Monday, September 25, 2023

Pakistan Resetting Ties With the US?

Washington, DC – Pakistan is trying hard to reset ties with the United States after former Prime Minister Imran Khan’s allegations of “regime change.” Since his ouster from the Prime Minister’s office, Imran Khan and his allies have been blaming the Biden administration for its involvement in the domestic politics of Pakistan. 

Let’s have a quick look; a luncheon meeting of the former Pakistani Ambassador in DC between Dr. Asad Majeed Khan and Assistant Secretary of State for South Asia Donald Lu on March 7 started the controversy. It was an “off the record” conversation, and Donald Lu reportedly expressed concerns about Pakistan’s political situation. In that meeting, the senior US diplomat talked about the Imran Khan government, his foreign policy decisions, and how they can affect Pak-US relations. Since then, Mr. Khan dragged the outcome of that meeting till today, blaming the Biden Administration that worked with the opposition parties and threw him out of the PM’s office.

White House, State Department, and many Congressmen and Senators rejected the bogus claims of Imran Khan. Even the Pakistani military and current government also termed those remarks baseless. Dozens of analysts in Pakistan were of the view that Mr. Khan was using the transcript of that meeting as a scapegoat. But till today, he is leading an anti-American campaign in Pakistan. And now, to fix that, the current Pakistani government and powerful military are working together to reset the ties, and fruitful results can now be seen.

In the last few months, we have seen back-to-back high-level meetings between the United States and Pakistan’s high officials. Prime Minister Shahbaz Sharif met Secretary of State Tony Blinken and President Biden at the sidelines of the UNGA session in New York. Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto Zardari came to Washington and spent a hectic week meeting with the State Department, Congress members, think tanks, American media, and others. He openly talked about the “regime change” controversy and termed it a baseless allegation on American friends. 

Then the Chief of the powerful Pakistan Army, General Bajwa, visited Washington DC. In addition to “on the record” meetings, he had a few “off the record” meetings too.

Pakistan is not only calling to its friends in Washington for image building but also ruffling the feathers of some “angry birds.” The biggest “angry bird” was the former top diplomat of Pakistan, Hussain Haqqani, who is now the director of the Hudson Institute for South Asia. Pakistani media reported that General Bajwa, in his visit to Washington DC, had a meeting with Haqqani, but the former top diplomat denied that on Twitter. According to sources, he met someone with the visiting delegation of General Bajwa, but who was that lucky officer still needs to be confirmed. 

Mr. Haqqani was always outspoken about the political situation of Pakistan and the military. He is the one who opposed the F-16 deals with Pakistan a few years back. In his writings and speeches, he always asked the US government not to support Pakistan until Pakistan stopped supporting the Taliban and other extremist groups. But now something is changing with Mr. Haqqani, as his recommendations and suggestions in a recent report indicate a 180-degree turn.

According to the recent Pakistan study group report, US re-engagement with Pakistan: Ideas for reviving an important relationship, the United States needs to keep engaging Pakistan despite lingering mistrust over Afghanistan. 

The interesting thing about this study group is that Mr. Haqqani reportedly established it. 

However, on the papers, it said that the report is authored by Kamran Bokhari, Director of Analytical Development, New Lines Institute for Strategy & Policy, Ryan Crocker, former US Ambassador to Pakistan, and Toby Dalton, Co-director & Senior Fellow of the Nuclear Policy Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Other authors who contributed to the report — Husain Haqqani, Director South & Central Asia, Hudson Institute Cameron Munter, former Ambassador of the US to Pakistan Robin Raphel, former diplomat and Ambassador Elizabeth Threlkeld, Director South Asia Program, Stimson Center, Dr. Harlan K. Ullman, Senior Advisor, Atlantic Council Dr. Marvin Weinbaum, Scholar-in-Residence, Middle East Institute, and Uzair Younus, Director Pakistan Initiative, Atlantic Council.

The report suggests that to maintain the most modest and pragmatic relationship between the two countries, it is critical to understand the changing circumstances and accept their divergent views on India, China, and Afghanistan. The report states, “There is little the US can do to induce Pakistan to change its overall strategic calculus, which is based on Pakistan’s understanding of its security environment.”   

The report further says, “American policymakers need to also think of more options beyond either giving or denying vast amounts of aid to coerce Pakistan into changing its policies.” “Pakistan’s leaders, too, need to move beyond the fantasy that it is “critical” to America, and so US policymakers will always be focused on Pakistan.” 

Regarding security cooperation, the report says the US and Pakistan have cooperated in sharing intelligence on Al-Qaeda, Islamic State, Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan, and Tehreek-e-Nifaz-e-Shariat-e-Mohammadi. “The need for counterterrorism cooperation with Pakistan has, if anything, increased with the loss of intelligence assets following the US military withdrawal from the region,” the report notes. While the US still aims to diminish Al-Qaeda and other affiliated terror organizations, Pakistan can help in curbing these organizations, but at the same time, it can also hinder the goal.  

Referring to being listed on the UN Financial Action Task Force (FATF) grey list, the report suggests that Pakistan has a chance to be taken off the list. However, monitoring by the US and the international community is needed to ensure that Pakistan complies with FATF demands.

Throwing light on the US-China tension, the report suggests that unlike in the past, the US can tune its relationship with Pakistan, which could improve Pakistan’s bargaining power vis-à-vis China. The report says, “This makes it imperative that Washington act to strengthen constituencies within Pakistan that champion ties with the US” “One such way could be to help build Pakistan’s capacity for transparency and compliance when it comes to loans like those under CPEC.” The report also talks about the progress made by China in Pakistan, not only in economic and political support but — also in educational and cultural ones. 

The report recommends solutions that can help rebuild a strong tie-up between the US and Pakistan. However, it also cautions that Pakistan should not be isolated or ignored because of its population and nuclear weapons capability. “US engagement with Pakistan would benefit if it were based on a realistic appraisal of Pakistan’s policies, aspirations, and worldview,” the report stated. “There is a need to acknowledge that inducements or threats will not result in securing change in Pakistan’s strategic direction.” 

Apurva Minchekar contributed to this story.


Author profile
Jahanzaib Ali

The writer is a Washington-based journalist and author. He has been covering international politics and foreign policy issues for the last 15 years. He can be reached at [email protected] and tweets@JazzyARY.

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