Afghanistan, yet again a point of convergence between Pakistan and the United States, it cautiously seems that bilateral relations return to normalcy but drum beating at this point in time, is not justified as the US “do more” rhetoric soften a bit to achieve the regional objective, not completely vanished.
Pak-US relations were strained for more than two years but after Pakistan’s active role in the Afghan peace process, white house invitation to Pakistani leadership more likely be a reward than the actual realization of Pakistan’s regional potential. Although Prime Minister Imran Khan’s three days “official working” trip to Washington, signals a new beginning in bilateral relations in a limited Trump administration’s time, a question remains that how it would be translated in reality?
For some foreign policy experts, Pakistani leadership’s visit was at least encouraging regarding a possible Afghan settlement, futuristic probability of dialogues between Pakistan and India but US President’s harsh tone on Iran could again be an unseen debacle for Pakistan, and Pakistani leadership rightly conveyed their concerns accordingly.
Pak-US bilateral ties:
Both countries were in cold mode especially after Donald’s Trump’s arrival in White House but after the announcement of US new Afghan policy in August 2017, relations between the two got even worse. Who can ever ignore, what Trump tweeted on January 1st, 2018 and criticized Pakistan by labelling with “lies and deceit”, soon afterwards, the US$800 million, mostly reimbursements of coalition support fund (CSF), was halted and never materialized.
Pakistan’s stance was that prime minister’s first-ever trip to Washington, after assuming office, is to diminish the atmosphere of mistrust and reset a new relationship, in which analysts believe, Pakistan’s civil and military leadership got a marginal success but overall, it looks more optics than reality. Two-side interaction will help finally to settle down the dust of mistrust as both nations are hopeful of resolving decades-long Afghan conflict while US President’s “mediation or arbitration” offer on Jammu and Kashmir issue, considered as an encouraging sign for a stable region along with a boasting factor for bilateral relations.
Both promises shaping-up a joint mechanism to address social, economic, trade, investments, defence and security-related matters, if translates, would contribute bilaterally, especially for Pakistan, facing severe economic meltdown. Unlike past, this time the US at least indicates acceptance, what Pakistan is doing in most critical regional circumstances particularly on the Afghan peace process, against extremist groups inside the country under national action plane (NAP), countering terrorism and policy of friendly and peaceful neighbourhood with India and other countries.
Though, Imran-Trump meeting categorized as a considerable success, but, Trump usual, embarrassing tactics were also an indication of his non-seriousness towards Pakistan. When US President said, “US was paying the US $ 1.3bn for many years, Pakistan was not doing anything” and categorized it as “subversive”. President Trump, again embarrassed Khan, during his referral to Iran, when he said, “They [Iran] put [out] the propaganda, They [Iran] put-out lies, I [Trump] don’t think Pakistan would have been doing things like that [and, pointed figure towards Prime Minister Imran Khan],” when PM Imran responds, “definitely not”. Then Trump again rectified and said, “Pakistan never lies, but Iran does, unfortunately”.
Afghan issue:
As core agenda, Pakistan and US, both had given a tip-off that troubled Afghanistan would soon get settled, means a ray of hope for all Afghan’s and the whole region is still alive. During Pak-US talks, US-Afghan Taliban possible seal the deal and Afghan Taliban’s all-inclusive Intra-Afghan dialogue for a peaceful negotiated settlement was discussed in full-spectrum and first-ever time, with clear vision. The US has also acknowledged, Pakistan’s role at the highest level, as President Trump’s said that “I really believe they [Pakistan] have a power that other nations [including India] don’t have with respect to Afghanistan”.
At the same time, it could be Pakistan’s delicate test because Taliban are not solely in the hands of Pakistan, they have their own strong will, how they will take things in the larger interests of their own country, which is facing destruction since the ’80s. Pakistan can only use its slight leverage, what it has and if nothing happened according to the envisaged plan, things would have been different, the fall-out could affect adversely.
It’s not yet clear that how, Pakistan and US will make most complex Afghan peace possible, in a country, where beside Afghan-Taliban, exists several groups, some under Russian and Iranian influence, under Indian impact, pro-Pakistan and pro-Afghan-Taliban, some likes Pakistan but not Afghan-Taliban and some are also the independent voices. It’s another disturbing aspect to address that how an inactive, less-equipped and fragmented, Afghan civil and military bureaucracy willfully able to handle,  a post-withdrawal situation?
Besides Pakistan, another bitter aspect is that there is no serious move seen from Washington to take neighbouring countries in confidence and take them along. Singling-out neighbouring regional countries [including Iran] would negatively impact regional peace, particularly, it will doubt, any possible Afghan deal as Pakistan keeps on stressing that a long-lasting peace and sustained stability in Afghanistan is a shared responsibility.
During joint media interaction with Pakistani premier, US President’s arrogant remarks that, “if he [Trump] wanted to, Afghanistan would be wiped off the face of the earth – it would be done over, literally in 10 days” then he said, in a week’s time, given reference of dropping on mother of all bombs (MOAB), then again added, “don’t want to kill 10 million people”, and that, we acted like a policeman, not soldier, also sparked doubts among Afghans primarily Afghan-Taliban as well, that US really serious in having peace in Afghanistan?
Afghan-Taliban’s statement, soon after Trump’s presser, termed it as irresponsible and strongly condemned, while referred to the bitter historical fact that Genghis Khan, British Empire and the former Soviet Union, all were “wiped off the face of the earth but Afghan nation proudly endured”, and called, Afghanistan, the “Graveyard of Empires” but at the same time, encouragingly supported the “peaceful and rational solution” to the Afghan conflict.
After a long-time ever, as an encouraging sign, US has responded at least to the core concerns in turbulent South Asia, which is not the part of the US South Asia policy, the long-standing dispute of Jammu and Kashmir.
Donald Trump, in his presser, at Oval Office said, “I [Trump] was with [Indian] PM Modi two weeks ago (not clear but might be, was referring to his meeting in Japan during G-20 summit), we were talking about this subject [Kashmir] and he [Indian PM Narendra Modi] actually said, [would] you [Trump] like to be a mediator or arbitrator, I [Trump] said where? [Modi] said, Kashmir”.
But on the contrary, Trump was ignorant of the fact that since when Kashmir issue exists, when he said, “I [Trump] was surprised that how long its [Kashmir conflict] going on, [PM Imran, replied] “70 years”, then [Trump said], “they [India] like to see it resolved, you [Pakistan] like to see it resolved, ‘if’, I [Trump] can help, I would love to be a mediator”.
US President has also commented on the inability of two countries to resolve the seven decades-long Kashmir issue, which was actually meant, to resolve it bilaterally but for many, it’s a hopeful aspect that the US has accepted ‘Kashmir’ as the problem and asked for “arbitration or mediation”.
India’s rejection to US mediation, denial of “Modi’s request” was an expected response after Trump’s statement but cutting the long debate short, a question arises, whether Trump administration actually want peace in South Asia, intended to resolve the outstanding issue of Kashmir? Yes, US has the influence, all the power to mediate and resolve the issue but US President’s perpetual cycles of U-Turns casting lots of doubts.
On the other hand, Pakistan’s own peace initiative like Kartarpur Corridor, expected future facilitation for Hindu and Buddhist pilgrims, possible opening of East-West Corridors, normalization of trade, people to people interactions, could pave the way for a viable solution of Kashmir conflict.
Keeping in view the Afghan situation and US curiosity to have a respectful exit along with something to present before American public during 2020 US Presidential elections, Trump administration could exert more pressure on Pakistan but, in return, might pressurise India as well, to enter in dialogue with Pakistan.
Many experts believe, at least, Pak-US engagements at high level would build upon, what conceived, discussed and elaborated during the leadership and delegation-level engagements on July 22nd, 2019 at White House but again, questions are still haunting and doubts are still there, what would be the ultimate future of Pak-US relations, even (with if’s and but’s) after having a broad-ranged possible, Afghan peace agreement?
DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy and position of Regional Rapport.