All is not ‘well’

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The plunge in US-Pak relations triggered by the announcement of new Policy on Afghanistan and South Asia by President Trump and the outright rejection of the US viewpoint by Pakistan has still not been reversed. Moreover, any hope that there might be a slight improvement in ties between Pakistan and the US was diminished by the US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s recent statement that he hopes Pakistan will achieve the “goals set out” by the Trump administration. More alarmingly, he added that Pakistan would be held accountable if it does not cut off ties to extremist groups like the Haqqani Network.

 In such times, the visit of the US Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asia, Alice Wells,  could perhaps calm the situation a bit.

 Pakistan maintains that a broad-based and structured framework for dialogue would best serve the two countries’ shared interests. Also,  Well’s visit comes on the eve of a meeting in Moscow between the Afghan Taliban, the Kabul government and several other countries, including Pakistan. Earlier, both countries had agreed that the Afghan Taliban should engage in dialogue to reach a political settlement. It remains no secret that Washington wants Pakistan’s help in bringing the Afghan Taliban to the negotiating table so that a way could be found where the US troops could withdraw with no threats to the government of President Ashraf Ghani. In this respect, Pakistan has released a high-profile Afghan Taliban and former deputy chief Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar on Washington’s request. Qureshi and Pompeo had first met in Islamabad and the meeting was encouraging enough to be followed up in Washington when Pakistan’s foreign minister attended the UNGA. At the conclusion of Pompeo’s visit to Islamabad, Pakistan had announced that there was now a ‘re-set’ in their bilateral relations while Pompeo had said that Washington appreciated Pakistan’s efforts for peace in the region. While his statement suggested otherwise. The US is not going to bail the ‘do more’ mantra.

 Nevertheless, Wells visit has made way for some progress. The meeting among the officials stressed on progress in promotion of bilateral relations based on mutual trust and respect. Pakistan has stressed on the need to increase commercial and economic cooperation and people-to-people relations in order to promote bilateral US-Pakistan relations. Both sides need to work to improve this fraught relationship. Need to keep Pakistan on its right side is fundamental to pursue US interests in Afghanistan. Pakistan provides the supply route for coalition of states involved in what is branded—fight against terrorism. Pakistan may not be cooperating with the US to the extent that the latter expects or demands. But, leaving aside the question of whether or not some of these demands are legitimate or in Pakistan’s interest, Pakistan has consistently demonstrated that it does want stable ties with the US.

 Similarly, US is Pakistan’s biggest trade partner. Bad relations with the US could cause grave damage to the economy. Finding solace in a new friend, China, doesn’t mean Pakistan should forget its old relations, yes amid the trade war Pakistan has to show favouritism to China, but it needs the US too. The frayed US-Pak relation will never be the same, but let’s hope we don’t lose a major partner, because a lot is at stake.

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