for her to revisit policies and agreements especially of economic nature with other nations. Among the many agreements is one that US and Pakistan proposed/reached in 2012 pertaining to US clearing Pakistan’s military bills relating to costs of Pakistan’s military on WoT and price to be charged for NATO containers going to Afghanistan via Pakistan’s territory for troops stationed there. US has unitarily changed part of the contract dealing with one aspect, maybe it’s time for Pakistan to determine upon a higher tariff rate than what’s being paid now for NATO containers. Pakistan needs funds for bolstering her economy.