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Tillerson’s Islamabad visit: Still miles to travel

Islamabad

News Analysis |

The US Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson will discuss ways to enhance cooperation against terrorism and economic ties with Pakistani officials when he will visit the country next week. Tillerson, 64, will visit Pakistan as part of his South Asia visit on which he embarked upon on Friday. Tillerson will also be traveling to Delhi, Riyadh, Doha, and Geneva during his 7-day visit.

“The secretary will meet with senior Pakistani leaders to discuss our continued bilateral cooperation, Pakistan’s critical role in the success of our South Asia strategy, and the expanding economic ties between our two countries,” DoS spokeswoman, Heather Nauert told a briefing at the State Department.

It would be worth-observing as to how, Tillerson known for his deft diplomacy will deal with his Pakistani counterparts, especially on the intricate issues such as Afghanistan and ties with India

She added that in a bid to find how “Pakistan can support our effort to reach a peaceful solution in Afghanistan”, Tillerson will hold meetings with top Pakistani officials to include  Prime Minister, Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, COAS Gen. Qamar Bajwa and Foreign Minister Khawaja Asif.

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Tillerson’s visit comes on the heels of the “week of goodwill” between the two countries: a cooperation spree emanating from the successful rescue of the Coleman-Boyle family in a swift Intelligence Based Operation by the Pakistani forces. The event, albeit a tactical one has helped breakaway from the hostilities between the two countries ever since the announcement of the new South Asia policy.

The desire to enhance cooperation was reiterated in Wednesday’s telephonic conversation between premier Abbasi and US Vice President, Mike Pence. The practical manifestation of cooperation happened when a barrage of US drones took out anti-Pakistan elements of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and Jamaat ul Ahrar (JUA) to include its leader, Omar Khurasani and the mastermind of the attack on APS Peshawar, Omar Mansoor.

Pakistan, while taking exceptions to the tried, tested, and ineffective military-heavy policy has engaged other countries for chalking out a political solution to the Afghan quagmire. Iran, China, Russia, and Turkey have batted for Pakistan’s position on the issue

The thaw is being welcomed but with cautioned optimism by watchers, experts and analysts alike. They are of the opinion that thorny issues between the two countries are unresolved, therefore precluding the possibility of establishing healthy ties in the future. The growing Indo-US strategic partnership is certainly a cause of grave concern for Pakistan.

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However, analysts suggest that Pakistan can only broach upon this matter through continuous and robust engagement with the US. While lamenting the inability of both countries of developing a strategic relationship, observers feel that even a positive transactional relation is important for both the countries and the region. Area experts have pointed out how India has aligned itself toward US’ regional strategy, which is akin to the decades-old containment policy viz China.

The visit of Washington’s top diplomat comes at a good time when both countries are happy with a series of tactical breathers. However, both countries will have to talk just days after Afghanistan was rocked by 4 gory attacks which resulted in the deaths of some 200 odd people. Islamabad and Washington do not see eye to eye when it comes to the Afghan policy.

Analysts suggest that Pakistan can only broach upon this matter through continuous and robust engagement with the US. While lamenting the inability of both countries of developing a strategic relationship

Pakistan, while taking exceptions to the tried, tested, and ineffective military-heavy policy has engaged other countries for chalking out a political solution to the Afghan quagmire. Iran, China, Russia, and Turkey have batted for Pakistan’s position on the issue.

Read more: James Mattis warns Pakistan; ‘Do more’ or face consequences

The US, according to keen observers of the Afghan war is still certain that the Taliban can be defeated militarily and brought to the table- an idea which has been rejected by the Taliban and also looks untenable by scanning through the history of this 16-years long campaign.

The US gingerly supported the reactivation of the defunct 4-member Quadrilateral Coordination Group (QCG); its meeting ended in a stalemate as the Taliban had earlier said they had nothing to do with it. Analysts are convinced that the upsurge in violence will not dissuade the US from giving up its military policy for the country.

It would be worth-observing as to how, Tillerson known for his deft diplomacy will deal with his Pakistani counterparts, especially on the intricate issues such as Afghanistan and ties with India. Analysts believe that Pakistan must use this visit as a window for positioning itself as a reliable US partner in the Af-Pak region.