WASHINGTON: Officials within the United States (US) Department of State said on Wednesday night that Donald Trump’s administration would continue to exert diplomatic pressure on Pakistan until it changes its policy towards regional peace and stability in Afghanistan.
While addressing an event at the Wilson Centre, Henry Ensher, Acting Deputy Assistant Secretary for Pakistan for the State Department, said that negotiations on Afghanistan were a major area of policy divergence with Pakistan despite the significance of bilateral linkage with shared interests.
“As long as that continues, we will continue to colour and take centre stage in [the] bilateral relationship,” he said.
“In reality, we have seen some action but we have not seen the decisive steps from Pakistan that could demonstrate commitment, ensuring their territory cannot be used by the Taliban, the Haqqani Network, and other groups that were so violent and bring instability in the region,” he stressed.
Ensher also argued that the Trump administration’s decision to withhold security assistance and coalition support fund (CSF) payments to Pakistan drew from its concerns over Islamabad’s consistently “counter-productive policies”.
However, the US State representative added that Washington had pinned hopes on the new civilian government under the leadership of Prime Minister Imran Khan, claiming that it had the opportunity to “fix bilateral relations” as well as to “bring peace and stability to Afghanistan and Pakistan by partnering with the US”.
“Doing so will enable more mutually beneficial relationship,” he noted, adding that the US was committed to forming productive diplomatic relations with Pakistan but not much could be done until Pakistan took reformative action.
“A future course of our relationship, and indeed the trajectory of Pakistan’s development, rest in the hands of Pakistani leaders,” he said.
Ensher addressed common criticisms of US policies in Pakistan. Firstly, that US-Pakistan relations had too strong a focus on Afghanistan, and secondly that the US exerted pressure on the country to manipulate Pakistan’s regional policies.
He justified that diplomatic relations were such because the US had directly been engaged with the conflict for 17 years, though it did not occur in its own territory.
“It has more than 15,000 troops on the ground, spent more than $900 billion so far, and endured more than 2200 deaths,” He added.
The official agreed that the Trump administration was more than willing to continue applying pressure to advance US national interests.
“We will continue to do so in South Asia as well as elsewhere, but it should not disguise the fact that we genuinely believe that a shift in Pakistan policy in aligning with our strategy is very much in Pakistan’s own interests as well.”
He warned Pakistan that its policies in Kabul don’t serve “its own interests” as the militant group Daesh threatens peace in the region, as well as the possibility of Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) using Afghan territory as a platform for attacks in Pakistan.
He appreciated Pakistan’s support for ending the conflict through a negotiated settlements by bringing the Taliban to table.
“We know that Pakistan can’t deliver a deal by itself, but Pakistan can play a constructive role. We welcome additional measures that Pakistan government could take to increase the willingness of the Taliban leadership to negotiate,” he said.
Ensher reminded how long-standing proxy policies and contentious regional relationships have cost Pakistan in the past.
“Pakistan has a potential to be a leader in the region — economically and politically — but its policies have instead fed instability and division both in South Asia as well as in the country itself,” he said.
Speaking on Pakistan-India relations, he added that Washington hoped bilateral discussions between the two countries could move forward, however, the presence of terrorist groups on Pakistani soil could limit the potential for a positive outcome from such a dialogue.
“US has encouraged Pakistan to address these issues so that the regional tensions can be resolved and regional connectivity could improve, helping the Indo-Pak trade which could jump from the current $2 billion to $37 billion as per World Bank’s estimates.”