- Need to safeguard a complicated but vital relationship
The Foreign Office is about to initiate an in-house debate over Pak-US relations under the new US President. Pakistani ambassador to the USA Asad Majeed Khans is already in Islamabad to provide his inputs. Leading a US delegation, Assistant Secretary of Defence for Indo-Pacific Security Affairs, has visited the GHQ to discuss Afghan peace talks and the long-term security partnership . Meanwhile an Anti-terrorism Court has sentenced Laskar-i-Taiba’s Zakiur-Rehman Lakhvi to five years imprisonment and a fine of Rs 100,000 for terror financing. The action was hailed by the State Department with an-all-too familiar “do more” by holding Lakhvi accountable for his involvement in the Mumbai attacks.
Many think that Pak-US relations will remain more of the same despite a Democrat occupying the Presidency. Others maintain there will be important differences in details. There are vital issues of bilateral interest that lead the two countries to seek each other’s cooperation despite mutual doubts and suspicions that continue to persist. Unless handled deftly by the PTI government, these could harm the relations.
Both Pakistan and the USA want peace in Afghanistan. Unlike Trump, Biden is not in a hurry to withdraw troops from Afghanistan. Similarly he would like to get assurances for human rights and an inclusive polity in talks with the Taliban. In case, the peace process suffers, and the US concludes Pakistan was being less than helpful, relations with Pakistan could suffer.
The new US President would treat India as a strategic ally and is likely to soft-pedal Narendra Modi’s repressive policies in Kashmir. On the other hand the USA might express dissatisfaction over measures taken by Pakistan against India centric terrorist groups.
The US is likely to continue its opposition to the CPEC. Pakistan cannot afford to slow down, let aside forgo, the Corridor which constitutes the country’s economic lifeline. The government would be required to defy the US pressure while maintaining good relations with it.
In 2017, the PML(N) government kept political forces united in the face of President Trump’s provocations. A unanimous parliamentary resolution on August 30 denounced President Trump’s “complete disregard for Pakistan’s vast sacrifices” in counter-terror efforts and called on the government to consider suspending cooperation with the US.” Does PM Imran Khan have the ability to unite all parties when needed?