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Pakistan walks diplomatic tight rope

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“The United States has foolishly given Pakistan more than 33 billion dollars in aid over the last 15 year, and they have given us nothing but lies & deceit… They give safe haven to the terrorist we hunt in Afghanistan… No more!” – The tweet that took that blindsided not only Pakistani officials but America officials, themselves.

On January 1st, 2018, American President, Donald Trump, announced the suspension of aid to Pakistan, dismissing Pakistan’s role and effort in the war against terrorism, however, the tables seemed to have turned, as Pakistan and Russia look forward to cementing ties with the common desires to reduce U.S. influence in South Asia and resolve the war in Afghanistan, adhering to similar normative principles.

This has presented a challenge to U.S. policymakers, leading to a number of U.S. high officials traveling to Islamabad for possible renewed cooperation, especially in terms of the long-standing Afghan conflict, that would ultimately lead to Pakistan’s prosperity as well. Top U.S. diplomat and acting State department South and Central Asia assistant secretary, Alice Wells, landed in Islamabad on Monday, 23rd April – on her second trip this month –  to meet with Tehmina Janjua, Pakistan Foreign Secretary, to discuss matters concerning terrorism and improve the strained bilateral ties.

During the meeting, both sides came to the conclusion that the peace initiative unveiled by Afghan Present, Ashraf Ghani, needs to be carried forward. The first trip of the U.S official was an unusual week-long tour, in January, with Wells calling on senior civil-military bigwigs including Prime Minister, Shahid Khaqan Abbasi and Chief of Army Staff, General Qamar Javed Bajwa, with the situation of Afghanistan in focus.

If played right, the recent negotiations between the United States and Pakistan can serve two purposes; firstly, they can establish peace in war-ridden Afghanistan and secondly, repair the fractured ties between Islamabad and Washington.

Wells emphasized that the US South Asia strategy represent an opportunity to work together towards a stable peaceful Afghanistan while abolishing terrorist groups that threaten both countries. In this attempt to reconcile after President Trumps’ tweet, Wells was not the only one as Marine General, Joseph Dunford stated “Do we agree on everything right now? No… but are we committed to a more effective relationship with Pakistan? We are. And I’m not giving up on that.”

With this in mind, the frequent tours of U.S. officials, at a time when the two sides are locked in a diplomatic standoff, is of crucial importance, not for Pakistan, but for its neighbor, Afghanistan, who has been battling war for the last 16 years. Moving on to the most recent trip, Wells had expressed that Islamabad could play a meaningful role, jointly with Washington in achieving a peaceful resolution in Afghanistan.

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She stated, “We believe that Pakistan can certainly help to facilitate talks and to take actions and will put pressure on and encourage the Taliban to move forwards towards politically negotiated settlement,” reiterating what the political observers and Pakistani civilian leaders had been expressing. It is clear that although the United States has been in the war-battered Afghanistan from as early as 2001, it is visibly looking for ways to wash its hands of the region, irrespective of what the post-withdrawal scenario would look like.

The whirlwind visits of US officials have increased since the offer extended by Afghan President Ashraf Ghani to the Taliban, allowing them to open offices, even in Kabul, recognizing them as a political force without any pre-conditions.

The first trip of the U.S official was an unusual week-long tour, in January, with Wells calling on senior civil-military bigwigs including Prime Minister, Shahid Khaqan Abbasi and Chief of Army Staff, General Qamar Javed Bajwa, with the situation of Afghanistan in focus.

James Mattis, U.S. Defense Secretary, revealed, in March, that the Taliban were signaling their interest in peace talks to end America’s longest war. “We’ve had some groups of Taliban – small groups – who have either started to come over or expressed an interesting in talking,” stated Mattis. He also confirmed that the Taliban had shown interests even before Ghani’s offer of recognizing the Taliban as a legitimate political group, implying that Washington might seriously be looking for an agreement with Taliban, this time.

Further to this, Alice Wells said, during the same month, that it was a positive sign by the Taliban, as they were not rejecting the Afghan President’s offer. With this in mind, along with U.S. officials, senior Afghan officials also believe that without Pakistan’s support, any effort regarding peace in Afghanistan would not bear any fruit Hanif Atmar, Afghan National Security Adviser, had also admitted that the role of Pakistan was central to the Afghan peace process.

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Moreover, Khawaja Asif, Foreign Minister had also shown willingness to facilitate peace talks between the Afghanistan government and the Taliban. This was made apparent when Khawaja Asif said “We welcome his offer to talk directly to the Taliban. It is a good initiative and should be supported,’ following which the Trump administration increased cooperation with Islamabad. Furthermore, Pakistan’s National Security Advisor, Nasser Khan Janjua, stated “…Pakistan is always prepared to work in a cooperative framework and provide every help to win the peace in Afghanistan.”

Although Pakistan and Afghanistan trade barbs over cross-border infiltration and terrorism – a recent example of which is martyrdom of two FC soldiers – the two neighbors have come closer, especially with back to back tours of the Prime Minister and the Chief of Army Staff to Afghanistan. Even during the latest visit to Kabul, Shahid Khaqan Abbasi called on the Taliban to join the peace process; the group has kept mum to this day, over accepting or rejecting the offer.

U.S. interest in engaging with Taliban has also been intensified in recent weeks due to the spasm of violence unleashed in the country along with the strengthening of ties between Pakistan and Afghanistan as well as Pakistan and Russia.

The whirlwind visits of US officials have increased since the offer extended by Afghan President Ashraf Ghani to the Taliban, allowing them to open offices, even in Kabul, recognizing them as a political force without any pre-conditions.

This, however, has not stopped the gruesome violence that is known to Afghanistan. Recently, an airstrike by the Afghan forces martyred 70 at a religious school, early April, following which, at least 57 were killed due to a suicide bombing at a voter registration center on Sunday. Though Afghanistan has been battling violence from over one and a half decade now, the fresh spree of violence is more ruthless and despite the fact that Donald Trump has sent additional troops to the country, Washington seems to be more interested in supporting Ashraf Ghani’s peace talk offer.

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The renewed U.S. cooperation with Pakistan is in the context of Afghan conflict; even so, Pakistan can use it to its advantage. As mentioned before, with numerous sources stating ‘Afghanistan and the U.S. are insisting that Pakistan play its role in the reconciliation process,’ it can be said that Pakistan holds the upper hand for now. Taking that into consideration, the resumption of Coalition Support Fund is what Islamabad would be looking forward to for brokering the peace talks as the country is facing economic turmoil due to an unstable economy.

Meanwhile, Pakistan-China ties have been strengthening due to the multi-billion dollars China Pakistan Economic Corridor, even then, it would like to have the backing of United States to cut its arch-rival, India to size. However, this could prove itself to be quite hard as there is the reason to believe that a more robust Indian role in the region will serve various U.S. policy objectives.

If played right, the recent negotiations between the United States and Pakistan can serve two purposes; firstly, they can establish peace in war-ridden Afghanistan and secondly, repair the fractured ties between Islamabad and Washington.


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