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Thursday, February 15, 2024

Re-engaging with the US: Should Pakistan be careful?

Dr. Tahir Ashraf, a Ph.D. from the University of Malaya, explores the key areas important for re-boosting Pak-US cooperation. However, he thinks Pakistan should be careful in its strategy towards the US.

For the last decade, especially under President Donald Trump, Pakistan and the US have had a transactional relationship with limited scope. With Joseph Biden coming into power as the 46th US President, there were speculations about the future of the bilateral relationship between the US and Pakistan. However, the contemporary relationship between both countries seems to be rotating around the Afghanistan, India, and China factors.

This is the time when Pakistan is interested in the world and the US can benefit from Pakistan’s geo-economic location instead of a staging ground for great power competition. There is a need that the US should explore the real potential and commonality of interests between Pakistan and itself.

Read more: Should Pakistan be optimistic about Biden presidency?

The US is now asking Pakistan to play an important role in achieving a successful conclusion of the “peace process” in Afghanistan and trying to figure out how to maintain a counterterrorism capacity from outside the country.

Moreover, it is looking into stationing of military personnel and assets on bases in neighboring countries like Pakistan which, on one hand, borders Afghanistan while on other hand, had been providing bases to the U.S. in the past.

Read more: Pakistan will not allow US military bases on its soil

Pak-US relationship needs a new start

While Afghanistan and terrorism remain important themes in the relationship between the two countries, Pakistan must try to emerge in the mind of Americans as a positive player in the region. Pakistan being a neighbor and enjoying a good relationship with Tehran can play an important role in diluting the conflict between Iran and the US. And, it would be in the interest of both Pakistan and the US.

The White House announced the names of 40 world leaders invited by US President Joe Biden to participate in a virtual global climate summit on April 22-23. Many Pakistanis were unhappy that Prime Minister Imran Khan was not on the list.

Read more: PM Imran Khan challenges skipping Pakistan from global climate conference

Some Pakistanis depicted it as a deliberate reprimand – a gesture to convey Pakistan’s lack of global importance or a tactic to compel Islamabad to help Washington achieve goals in Afghanistan or on counterterrorism.

Pakistan and US relations are comparatively smooth right now. Washington has little interest in annoying Islamabad because Pakistan is cooperating closely with America to jumpstart the stumbling peace process in Afghanistan.

Read more: Pakistan remains determined to bring peace in Afghanistan: FM Queshi

Climate change, being an urgent shared threat with both economic and security dimensions, can be another channel for cooperation as neither side can afford to ignore it. The US-Pakistan relationship needs a new start, and climate change can be an exemplary choice in this regard.

Economic cooperation

The recent starter between Islamabad and Washington has taken place on Sunday 23rd May 2021 in Geneva where national security advisers Jake Sullivan of the US and Moeed Yusuf of Pakistan have met and, according to a statement jointly issued by them, “agreed to advance practical cooperation”.

Both sides used the same language, an unusual development that indicates a desire to coordinate messaging. Both statements described discussions on a “range of bilateral, regional, and global issues of mutual interest.” This was the first highest-level physical contact between the two countries since the Biden administration took office.

Read more: Will Pak-US relations ever revive its lost glow?

Bilateral relations, according to media reports, were a major point on the agenda of the NSAs’ Geneva meeting, but other issues like India, Afghanistan, and economic cooperation which keep affecting the ties too were discussed at length.

Meanwhile, the US is likely to enhance economic cooperation and boost investments in Pakistan. Trade and investment are the most important areas to build a future Pakistan-US relationship. The US is Pakistan’s key export market. Pakistani exports are in a weak position due to a lack of competitive capacity.

PM Imran Khan’s current industrialization drive should target production for exports to the massive US as well as Chinese and Asian markets. Likewise, Pakistan is eager to increase cooperation for dealing with the Covid-19 pandemic and climate change.

Read more: US President Biden has nominated a Pakistani-American to his economic team

It can be observed from the NSAs meeting that the US desire for re-engagement is driven by its expediencies relating to the withdrawal of its troops from Afghanistan. America wants timely completion of the withdrawal of its forces in an orderly manner and also expects political settlement of the Afghanistan issue to the extent of the consensus-based solution. Therefore, it wants Pakistan to influence the Taliban for the reduction in violence and taking the stalled Doha talks forward.

Should Pakistan be careful?

Keeping in view the role of ‘spoilers’ and managing the approaching instability, Pakistan needs to adopt a cautious approach in making its Afghan strategy in the post-American exit from Afghanistan especially in the backdrop of American demands for the provision of its bases for the stationing of its military troops.

However, Pakistan has denied any considerations in this regard and has repeatedly rejected the possibility. Notably, the move would not be popular among the public, and for Islamabad to even consider granting Washington’s request, it would insist on major U.S. concessions—such as the de-freezing of $300 million worth of security aid suspended since 2018.

Read more: Choosing US over China is strategic madness for Pakistan

The Pakistan Foreign Office has stated after a Pentagon official’s statement that Pakistan had permitted the US military to use its airspace and given ground access so that it can support its presence in Afghanistan.

David F. Helvey, Assistant Secretary of Defence for Indo-Pacific Affairs, told the US Senate Armed Services Committee last week that the United States would continue its conversation with Pakistan because it had a critical role in restoring peace to Afghanistan. Since the Musharraf era, Pakistan has always allowed overflights and ground access to the US to facilitate its military presence in Afghanistan despite publicly denying it.

However, it is expected, keeping in view regional and global dynamics especially the US-China rivalry, Pakistan’s growing closeness with Russia, and, Pakistan’s strategic partnership with China as well as being a partner of China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC)- a vital segment of Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), the current government would not allow America for the stationing of its forces at the Pakistani bases especially when the Taliban has also warned neighboring countries to not allow their soil for use of the American troops after its exit from Afghanistan.

Read more: Taliban warns nearby nations against hosting US military after withdrawal

Dr. Tahir Ashraf has a Ph.D. in International Relations from the University of Malaya, Kuala Lumpur, and teaches at the Department of International Relations, Bahauddin Zakariya University, Multan. He can be contacted at tahirmian1@bzu.edu.pk.The views expressed in the article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.