Against all odds, Pakistan had been hoping that US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s visit to the country on Wednesday would mark a reset in the troubled ties between the two countries. The lead-up to Pompeo’s trip certainly didn’t inspire much confidence. The US confirmed it would be reallocating $300 million in Coalition Support Fund repayments that were meant to be given to Pakistan, and the initial phone call between Pompeo and Prime Minister Imran Khan showed that the two countries are as far apart on the question of terrorism as ever. As it happened, Pompeo’s trip was cordial and both sides expressed a desire to work together. Reading between the lines, however, shows that there are still some major points of contention. The main take-away from the meeting was that both countries will deliver on joint commitments to build confidence and trust. The problem is that the US and Pakistan have different conceptions of what these joint commitments are. For the US, it means that Pakistan has to take decisive action against the Afghan Taliban and the Haqqani Network while we expect the US to be a partner for peace in bringing the Afghan Taliban to the negotiating table with the Afghan government. While diplomatic niceties papered over these differences, they still exist and are the main driver of tensions between the two countries.
There are still doubts about the US administration’s sincerity towards both Pakistan and the peace process in Afghanistan. Those doubts will only intensify by the appointment of Zalmay Khalilzad as special adviser on Afghanistan to the Trump administration. Khalilzad is known for being biased against Pakistan and his appointment will not be received well by the Taliban either. The other sticking point for Pakistan will be India. Recent reports that we are making peace overtures to India notwithstanding, the Trump administration’s decisive pivot towards India is viewed with suspicion in Pakistan.
Pompeo’s visit to India after leaving Islamabad shows that its dealings with Pakistan are primarily an offshoot of its Afghanistan policy while India is treated as an equal partner. Despite differences between India and the US over the imposition of sanctions on Iran, the two sides reached agreements on greater defence cooperation and a deepening of economic ties. Since Pakistan views Indian intentions in Afghanistan as malignant, this will not help build trust. Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi will carry forward the government’s engagement with the US when he visits the country for the United Nations General Assembly session later this month. While there, he should bring up these objections while stressing that we desire a working relationship with the US – so long as it is on equal terms.