Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi’s trip to New York for the UN General Assembly session will be his first opportunity to interact with senior members of the Donald Trump administration and attempt to get relations between the two countries back on track. He is scheduled to meet with Vice President Mike Pence while in New York – although the government is giving mixed signals about how it intends to approach the US. In an interview given to Geo in London, where Abbasi met with Nawaz Sharif before leaving for New York, the PM defended Foreign Minister Khawaja Asif’s remarks that Pakistan needed to fix its own house. This could be seen as an olive branch to the US, which has been critical of Pakistan for its role in the war against militancy. But giving in to the US does not seem to be on the agenda for PM Abbasi. In a separate interview with the Financial Times, he made the revealing remark that Pakistan now has to rely on media reports to find out what US plans for the region are. He also pointed out that if the US should cut aid that will only hurt Pakistan’s ability to fight militancy. The US pressure is coming at a time when Pakistan’s operations against militancy have been relatively successful. On Monday, a parliamentary delegation held a meeting with Army Chief Qamar Javed Bajwa at the GHQ where he said that he sought more such interaction with parliament. Such meetings will serve to show the international community that the country is united in its fight against militant groups, and serve to dispel the perception that institutional confusion and disagreement over policy matters still exist.
Meanwhile, Foreign Minister Khawaja Asif, in an interview with the Wall Street Journal, has advised the US to seek a negotiate settlement with the Taliban. What both Abbasi and Asif said is true enough but it doesn’t seem like anyone is listening in Washington. The Trump administration has been deliberately disengaged from the world, routinely alienating former allies. In South Asia it seems to have decided to put all its eggs in the Indian basket, all but nominating it to be its sheriff in the region. Pakistan may not need the US and its aid as much as before since that aid has been gradually reduced over the years and is now dwarfed by investment and assistance from China. But that does not mean we shouldn’t be trying to rebuild ties with the US. An angry US, especially now that it is sending more troops to Afghanistan, is more likely to launch drone attacks and perhaps even carry out operations across the Durand Line. To prevent this and ensure we have a seat at the table once the US finally realises that talks with the Taliban are the only way to bring peace to Afghanistan, Pakistan needs to keep the lines of communication with the US open. The UN General Assembly session is the first opportunity it has to do that – and PM Abbasi would do well to capitalise on it.