IK’s visit to Washington – a mission of hope

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By Wajid Shamsul Hasan

Prime Minister Imran Khan’s much talked visit to Washington looks still uncertain and the Foreign Ministry in Islamabad has advised media not to speculate anything on this tour which is in pipeline. According to the Foreign Office, it was in close contact with the United States regarding this visit and wishes to caution against speculation about PM’s visit as it was a norm to make announcements about high-level visits at an appropriate time.
Nearly ten months of hard work, compliance to do more against terrorism, roping in of Taliban leadership to sit face to face with Americans to make an attempt to bring to an end a 17-year old fratricidal conflict that has kept South Asian region on tenterhooks-the much sought after visit of Prime Minister Imran Khan to Washington was earlier announced for later this month. To speculate about its outcome much before it is begun is not advisable. Any student of international relations with a closer eye on Pakistan-US relations could timidly forecast the likely trends that could possibly emerge.

President Trump is master of conducting diplomacy through creating uncertainties. He has also outdone seasoned generals in beating a hasty retreat after blowing hot. And indeed, he has in Prime Minister Khan an equal match if one were to look at his record of U-turns in game of politics. Like his senior “Master” in Washington who once made our life miserable by his itchy habit of tweeting threats, IK can also counter him by his expertise in reverse swing.

It is not difficult to discern what could be up the sleeves of the President and what price Pakistan will have to pay. Like the then US Secretary of State Colin Powell saved President General Pervez Musharraf from an armed conflict with India following a suicide attack on the Indian Parliament, President Trump forced Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi to stop blowing hot down the neck of Imran Khan and his Establishment after Pulwama killing of Indian soldiers in a terrorist attack that almost sparked off a war.

During the last ten months of wishy-washy relationship when often things appeared to be going out of hand of Pakistan Foreign Office, senior policy planners in DC managed to prevail on their President that Americans have had invested too much on Pakistan and its defence set up in the last 70 years and it would be just pyrrhic to let go off Islamabad from its stranglehold. He was advised to cool down and act big to a small nation that thinks itself to be a super power by having a nuclear arsenal. One must remember whosoever is in Oval Office, United States primary concern is to defang Pakistan’s nuclear deterrence.

Not once but ever since Imran Khan became prime minister, President Trump has often said that he has credentials good enough to do business with. And if one were to look at what could be described as concessions a la courtesy Washington, political forces must garner people’s power for street reaction to defend Pakistan’s vital strategic interests from being compromised. Is it not a big favour that despite having failed to satisfy FATF, IMF has doled out dollars worth 6 billion for 39 months.  One must be cautious to counter what price Imran Khan gets like Gen ZIA and Musharraf from the Americans to play ball with them. American ban on BLA and similar action by Pakistan against Hafeez Saeed-are all small goodies that come with big deals. Our strategists must understand that settlement in Afghanistan is still long way to go, war is not yet over and Americans are itching to open yet another front. President Trump being a shrewd businessman knows that the right price to Imran Khan now could get him that sort of support that Gen ZIA and Gen Musharraf gave to President Reagan and President Bush.

One is wary of Prime Minister Khan’s conduct of himself on his previous foreign visits that left much to be desired and caused national embarrassment. There were protocol guffaws much too many that call for a refresher course in diplomatic nuances and protocol. Since he cannot differentiate between a continent and a country, that Germany or Japan were warring neighbours, he would do a favour to himself and to the country if he could read some of Dr Kissinger’s writings to understand the nuances of diplomacy. And in order to understand the currents and cross-currents responsible for good, bad or ugly relations between US and Pakistan over the years he must read Field Marshal Ayub Khan’s book ‘Friends not Master’ and Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s “Myth of Independence’.

Time is short to run through the trajectory of relations between the United States and Pakistan. Once we were called a cornerstone of American foreign policy – most trusted ally of Washington East of Suez where the Americans had air bases and footholds to carry out their anti-communist operations. These imperialistic concessions were given to them by Field Marshal Ayub Khan in exchange of military assistance and political legitimacy. Seven decades down the road Pakistan has been rendered into tombstone of that foreign policy.

To understand Pakistan’s relations with United States – especially when they look totally at cross purposes- one would advise Khan to read two extremely useful books- President Mohammad Ayub Khan’s Friends Not Masters – a sort of shikwa (Complaint) with the super power for its treatment of its ‘most trusted ally’. On the opening page of his autobiography Ayub gives his quote that says it all about relations that rose to sublime heights and then fell to the state of being ridiculous. His words “People in developing countries seek assistance, but on the basis of mutual respect: they want to have friends not masters”. Ayub Khan learnt much too late in the day the meaning of American phrase – “There ain’t no such thing as a free lunch”.

The other book that he must read is Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s treatise on foreign policy “Myth of Independence”. In “Myth of Independence”  Bhutto Sahib encapsulates from where Ayub left in his book, Pakistan’s bitter exploitation by the United States through its ingress in various institutions including defence. Based on his experience of being a key member of Ayub government as well as its foreign minister, he states that the situation Pakistan found itself was such that ‘every decision of any importance, even as regards matters that ought to have been of purely internal concern, was affected by some aspect, real or imaginary, of international relations, especially of commitments to the United States of America. Even some times American interfered in the posting of Section Officers. ZAB became a thorn in the eyes of the American State Department when in 1960 as Minister for Fuel, Power and Natural Resources he negotiated with the erstwhile Soviet Union for an oil agreement. It was significant since it was first break through towards improving relations with Moscow. “I was convinced that the time had arrived for the Government of Pakistan to review and revise its foreign policy.”

(Author is the former High Commissioner of Pakistan to UK and a veteran journalist.)