Dr. Zeeshan Khan
Once American Statesman Henry Kissinger said, “Donald Trump is a phenomenon that foreign countries haven’t seen. So it is a shocking experience to them that he came in to office. “
Meeting first time after twitter spat in last November . All eyes are fixed at the outcomes of the meeting. Trump-the incumbent king of the world when meets other smaller counterpart statesmen, the scenario is drawn towards something unprecedented which is not going to happen but only when the thing pops out of mind is exploitation game at the end of the day as the result. Same would be the condition if the things do not get off the track. President Donald Trump and Prime Minister Imran Khan have similarities too: both are populist and sincere to their cause but unorthodox; and their chemistry could iron out many crests and troughs in the Pakistan-US relationship. Imran Khan should recognise that spoilers and lobbies, who view the Pakistan-US relation with suspicion, would try their utmost to spoil the atmosphere of goodwill through trivia and controversies. No matter which side of the US-Pakistan relationship you are on, you cannot but agree that playing by the rules hasn’t worked. And it won’t — because divergences in interests on key issues are real and their respective positions on them are too dug in.
The global norm of statecraft is to play safe: be boring, go slow, do not spring surprises, and stick to talking points. But for the time being, let the two leaders be themselves.
If Going by ‘the script’, Trump echoes Washington’s negative energy: would blame Pakistan for the mess in Afghanistan, talk of sanctuaries, terrorism, the danger of nuclear weapons, and promise to keep the pressure up till Pakistan delivers. Khan will fire away by accusing the US of using Pakistan as a scapegoat, of destabilising South Asia and being in cahoots with India, and ask for support on FATF, IMF, Kashmir, etc.
But, arrest of JuD Head Hafiz Saeed before U.S. visit and opening the airspace have some specific indications. With India in the U.S. embrace, and Pakistan the new poster child of the Chinese Belt and Road Initiative, any conflict between New Delhi and Islamabad will also have higher stakes. After the February face-off at the border between the two countries, when the Indian Air Force crossed into Pakistan for the first time since 1971, a defense buildup in one country will automatically trigger anxiety in the other. On the line of control dividing disputed Kashmir, the risks of military escalation are sky high. Unless New Delhi accepts Islamabad’s offer of talks, further regional instability is likely.
Against this backdrop, with U.S.-Iran tensions on the boil, a modicum of diplomatic courtesies for Islamabad may stay on the menu in Washington, but these will have a limited shelf life if the situation in Afghanistan worsens. When the storm gathers, American anger—which is rarely based on what actually went wrong in the region—could spark fresh tensions. In the age of Twitter tripwires, facts won’t matter much. It is heartening to note that the US State Department and its Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs have updated their info portal on the relations with Pakistan, which as of June 21, 2019 stated, “The United States has been one of the largest sources of foreign direct investment in Pakistan and is Pakistan’s largest export market. Trade relations between the United States and Pakistan continue to grow and the US government supports this relationship by funding reverse trade delegations, business conferences, technical assistance, and business outreach. Pakistan remains an attractive market for US companies due to favourable demographics, English language skills, low labour costs, and natural resources.”
The U.S. agenda clearly focuses on countering terrorism. Equally important will be Pakistan’s key role in pushing the Afghan Taliban to reduce battlefield violence and engage in direct talks with the Kabul government, both of which are tough asks at this point. Beyond that, the politics of the visit will likely be boilerplate: Pakistan should do more to stabilize Afghanistan while also doing more to comply with global money laundering requirements and International Monetary Fund (IMF) benchmarks. If Trump is in a good mood, he may even invite Khan to dinner at the White House.
In American eyes, stabilizing Afghanistan is Pakistan’s only real trump card. Islamabad would prefer to have a broader relationship with Washington beyond being seen as a window into a changing Afghanistan. Yet, in international politics, hopes matter as little as intentions.
The visit is meant to push the Afghan peace process on a positive trajectory. This visit is taking place to find common grounds based on the changing dynamics of the region. Trump’s policy on Afghanistan has to be implemented before 2020 and an amicable solution found which preserves American interests and guarantees that Afghanistan does not become a base of terrorism directed against America and the West.
The peace talks that U.S. envoy Zalmay Khalilzad has been conducting with the Afghan Taliban and other Afghans have gone a long way toward breaking down barriers. Still, too many members of the Afghan Taliban see violence as a means of boosting their negotiating power. The irony is not lost on anyone. Once upon a time, the United States wanted to fight and talk. Now the Taliban seem to be doing so.
For its part, Pakistan has been instrumental in making the talks happen and has belatedly received some muted recognition of its unprecedented efforts to facilitate these delicate negotiations. The U.S. government’s listing of the separatist Balochistan Liberation Army as a terrorist group is one of the tokens of that recognition. But, now a fresh start is needed for both the countries and the region for peace, stability and prosperity.