By Salman Bashir
Prime Minister Imran Khan is expected to visit Washington to meet President Donald Trump later this month. Pakistan-US relations seem to have come full circle and are moving in an upward trajectory once more. Two years of bitter US acrimony toward Pakistan seems to have ended with the new realization that Pakistan is a pivotal geographic position for US interests in this part of the world.
Pakistan for its part has been consistently signalling its intent for renewed positive engagement with the US. It remained unprovoked by a great deal of Twitter rousing from across the Atlantic, and pointed out areas of real convergence of interests especially with regards to peace and stability in Afghanistan. It is playing a constructive facilitators’ role for a viable and sustainable political settlement in Kabul. US Special Envoy Zalmay Khalilzad has made frequent visits to Islamabad and has been appreciative of Pakistan’s role.
The US Indo-Pacific strategy has placed a premium on a US defense partnership with India which has tended to make the US extremely sensitive to, and to some extent, obliging toward India’s regional outlook and aspirations. The animosity against Pakistan in India has tended to resonate in literature emanating from the US strategic community and found some reflection in the pronouncements of the US establishment.
This tendency to bring in global strategic power-play in local South Asian issues of stability and peace is disconcerting. Pakistan, for its part, has made it clear to the US that it does not begrudge US-India relations and that US-Pakistan bilateral relations have merit and should be developed further in accordance with respective mutual interests.
Pakistan-China relations are rock solid and are based on mutual respect, established principles and long-standing traditions. Pakistan has in the past been a bridge-builder between China and the US. It is reasonable to believe that US-China relations will in due course find equilibrium, in accordance with their national interests.
At this time, Pakistan will not enter into any momentary fray in the global strategic plane. It is only interested in its own development and security, and has signaled toward good relations with all its neighbors, including India.
Great powers such as the US, China and Russia could help secure durable peace in South Asia through their influence in New Delhi. Pakistan does not believe the Indo-Pacific strategy should extend to Pakistan and Afghanistan — a region that in any case falls under US Central Command.
Prime Minister to visit Washington reflects the political acumen of President
Trump. And the US adding the Baloch Liberation Army to its terrorism list has
been greatly welcomed in Pakistan.
On global affairs, Trump’s instincts are mostly correct. Notable examples are his personal views on President Vladimir Putin, President Xi Jinping and his reaching out to North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.
Of course, no-one wants to outdo the US, because America is the only guarantor of the international order as it presently stands.
Pakistan and the US have a solid history of cooperation as allies and friends. In fact, no other friend or ally of the US has done as much. Momentary differences on the long-term outlook on Afghanistan are now history, and Trump’s decision to opt for a political settlement is exactly what Pakistan had been advocating for all along.
Khan’s visit to Washington should see the rebuilding of Pakistan-US relations but it would be wrong to attribute strategic connotation to the visit at this point.
However, Pakistan will be happy to welcome US corporate sector investments and enhance trade relations. During his visit to Islamabad, Senator Lindsay Graham mentioned the US-Pakistan Free Trade Agreement and OPIC facilitation of US private sector investments in Pakistan.
In the short-term, US support for Pakistan’s IMF loan request and help with the World and Asian Bank are matters that are likely to receive attention. Also likely to figure in the conversations are counter-terrorism cooperation and post-political settlement cooperation in Afghanistan with the US as well as the need for a regional security architecture relating to Afghanistan’s stability.
The US and China’s interest vis-a-vis Pakistan and Afghanistan broadly converge. President Trump will recognize this fact and hopefully not hold Pakistan-China cooperation as an impediment to developing Pakistan-US relations. In any case, the recent meeting between Presidents Trump and Xi Jinping in Osaka at the G-20 was positive.
A revamping of Pakistan-US relations appears to be on the horizon. There are many things that could potentially go wrong, but there is also renewed confidence in President Trump’s personal abilities for clear and rational thinking and action.
(Salman Bashir is a Pakistani diplomat who served as Foreign Secretary of Pakistan and as High Commissioner of Pakistan to India.