Imran Khan’s visit to USA
Asif Haroon Raja
Trump’s dual faced policy against Pakistan
Donald Trump has been maintaining a highly belligerent posture against Pakistan as was evident from his policy on Afghanistan and on South Asia and his random statements accusing Pakistan of harboring Haqqani network and Afghan Taliban, and holding it responsible for the instability in Afghanistan.
On one hand Pakistan is accused of sheltering and supporting Afghan militant groups, and on the other hand USA is in parleys with them since last year and beseeching them to ceasefire and end the war. Pakistan is pressed to bring them to the negotiating table.
Trump administration has been openly siding with Narendra Modi regime as was evident in Pulwama incident and the events that took place in the aftermath. Besides suspending the Close Support Fund (CSF) and military cooperation, the US has hung the swords of FATF and IMF to add to the economic woes of Pakistan, which is caught in a deadly debt trap.
Stick and Carrot Policy
In the ongoing war on terror, the US civil and military leaders have been using the stick against Pakistan viciously and dangling few carrots to entice Pakistan to keep doing more. This policy is evident from the series of harsh statements made by US military commanders operating in Afghanistan, CENTCOM Commander and Pentagon, and in the same breath eulogizing role of Pakistan Army in the war.
In line with this wicked policy, Pentagon recently expressed its desire to maintain strong military-to-military ties with Pakistan due to shared interests. This policy statement has been made in the wake of visit of PM Imran Khan (IK) to Washington this month.
History of Pak-US Military Ties
Peeping into past, Pentagon and GHQ have maintained cordial ties right from the days of Ayub Khan’s rule despite hiccups in government-to-government relationship which suffered from ups and downs.
Military ties nose-dived in 2011 on account of Raymond Davis incident in January, followed by stealth helicopter attack in Abbottabad in May, Memogate scandal in October and finally the Apache gunship helicopters attack on military posts in Mohmand agency in November. The last act forced GHQ to sever all military and intelligence cooperation with USA as well as stoppage of NATO supplies. This non-cooperation remained enforced till Washington apologized in July 2012 and supply routes were re-opened. But the level of distrust didn’t decrease. India and puppet regime in Kabul kept widening the mistrust.
Distrust was a result of accumulation of series of prejudicial acts of USA in the war on terror. While it bestowed favors and rewards to India and Afghanistan generously, it remained tight-fisted towards Pakistan and whatever it doled out in form of grants and loans were tied to condition of doing more. While the wrong acts of India and Afghanistan were looked the other way, or defended or condoned, in case of Pakistan, it was blamed for every trouble in the two countries as well as in Occupied Kashmir. It could never furnish a shred of evidence to corroborate its accusations.
Reason behind USA’s Biased Approach
The reason for this biased approach is that the US military as well as the US governments whether of Republicans or Democrats, have always been closer to India than Pakistan even when India was a camp follower of former USSR and Pakistan was the most allied ally of USA.
Pakistan was initially taken on board in 1954 when India and Afghanistan refused to become part of the defensive arc meant to contain communism in South Asia and the Middle East. Pakistan suffered after joining western pacts, since it earned the animosity of many countries. Above all, the pacts couldn’t save Pakistan from getting bifurcated in 1971.
Next time, Pakistan’s need was felt by USA in the 1980s to support the Afghan Mujahideen in the war against the Soviet forces. Once all its objectives were achieved without deploying a single soldier, Pakistan was discarded and put under sanctions and its arch rival India befriended.
Pakistan was once more taken on board after 9/11 to fight the US war on terror after giving repeated assurances that wrongs of the past will be atoned by building relationship on the basis of mutual respect and understanding. Those were false promises; Pakistan was again duped and snared.
USA, India and puppet regime in Kabul supported by NATO and Israel became strategic partners and made plans to denuclearize Pakistan and make it a compliant state using indirect strategy.
Under the garb of friendship and puny monetary benefits, Pakistan was systematically bled through paid proxies and drones, and discredited through false accusations, false flag operations and media war.
Throughout the 18-year war, Pakistan has been given a raw deal. The reason is that Pakistan besides being a Muslim State, it is a nuclear power with strong armed forces, it is closely aligned with the US main rival China, and in collaboration with China is building CPEC. Full operationalization of CPEC will change the whole complexion of geo-economics in the region, beneficial to China and Pakistan, and detrimental to USA and India. Pakistan refuses to accept Indian hegemony in South Asia and to become an influential player in Afghanistan.
Conversely, India is a strategic partner of USA since 1990. The US has desired that India should fill the vacuum in Afghanistan after its departure, act as a bulwark against China, and become a policeman of Indo-Pacific region.
With these aims and objectives, India is promoted and glorified, while Pakistan which doesn’t fit into the US calculus is undermined and discredited. Successive administrations of George Bush, Obama and Trump adopted an inimical policy.
Pentagon and CIA play a main role in coloring the perceptions of White House, State Department and the Congress. Jewish and Indian lobbies in USA also have a big hand in keeping Pakistan in bad books of USA.
In the backdrop of too many divergences and too few convergences in Pak-US relations, there is little room for shared interests as stated recently.
The only pin which is keeping the US attached to Pakistan is Afghanistan, where the US has got badly stuck and finds itself cornered and bereft of strategy how to fight and win, or to exit safely.
Pakistan becomes relevant since it is the only country which is placed at an advantageous position at this critical juncture. It is relatively better poised to exert influence over the Taliban and to arrange safe and honorable passage of the occupying forces.
Since the US is desperate to pullout at the earliest, and also hope for a friendly regime in Kabul, it has still not abandoned Pakistan. The day Pakistan loses its relevance, and becomes a redundant player in Afghan imbroglio, Washington will ditch Pakistan as it had done in 1990.
The US is well aware of the changed ground realities.
It is no more as powerful as it was in 2001.
Russia has resurged and China is at the verge of becoming the leading economic power.
Taliban are closer to victory stand and are no more isolated and shunned.
Taliban have gained superiority of orientation on the battlefield due to which they are happily placed to negotiate from position of strength.
Taliban have garnered military support from Russia and Iran, and diplomatic support of China, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, UAE, Turkey and Germany.
Afghan Unity Government and 350,000 ANSF have become liabilities for USA.
In all probability, US troops will be pulled out by end of 2020.
Syria is another theatre where USA is most likely to suffer humiliation after it pulls out its forces.
India has failed to disable Pakistan’s nuclear program, or overawe it.
Pakistan’s missile and nuclear capabilities have vastly improved and can keep India deterred.
Pakistan is the only country which has produced spectacular results against terrorism despite heavy odds while all others failed.
The US is also aware of Pakistan’s sense of disillusionment and its inclination to get closer to Russia.
USA is in a Dilemma
On one hand it is stuck in Afghanistan and is entreating the Taliban to ceasefire and help in ending the 18-year war. On the other hand, it is confronted by defiant Iran in the Persian Gulf where no Arab country is prepared to send its ground forces, or to provide land route to US-NATO forces for fear of Iran’s retaliation.
The US needs Pakistan’s help on both fronts since more recently, Pak-Iran relations have taken a dramatic turn for the better, which is much to the discomfort of US, KSA and India.
The prospect of losing influence in Afghanistan and Central Asia completely is giving nightmares to policy makers in Washington. They have belatedly realized that Pakistan is the only country which besides helping in finalizing political settlement with the Taliban and in arranging safe exit, it can act as the bridge for USA to gain access to Afghanistan and Central Asia.
It is in context with these hard realities that the US has once again been forced to lean on Pakistan and of late has been giving friendly signals. However, USA’s overall negative mindset and habit of betrayal must not be ignored. There will be more ‘takes’ and very little ‘gives’.
Trump Administration’s Doubts and Punitive Acts
Poisoned by Kabul and New Delhi, Washington strongly feels that Pakistan is playing a double game and is the main source of strength for the Taliban.
In order to force Pakistan to play the US game, it has embroiled Pakistan in hybrid war in addition to covert war and is now taking steps to hemorrhage Pakistan’s economy which is already in dire strait.
For that purpose it is using the swords of FATF and IMF in unison.
First tranche of the IMF bailout package of $6 billion spread over three years was released only after Pakistan fulfilled the demands of IMF which included changing the whole economic team, heavy devaluation of Pak Rupee, keeping the currency floating, more taxes, increase in prices of electricity, gas, petrol, foodstuff and reduction in subsidies.
While Pakistan is making desperate efforts to get itself shifted from grey to white list by FATF by fulfilling genuine and false demands, India and anti-Pakistan lobbies in USA have been making efforts to blacklist Pakistan, which will be a step closer to getting Pakistan declared a terror abetting state.
IK Visiting USA under Unsavory Conditions
IK is embarking upon his maiden visit to Washington on July 21 at a time when Pak-US relations are unsavory. With restive home front owing to political instability, economy in doldrums, accountability not making any headway, traders’ strikes, release of a scandalous video by PML-N, and explosive external front, IK might not be at ease to indulge in hard talk with Trump.
IK should be deriving a measure of solace that Trump himself is stuck in a bigger mess!
Pakistani nation is looking forward to the 45 minute face-to-face talk between IK-Trump on July 22. Will IK get swayed by the magic spell of USA like his predecessors, or negotiate like Quaid-e-Azam?
Gestures Shown by Both Sides
Both sides have taken some preliminary steps to ease tensions and to create conducive environment for the visit which has assumed great importance. The two sides are hoping that this meeting will help in altering distrust into trust and restoring friendly ties.
Pakistan has helped in making some headway in the 7th round of peace talks between Taliban and USA at Doha. Intra-Afghan meeting at Bhurban last month and participation of all Afghan factions in a 2-day summit at Doha are positive developments.
As a favor to Ashraf Ghani, Pakistan is pressing the Taliban to hold direct talks with Afghan regime and is also wanting them to ceasefire and stop violence.
It is also meeting several demands of FATF to avoid getting blacklisted.
Despite India’s negativity and hostility, Pakistan has made several futile efforts to melt the ice.
As a goodwill gesture, proscribed outfit BLA has finally been declared a terrorist outfit by USA.
• The US is hopeful of winning over hard pressed new regime of Pakistan back into its fold and to make it agree to pick up arms against the Taliban, or browbeat them if they refuse to include the wishes of USA in the peace agreement.
• Trump would press IK to convince the Taliban to allow USA to retain 2-3 military bases in Afghanistan for the sake of regional stability.
• Trump is hoping that Pakistan will persuade Taliban to maintain friendly ties with Washington once they regain power and will not swing towards Russia-China.
• IK will be told to desist from buying arms from Russia.
• Other possible request could be freedom of Dr. Shakil Afridi.
• On the request of India, Trump might ask IK to do away with capital punishment of death by hanging as is being demanded by EU and thus save Kulbushan’s neck.
• Granting land access to India via Wagah to Afghanistan/Central Asia could be another favor sought for India.
Suggested IK’s Talking Points
• IK’s foremost request should be to stop blame game, stop using Pakistan as a convenient scapegoat. Instead evolve mutually sustaining relationship based on trust and respect.
• He must put in a word for Pakistani Americans and Pak settlers in USA for better security against racism and Islamophobia.
• He should ask Trump to compensate Pakistan for $ 125 billion financial loss it incurred in the long drawn war, restore CSF and reschedule foreign debt repayments.
• He should seek compensation for the colossal wear and tear of arms, equipment, tanks, helicopters extensively used in the US imposed war, by handing over part of the US war munitions in Afghanistan before exiting.
• What he should forcefully insist upon is to close down the infrastructure of cross border terrorism in Afghanistan run by RAW-NDS, put an end to the proxy war, and to make RAW-NDS accountable for their support to BLA and other anti-Pakistan proxies.
• Fencing of western border is in overall interest of both countries trading accusations. USA must provide funds to expedite completion of western and southwestern fencing.
• Maintenance of regional military balance between two nuclear neighbors and adoption of balanced relationship with India and Pakistan must be emphasized.
• He must remind Trump to respect Pakistan’s core security interests.
• Trump should be told not to blackmail Pakistan through IMF and FATF, or hybrid war.
• He should invite USA to join CPEC after highlighting long list of merits.
• He should ask Trump to restrain India from committing human rights abuses in Occupied Kashmir, and to mediate in resolving Kashmir dispute.
• Provision of land access to India to be made conditional to resolution of Kashmir dispute.
• With eye on its backyard, IK should ask Trump to review his policy of confrontation with Iran.
End Note. Rapprochement with USA must not be at the cost of straining relations with Russia.
The writer is retired Brig, war veteran, defence analyst, columnist, author of five books, Vice Chairman Thinkers Forum Pakistan, Director Measac Research Centre, member CWC and think tank Pakistan Ex-Servicemen Society, and member Council Tehreek Jawanan Pakistan. firstname.lastname@example.org