News Analysis |
The foreign minister of Pakistan, Shah Mehmood Qureshi, will meet American counterpart, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Tuesday, the 2nd of October. This will be their second meeting in less than two months. The meeting was expected. When Pompeo visited Islamabad last month along with Chairman of Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Dunford, he invited the Pakistani FM for a follow-up meeting on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly.
The visit to Islamabad was described by the foreign office of Pakistan as ‘cordial’. There was no ‘he said-she said’, according to the FM. The visit to Islamabad in September was successful as it set up the stage for more productive collaboration between the two sides in the future. Relations between Pakistan and the US have been strained in recent years, particularly since the new administration took charge in Washington.
Pakistan joined the US-led Central Treaty Organization and the South East Asian Treaty Organization to augment its military power during the Cold War.
In a new year’s tweet, President Donald Trump accused Pakistan of ‘nothing but lies and deceit’, insinuating that $33 billion of aid to their ‘most allied ally’ was wasted. Trump’s cabinet is widely seen to be hawkish, with National Security Advisor John Bolton and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo having the President’s ear on the most critical of issues.
When the new government in Islamabad came into power, Pompeo called the Prime Minister of Pakistan to congratulate him on the election victory. Later on, however, the US State Department said that terrorists operating on Pakistani soil were also discussed, a claim the Pakistani foreign office vehemently denied. Similarly, at the UNGA, Shah Mehmood Qureshi seems to have met the American president.
The two sides again gave differing accounts of what was discussed between the two. Relations between the US and Pakistan have been described as ‘transactional’ by various experts. There have been times when both countries have cooperated to achieve common objectives. Pakistan joined the US-led Central Treaty Organization and the South East Asian Treaty Organization to augment its military power during the Cold War.
In the 1980s, Pakistan became the frontline state for the Jihad against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan. A couple of decades later, it became the frontline state again in the war on terror. In between, however, the US placed economic sanctions on and isolated Islamabad internationally. Ties grew at the beginning of the war on terror.
The US might realize and appreciate the sacrifices Pakistan has made in the war on terror and stop blaming Islamabad for its failures in Afghanistan.
However, late into the second term of President Bush, relations between the two began declining. The lowest point in the relationship was the incident at Salala Check post when 24 Pakistani soldiers were killed by NATO troops in an act of ‘friendly fire’. Regular drone strikes during the presidency of Barrack Obama were also a major irritant in the relationship.
Now, however, with new administrations in charge in both countries, things may be heading in the right direction. After the meeting in September in Islamabad, Qureshi said that both sides agreed to ‘reset’ their bilateral relations. When Qureshi met Trump at a reception the latter held for world leaders attending the 73rd session of the United Nations General Assembly, the foreign minister of Pakistan requested him to ‘rebuild the cordial relations that we have enjoyed in the past.’
The FM also said he received a ‘positive response’ from President Trump. For quite a while, Washington had been repeating its ‘do more’ mantra, urging Pakistan to fight terrorism in a more resolute manner. Pakistan, on the other hand, maintained that it had done more than enough. According to Deputy Director of the Asia Program at the Woodrow Wilson Center, Micheal Kugelman, this approach by the US was unlikely to produce results.
The threat of withholding aid, in particular, was not going to change Pakistan’s behavior in accordance with American interests. Islamabad has its own interests and will not forgo them on account of aid from Washington. The military and economic partnership with China allows a considerable degree of security and independence from US aid. Both sides needed to find a new way to approach their relationship.
A political road-map for including the Taliban in a future power-sharing agreement in Kabul is likely to be on the agenda.
Realizing a peaceful and stable Afghanistan is in the interests of both countries. America can’t commit infinite resources to Kabul and will have to leave sooner or later. Islamabad needs stability in Afghanistan to ensure no terrorists can cross into Pakistani territory through the porous Pak-Afghan border and to finally return Afghan refugees to their home country. In the meeting in September, both sides made a commitment that a political solution was the only way forward.
The military option has been tried for almost two decades now to no avail. On Monday, the 1st of October, Shah Mehmood Qureshi met with experts and Pakistani officials to prepare for the talks. From the response of both sides so far, it appears as though the talks will be fruitful. The US might realize and appreciate the sacrifices Pakistan has made in the war on terror and stop blaming Islamabad for its failures in Afghanistan.
A political road-map for including the Taliban in a future power-sharing agreement in Kabul is likely to be on the agenda. Alternatively, we may see more of the same from both sides, with further commitments to ‘reset the relationship’. That would mean we are back to square one and efforts by the new government in Islamabad have not produced the desired outcome.