In a preview of the hectoring we should expect from US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo when he visits Pakistan on Wednesday, the Pentagon announced last week that it would reallocate $300 million in Coalition Support Fund reimbursements that were due to Pakistan, ostensibly because the country has not taken sufficient action against the Afghan Taliban and Haqqani Network. The Pentagon decision merely confirms the aid cuts that had been announced months earlier by the Trump administration but its timing, just days ahead of the first face-to-face meeting between the PTI government and the US, is clearly meant to send a message to Pakistan. We should expect Pompeo to continue the bullying that has always been the hallmark of US foreign policy and has only increased under US President Trump.
The preamble to the talks hinted at the friction between the two countries when the government dismissed the US State Department’s assertion that Pompeo brought up terrorism in his first phone conversation with Prime Minister Imran Khan only to later withdraw its objection. The US has already made it clear that it will pressure the IMF not to extend Pakistan any further loans if the money is used to repay money borrowed from China. Defence Secretary James Mattis has said that he and Pompeo will urge Pakistan to take stronger action against terrorist groups and it is likely this which will dominate the agenda during Pompeo’s visit.
Pakistan needs to use this opportunity to firmly explain to the US that it no longer has the leverage to force us into action. Aid cuts were meant to punish Pakistan for not toeing the US line but they have served only to diminish US influence in the country. To the extent that Pompeo is willing to listen, we should point out that the Trump administration’s war strategy in Afghanistan is doomed to failure and linking ties with Pakistan to the war effort is counter-productive. The US has realised that it cannot win the war through military means alone and is now receptive to holding peace talks with the Afghan Taliban. But it still does not understand that taking there is a bit of a contradiction in taking punitive action against the Afghan Taliban and the Haqqani Network and holding talks. Pakistan has a role to play in bringing everyone to the negotiating table but it can only do so if the US becomes more flexible and displays greater understanding of the complexities in the region – something which has proved beyond the grasp of the US administration so far.