During three-day visit to the US, Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan met American President Donald Trump on July 22, this year in a push to mend the strained relations between Islamabad and Washington. Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi and Chief of Army Staff General Qamar Javed Bajwa also accompanied the premier.
Talking to Prime Minister Imran at the Oval Office, President Trump offered to mediate in the Kashmir dispute between nuclear-armed neighbours Pakistan and India. Referring to his recent conversation with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Trump said that India would be willing to accept US’ mediation of the longstanding dispute of Kashmir.
To this, PM Imran said: “US is the most powerful country in the world and it can play a very important role for peace in the subcontinent. Over a billion people at moment are held hostage to Kashmir situation and I believe that President Trump can bring two countries together.”
On July 23, 2019, India’s Opposition leaders showed their rage, demanding Prime Minister Modi to clarify his position in Parliament about President Trump-mediating role regarding the Kashmir issue.
Talking about the Afghan peace process, Trump said that the US appreciates Pakistan’s help in its efforts for bringing peace to Afghanistan. In this regard, Donald Trump stated: “I think they could have help us a lot in the past, but it doesn’t matter now. We have a new leader; he is going be a great leader of Pakistan”.
President Trump recognised that he is working with Pakistan to find a way out of the war in Afghanistan by elaborating that America “is seeking help from Pakistan to extricate the US from the long war in Afghanistan…the previous administrations got entangled in. Trump added: “He has been withdrawing US troops from Afghanistan”.
Appreciating Pakistan’s efforts for peace, Trump stated that they greatly helped in curbing extremism. He also hinted at the possibility of restoring aid to Pakistan.
It is notable that Pakistan has played a key role in getting the Afghan Taliban to the table for direct talks with the US officials and members of the Afghan government. America’s special representative to Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad realized Islamabad’s role in this respect.
It is mentionable that last year, Trump accused Pakistan of providing “safe haven to terrorists” and complained on Twitter that “the country gave the U.S. “nothing but lies & deceit” despite receiving billions of dollars in aid for more than a decade before suspending aid.
Khan replied on Twitter: “Instead of making Pakistan a scapegoat for their failures, the US should do a serious assessment of why, despite 140000 Nato troops plus 250,000 Afghan troops and reportedly $1 trillion spent on war in Afghanistan, the Taliban today are stronger than before.”
However, since America suspended $1.3 billion in aid to Pakistan in early 2018, the two sides seemed poised to reset their ties. The two leaders suggested they wanted stronger relations on security and trade and Trump hinted that the aid might be restored.
During his interaction with American media and top officials, Prime Minister Khan said: “Pakistan needs stability…We have 15 years of fighting this war on terror, over 70,000 Pakistani casualties, over $150 billion lost to the economy…We desperately want peace, and I am happy President Trump has pushed this forward.” And after 17 years of fighting the US-led war on terror, America owed Pakistan $23 billion.
Imran Khan is also seeking to get his country removed from a Financial Action Task Force sanctions list for being deemed uncooperative in combating money laundering, a listing that some analysts estimate costs the Pakistani economy up to $10 billion.
In the recent past, the US listed the Balochistan Liberation Army, a separatist group which is active in Pakistan, as a terrorist group. On the other side, Pakistan arrested Hafiz Saeed, religious cleric and head of banned Jamaat ud Dawa, for gathering financial resources for his banned organization. It shows that Pakistan is ready to comply with US demands if the other side ensures the Pakistani role in a post-deal Afghanistan.
Whatever tactics the hardliners use in the US, the policy makers in Washington are cognizant that Afghan peace deal cannot be successful without Pakistan because of the country’s geo-strategic location and cultural Pashtun ties.
Faced with economic crisis, Khan has been keen to portray an image of austerity. Before he left for the US, he planned to stay at the Pakistan ambassador’s residence in Washington, rather than waste money in an expensive hotel.
Taking note of Trump-Imran meeting and President Trump’s positive response to Islamabad, most of the analysts opine: “There seems to be ice melting between United States and Pakistan after a long patch of tense relations since Trump has taken over as the US President. US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will be making an official visit to Islamabad on September 5, this year…sending a message about the importance of US-Pak relations…the meeting will focus on melting the ice between the two nations. Pompeo will likely be geared towards securing Islamabad’s assistance of US initiated peace talks in Afghanistan”.
In fact, if we take cognizance of the Pak-US relations during the remote past and the recent past, we can clearly note that ice is not melting in their ties. It is owing to the US paradoxical ties with Pakistan that confused in their goals, sometimes, US high officials praised Pakistan’s sacrifices regarding war on terror, sometimes, admitted that stability cannot be achieved in Afghanistan without the help of Pakistan, sometimes, presumed that Pakistan’s nuclear weapons are not well-protected, sometimes, realized that US wants to improve its relationship with Pakistan, but at the same time, they blame Islamabad for safe havens of militants in the country. While in connivance with India and Israel, America has been continuing its anti-Pakistan activities by supporting militancy in Pakistan and separatism in Balochistan province.
Reality is that the US, India and some Western countries are acting upon the Zionist agenda to ‘denuclearize’ Pakistan, as the latter is the only nuclear country in the Islamic World.
Nevertheless, in the recent years, unbridgeable trust deficit existed between Pakistan and the United States due to President Donald Trump’s flawed strategy in South Asia, based upon anti-Pakistan and pro-Indian moves. Therefore, Pakistan-US ties reached point of no return.
It is noteworthy that during the heightened days of the Cold War, despite Pakistan’s membership of the US sponsored military alliances SEATO and CENTO, including Pak-US bilateral military agreement, America did not come to help Pakistan against India which separated the East Pakistan in 1971.
After the end of the Cold War, America left both Pakistan and Afghanistan to face the fallout of the Afghan war 1. By manipulating the nuclear programme of Islamabad, the US imposed various sanctions on Pakistan.
But, after the 9/11 tragedy, the US, again, needed Pakistan’s help and President George W. Bush insisted upon Islamabad to join the US global war on terror. Pakistan was also granted the status of non-NATO ally by America due to the early successes, achieved by Pakistan’s Army and country’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) against the Al-Qaeda militants.
Within a few years, when the US-led NATO forces felt that they are failing in coping with the stiff resistance of the Taliban in Afghanistan, who are fighting for the liberation of their country, they started accusing Pak Army and ISI of supporting the Afghan Taliban. US top officials and media not only blamed Islamabad for cross-border terrorism in Afghanistan, but accused that safe havens of Al-Qaeda exist in Pakistan. They constantly emphasized upon Pakistan to do more against the militants and continued the CIA-operated drone attacks on Pakistan’s tribal areas by ignoring the internal backlash in the country.
President Donald Trump also continued blame game of President Bush and Barack Obama against Islamabad in connection with terrorism.
As regards Pakistan’s regional rival India, in his speech on August 21, 2017, President Trump said: “We appreciate India’s important contributions to stability in Afghanistan…We want them to help us more with Afghanistan.”
Meanwhile, on January 5, 2018, the US suspended $255 million of military aid to Islamabad as a condition to do more against terrorism.
Taking note of Trump’s policy, Pakistan’s civil and military leaders, including all the mainstream political parties united against the US aggressive stance against the country and offered a stark response to Trump’s false accusations.
The then Chairman of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) Imran Khan had stated: “Just as India blames Pakistan for the indigenous Kashmiri uprisings when these are a result of its own failed policy of repression in the Indian Occupied Kashmir…So the US again blames Pakistan for its deeply flawed and failed Afghan policy stretching over a decade…We must also reject being made scapegoats for the policy failures of the US and India…The new US policy is aimed at de-nuclearising Pakistan…India’s major role in Afghanistan as per Trump administration’s new strategy for the region will have adverse impacts on Pakistan…Trump undermined the country’s major contributions towards that war…If you want peace in Afghanistan, you need Pakistan. More troops and money will not serve the purpose.”
The then Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Khawaja Asif remarked, “Terrorist sanctuaries are present in East Afghanistan. It is from these safe havens inside Afghanistan that terrorist attacks are being launched on Pakistan…The claim by Trump regarding the funds, if we account for it, they include reimbursements too for the services rendered by Pakistan…Our land, roads, rail and, other different kinds of services were used for which we were reimbursed.”
Although Pakistan’s security forces have eliminated terrorism, yet, in the recent past and during the election-campaign of 2019, blasts in the Balochistan province and other regions of the country prove that the US-led India, Afghanistan and Israel have again started acts of sabotage especially to destabilise Pakistan and to damage the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) which is part of China’s One Belt, One Road (OBOR) initiative or BRI. Washington and New Delhi has already opposed this project. Balochistan is the focus of projects in the $57 billion CPEC, a transport and energy link planned to run from western China to Pakistan’s southern deepwater port of Gwadar which is located in Balochistan. Therefore, well-entrenched in Afghanistan, America CIA, India RAW and Israeli Mossad are especially assisting the separatist elements of the Balochistan to thwart the CPEC project.
It is worth-mentioning that the US forces have decided to leave Afghanistan within five years under a Pentagon plan offered as part of a potential deal with the Taliban to end the nearly 18-year war. Notably, the war in Afghanistan is America’s longest military intervention which has cost Washington nearly US $.1.7 trillion. Hence, positive shift in America’s policy towards Islamabad, seeking cooperation and re-establishing the association can be seen at present. Therefore, in the aftermath of Pulwama terror attack in the Indian Occupied Kashmir and escalation of tension between Islamabad and New Delhi, on February 28, this year, US President Trump had played a major role in de-escalating tension between the two neighbouring countries.
Taking note of the US double game, after China, Pakistan has rapidly strengthened its relationship with Russia and signed agreements with Moscow in various fields, while as part of the secret diplomacy; America is supporting India to counterbalance China.
Nonetheless, despite improvement in their ties, as displayed during Trump-Imran meeting, ice is not melting in Pak-US strained relations, as Pakistan cannot trust on America on permanent basis.
Sajjad Shaukat writes on international affairs and is author of the book: US vs Islamic Militants, Invisible Balance of Power: Dangerous Shift in International Relations