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What to expect from the visit by US Secretary of State

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News Analysis |

Mike Pompeo, the Secretary of State of the US, the counterpart to Pakistan’s foreign minister, is all set to visit Islamabad next month. But new rifts between Islamabad and Washington are already beginning to emerge. In a congratulatory call to the Prime Minister-elect of Pakistan, Imran Khan, Pomeo urged cooperation between the countries. He also seemingly insisted that Pakistan take action against terrorist groups operating in its territory.

“Secretary Pompeo raised the importance of Pakistan taking decisive action against all terrorists operating in Pakistan and its vital role in promoting the Afghan peace process,” a read-out of the call between the Prime Minister of Pakistan and US Secretary of State. The spokesman for the foreign office in Islamabad, Dr. Faisal, categorically denies that the conversation involved mention of terrorists that are supposedly operating from Pakistani soil.

Washington regularly accuses Islamabad of harboring terrorists that operate in Afghan soil and aid militants that are fighting the US-backed government in Kabul. Pakistan has repeatedly denied this accusation.

The foreign office maintains that a “factually incorrect statement issued by the US State Department.” The US State Department, on the other hand, says Pompeo did talk about would-be Pakistani terrorists with Imran Khan. “We stand by our read-out,” says Heather Nauert, spokesperson for the State Department. The history of US-Pakistan relations can be summed up in that call.

Pak-US relations are a history of diverging interests, with intermittent phases where the two countries seem to have become close allies. Nauert says that ‘Pakistan is an important partner’. The previous decade, however, belies this statement. Washington regularly accuses Islamabad of harboring terrorists that operate in Afghan soil and aid militants that are fighting the US-backed government in Kabul. Pakistan has repeatedly denied this accusation.

Read more: U.S Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s visit to Pakistan in the…

Islamabad has even organized visits for US representatives to former terrorist sanctuaries in the Nothern tribal regions of the country as proof that the area the US believes is a haven for terrorists is actually under government control. About a year ago, Senator John McCain paid a visit. More recently, Micheal Kugelman, deputy director for South Asia at the Woodrow Wilson Center, also paid a visit, escorted by Army troops.

Mike Pompeo will visit Pakistan on the 5th of September and is going to be the first foreign dignitary to visit Islamabad under the new government. The foreign minister of Pakistan, Shah Mehmood Qureshi, said, “The importance of Pak-US tires is not lost on anyone. There have been ups and downs but it is a vital relationship.” Mr. Qureshi asserted that the conversation was “very good”, has issued a rebuttal to the read-out published by the US State Department.

When the Pakistani foreign minister says the relationship between the US and Pakistan is vital, there is weight behind his words. There are a number of areas where collaboration between the two is in the interests of both. First and foremost is the issue of Afghanistan.

With a new party in power in Islamabad, can the US-Pakistan relationship be salvaged? Or will things stay more of the same? Judging from the read-out by the State Department and the fact that Washington refuses to issue a correction, significant changes in the relationship can’t be expected. The President of the United States, in any case, is not known as someone who has studied history carefully and will be able to make wise and prudent choices in the interest of his own country and of the region.

It won’t be farfetched to assert that we are going to have to listen to more of the ‘do-more’ mantra. No substantial change in the relationship is going to come out of this visit. It will be interesting to note whether or not Mike Pompeo visits New Delhi or Kabul before or after the visit to Pakistan. The purpose of such visits is often underscored by what comes immediately after or before it.

Read more: State Department stands by original readout of phone call between Pompeo…

When the Pakistani foreign minister says the relationship between the US and Pakistan is vital, there is weight behind his words. There are a number of areas where collaboration between the two is in the interests of both. First and foremost is the issue of Afghanistan. The country has been suffering from the civil war of one kind or another for the past 30 years. After Afghanistan, Pakistan has been the greatest victim of these wars. On the other hand, the US has spent over $800 billion and thousands of lives in Afghanistan.

Leaving Kabul the way it is, stranded in an ocean of Taliban controlled districts, is unacceptable for Washington. All that blood and treasure sacrificed would have been for nothing.  It would be the terrible irony if the US lost the war to militants itself funded and created. Thus, enduring peace in Afghanistan is an absolute must for both Pakistan and the US.

These and other issues may come up when Mike Pompeo visits Islamabad a week from now. It is important for both countries to identify core issues where the interests of both can be served by collaboration.

Secondly, the major area of common interest between Washington and Islamabad is the Pakistani diaspora in the US. According to a report by the Migration Policy Insitute, at least 453,000 Pakistani immigrants and their children live in the US, as of June 2015. According to the same report, educational attainment and income levels are higher, on the average, in the Pakistani diaspora than the US general population. Individuals in this diaspora are twice as likely to hold advanced degrees as the general population of the US.

Moreover, over $1.1 billion in remittances are sent back to the home country by Pakistani Americans. There is no question that the community is thriving and contributes to the US socially and economically. Both Washington and Islamabad benefit as this community thrives. What Islamabad needs to do is try and organize this diaspora politically and convert it into a lobby for Pakistani interests in Washington.

Read more: Pakistan’s ‘new’ foreign policy under Imran Khan

There are various other areas where Pakistan and the US will have to come to terms, one way or another. The arming and upgrading of the Indian Armed forces is a thorn in Pakistan’s side. At the same time, Pakistan has embraced China completely as a result of which the US doesn’t have as much leverage over Islamabad as it once used to have.

Furthermore, US sanctions on Iran hamper joint efforts by Islamabad and Tehran to establish a gas pipeline and increase border management and trade. These and other issues may come up when Mike Pompeo visits Islamabad a week from now. It is important for both countries to identify core issues where the interests of both can be served by collaboration.

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