Thursday July 07, 2022

FM in the US

By Editorial Board
May 20, 2022

Pak-US relations have had a roller-coaster ride from the turn of the century. The 2000s saw a Bush-Musharraf camaraderie that was reminiscent of the Ayub Khan and Ziaul Haq eras in the Pakistan of the 1960s and 1980s. The 2010s dawned with the capture and killing of Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad and the Salala attack by the US forces that claimed the lives of over two dozen Pakistan soldiers. Then it was a downslide all over, bilateral relations plummeting to new lows during the PTI government – though there was a moment of high between Trump and Imran – culminating in the so-called ‘conspiracy’ that the former prime minister has blamed on the current US administration. The PTI regime’s unabashed advocacy of the Afghan Taliban on international forums further complicated the situation and Pakistan found itself aligned with the Taliban regime that is an anathema to the US and other Western powers. The inept handling of foreign policy by Imran Khan and the former foreign minister put Pakistan in a hard corner from where it is fairly challenging for current Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari to disentangle. Now on his maiden visit to the US, Bilawal Bhutto has said that Pakistan is looking to the Taliban regime in Afghanistan to play its role in discouraging the increase in terrorist activities on Pakistan’s side of the border. Importantly, the foreign minister has also said that Pakistan wants to ensure rights to the women of Afghanistan.

Pakistan and the US have remained involved in the ‘war on terror’ for nearly two decades now but have not been entirely successful in their endeavours. Pakistan hoped that the new regime in Afghanistan would live up to its commitments to not allow their soil for any planning of terrorist activities across borders. Though the US has withdrawn militarily from Afghanistan, it has been monitoring the situation intently. Despite the US showing its displeasure lately at the previous government in Pakistan, there is a need to engage with the US in a constructive manner. The humanitarian crisis developing in Afghanistan is not only disturbing for the country itself but is also a threat for the region as it may spill over to other countries. The world community has been concerned about the evolving human rights situation in Afghanistan and the Taliban takeover has not gone down well with nearly all major powers. Now both Pakistan and the US need to prioritize their mutual issues to put their ties back on track. The damage done by the previous government is immense but this – or any future – leadership in Pakistan should be able to manage the situation if they play their diplomatic cards right.

Pakistan needs to alleviate its economic crisis and the US can play a decisive role in this matter. The possibility of an economic collapse is no longer far-fetched. The meetings held with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken during the visit appear to have been helpful in improving bilateral ties. The regional situation in South Asia is not stable and from Kabul to Colombo there is visible volatility. Pakistan and the US need better cooperation in various sectors, without of course compromising on mutual respect. This reset is also an opportune time to take stock of what has gone right or wrong in the past. Repeating old mistakes of aligning with the US at the cost of other major powers is neither advisable nor beneficial to Pakistan. We need to take a balanced approach, and make sure not to antagonize either side in a rapidly emerging major-power rivalry in the world. Strengthening comprehensive ties that are not confined to military matters should be Pakistan’s top priority. In addition to peace, improved trade and developmental aid must also be a major concern. Hopefully the recent visit will go a long way in stabilizing bilateral ties, though the political circus back home will also be watched closely by all major powers.