Ephemeral thaw in Pak-US Relations

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By Amjad Ali

Prime minister Imran Khan has visited the United States where he was warmly greeted by the Pakistani diaspora and his meeting with President Trump is deemed as a successful visit. There is no denying that the visit has helped in mending fences at least for the time being as the deep mistrust and strategic divergence between the countries two has created a gulf. However, in the backdrop of the changing international political dynamics, it seems the visit will hardly yield positive results in the long-run.

Pakistan and American relations have a long cheqeured history. During the cold-war era, US and Pakistan established closer relations. It was not by accident but a rational choice for both of these states. As India was part of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM), America was looking for partners against the Soviets in this region and the nascent state of Pakistan needed economic benefits, hence it was calculated choice based on transactional relationship. Few states have long-strategic convergence which binds them in long-term relations such as Sino-Pak relations, others do not have so, Pak-America relations are interwoven in the latter category of ties. Once the American interests have been fulfilled or these interests have lost their importance such as Soviet’s defeat and their subsequent disintegration, America says good-bye to Pakistan along with pressurizing the latter state through different available tools at its disposal such as aid cuts, sanctions, cancellation of defense contracts, etc. In addition, it uses multilateral fora such as Security Council, IAEA, IMF, FATF, etc. as recently Pakistan was being pressurized through the IMF and FATF to budge on the superpower’s demands or face the risk of being blacklisted by the FATF.

Similarly, Pakistan does not enjoy long-term strategic convergence with America in the context of emerging Sino-US trade war. Once the world turned from multipolarity to unipolarity after the Soviet’s downfall, it was assumed now the US will be an uncontested superpower for the times to come. Notwithstanding, the Chinese with its genius emerged within few decades to challenging hegemonic power. Having been threatened, President Obama issued “Asia Pivot” policy to shift its focus to Asiatic region in order to counter the rise of China to global power. In response, President Xi Jinping, having been inspired from the ancient “Silk Road”, announced “Belt and Road Initiative (BRI)” which envisions to connect Asia with the rest of the world. As the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) which is the most important project of the BRI is located in Pakistan and both the country’s higher than Himalayas, deeper than oceans and sweeter than honey friendship will obviously be not liked by the hegemon. Therefore, the US will be treating Pakistan in the context of China-America trade war in the long-run. Simultaneously, China will be defending and providing oxygenic support to Pakistan all along whether it is Security Council, any other international forum or through security cooperation. This provision of vital support has become inevitable for China. So, the describing lines to the Pak-China friendship are factually and historically correct.

As the fate of US is no different in Afghan quagmire than that in Vietnam, all it wants a dignified exit from war-torn Afghanistan. It is a fact that the US-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) has failed to defeat Afghan Taliban in its long-drawn war. Human cost has been unprecedented not only for Afghans and ISAF forces but also for adjoining states and in particular for Pakistan. This war has also changed the shape of the globe. As a consequence, America has earned huge infamy throughout the world. Even American parents who lost their sons vehemently opposed this war. Massive economic cost of trillion dollars of this war is in addition to the human cost. Therefore, the incumbent US administration wants to expedite thepeace process and Pakistan is playing instrumental role in these negotiations between the Afghan Taliban and the US. Albeit intransigent, now the Taliban have agreed to negotiate with the Afghan government as well. Pakistan is currently treated by the Trump administration in the Afghanistan scenario. There is no denying that the peace in Pakistan passes through the peace in Afghanistan. It is in the interest of Pakistan as well as in the regional countries that American be facilitated in its strive for a dignified exit from Afghanistan.

Once the Afghanistan-led and Afghanistan owned peace process has succeeded in coordination with the regional and international actors and America has completely withdrawn from Afghanistan, there will be dramatic shift in American behavior with reference to its policy towards Pakistan. Pakistan would be viewed from the US-China trade war lens. This possible future scenario will increase demands of “do more” mantra against terrorists operating from Pakistani soil against India, Afghanistan, etc. Multilateral fora like IMF and FATF will be used for it. Support to India to repeat post-Pulwama episode and increased border hostilities will gain momentum. As economic woes of Pakistan are its Achilles heel, these soft spots will be exploited for that purpose.

Owing to the American superpower status, no country on the planet can sustain having unfriendly ties with them. It is in the best interest of Pakistan to facilitate the Afghan peace process and help American dignified withdrawal. During this process, it must implement the National Action Plan and eliminate all the terror outfits from its soil who may stir American ire which may be very damaging for the recovering Pakistan. In the same way, China being iron-brother, relations with the US should also be balanced as far as possible even in the case of divergent interests. The current visit of Prime Minister has helped to internationalize the Kashmir issue, that earlier remained ignored. There is no greater contentment than the self-reliance hence it must be pursued particularly in economic and security arena. We have to be cautious in the long-run instead of rejoicing ephemeral thaw in Pak-US relations.

The writer is a development sector practitioner with keen interest in current affairs and can be reached at amjadsiyal@hotmail.com