A new chapter in Pak-US ties

July 21, 2019

The first thing that strikes observers of Prime Minister Imran Khan’s upcoming meeting with US President Donald Trump is the two men's shared rise to fame before entering the political...

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The first thing that strikes observers of Prime Minister Imran Khan’s upcoming meeting with US President Donald Trump is the two men's shared rise to fame before entering the political arena.

Comparisons are being drawn about their “l’etat, c’est moi” attitude and their unpredictability etc. Both have been opposed to America’s war in Afghanistan and the search for a peaceful settlement in that country is the primary reason for their meeting on Monday. However, they confront a daunting challenge; how to bring the 17-year-old war to an end, without the country going up in flames all over again.

Keeping that background in view, what is all the fuss about? Some scholarly pieces have appeared in the Pakistani press on issues likely to figure in the Imran-Trump meeting. Analysis and stargazing makes life interesting for everyone. But here we are dealing with someone who ran businesses and TV shows on personal whims, and thinks the same approach is working for him in domestic and international affairs. Trump believes in telling the whole world what they should do. All advice to him is mostly water off a duck’s back.

The one country watching PM Khan’s visit to Washington closely is none other than India where feelings of hurt from Trump’s mini trade war on India have been aggravated by his reaching out to rival Pakistan. The Indians probably feel that Trump loves them no more. The counter-question would be: does he love anyone other than himself?

We should not be disappointed if the visit turns out to be another implicit transaction based on profit and loss. Trump might think that his tough attitude towards Pakistan is paying off as we are making a big contribution by nudging the Taliban to engage constructively with the US as well as with other Afghan groups including the government in Kabul.

The visit provides Pakistan’s civil and military leadership an opportunity to explore with Trump and his team the possibility of withdrawing the bulk of the remaining US troops in the coming months, while ensuring that the whole exercise does not become another missed opportunity in the 40-year-old conflict in Afghanistan.

What’s in it for Pakistan? First, the US can help by folding its anti-Pakistan narrative that has portrayed this country as a dangerous place to visit or invest in. Being the frontline state in America’s war has cost Pakistan over a hundred billion dollars. US cooperation in securing loans from the International Financial Institutions is very helpful but more can be done by unblocking hundreds of millions of dollars in Coalition Support Funds. The US can also revise its travel advisories for Pakistan and restore the country's status of a family station for US officials.

Right from the genesis of Pakistan, Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah had impressed upon the Americans the contribution an independent Muslim state could make as a partner of the US in the Muslim Middle East. That cooperation has gone through various ups and downs but Pakistan continues to play a stabilizing role in the Gulf Region where traditional rivalries have risen over the last decade.

It is true that Pakistan has punched above its weight thanks to its geo-strategic importance and its partnerships with the West as well as China. India on the other hand chose a policy of non-alignment but quickly moved closer to the US after the collapse of the Soviet Union. US efforts to induct India as a counterpoise to China can go only so far as India cannot sacrifice its vital interests in balancing relations with its mighty neighbour, while pursuing its traditional defence cooperation with Russia.

Pakistan’s relations with India may improve over time but this past week saw another zone of turbulence with the International Court of Justice rendering its verdict in the case of naval commander Kulbushan Jadhav, head of terrorist operations for PM Modi’s self-confessed plan to destabilize Pakistan’s Balochistan province. Somewhat like post-Balakot, an orchestrated wave of rejoicing was witnessed in India without anyone saying a word about how and why a gentleman officer could be handed a death sentence by a foreign military court. The fact is that Jadhav remains in the custody of the Pakistan Army while the appeal process completes its course.

The only change is that Pakistan has decided to allow Indian diplomats to meet Jadhav and find out inter-alia how he was captured, so as to avoid similar faux pas in future. India may also try to arrange legal assistance for the convicted spy in the appeal process. India may thus try to establish Jadhav’s innocence. In other words, India wants to deny their agent the glory he was trying to bring the motherland by carrying out terror ops deep inside enemy territory.

In all fairness, Modi should have owned Jadhav as the mastermind of terror attacks in Pakistan to avenge the oft-cited Pakistan sponsored-terrorism in Kashmir. It is another matter that after some years, India may award him a high gallantry award but for now Delhi swears by his innocence – because deception not bravery is the path chosen by Indian rulers who have no compunction about killing, raping and maiming unarmed Kashmiris.

India chose primarily to gain time by referring the case to the ICJ as Jadhav’s execution would have been a major embarrassment for them and create difficulties in recruiting spies for future operations. Pakistan could have avoided the bait simply by granting consular access to India to meet their national under detention in Pakistan. We should have avoided appearing in the ICJ but that path was not taken, thereby equating the wrongdoer with the wronged at an international court.

Email: saeed.saeedkgmail.com

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