US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is scheduled to visit Pakistan on Sept 05 of this month when relations between two countries has suffered a tense and intense brinkmanship over past one year however, a palpable sense of care existed among top echelons of both sides not to let relationship slip too far. Probably this is the reason that high profile visit is taking place at an earliest instance when a government with an overarching agenda of change has taken charge in Pakistan. Optimistically this can enable both countries to overcome prevailing acrimony, suspicion and reserve and open new vitas of understanding and appreciation in spirit of mutual comprehension with no highhandedness but respect and equality. US Joint Chief of Staff Committee, General Joseph Dunford would also accompany Pompeo during the visit which adds versatility and importance to visit manifold.
From the beginning, Pakistan made a lot of overtures to US to forge friendly relations based on commonality of interests, democracy, fundamental human rights, right of private ownership and moral responsibility of fortunate in wealth and knowledge towards unfortunate etc. Pakistan also hastened to underline its geo strategic importance in relation to oil bearing areas of Middle East and its willingness to stand against the intruders. To its chagrin, US response remained unenthusiastic until fact of geo strategic importance of Pakistan and its accompanying commitment dawned on policy makers of US. It took two years to materialize. Pakistan became their friend on this base and was tested to limit when on in December 1979, Russian tanks rolled in Afghanistan however, with Russian withdrawal from Afghanistan in 1988 after a humiliating defeat, base of friendship between US and Pakistan also got eroded as it ended chance of Russian thrust to warm waters, at least in foreseeable future.
Consequently, US washed its hands off the affair and no longer than sooner, Pakistan became a villain until 9/11 struck the US in 2001. During its fight against terrorism, by and large, Pakistan was acclaimed for its exhilarating role in combating terrorism by US and conferred a status of a non NATO ally however, since last few years, Pakistan is experiencing a yet another change of heart by US. Ostensibly for his alleged laxity to rein Afghan Taliban, operating in Afghanistan from inside Pakistan but to many critics, in reality, underlying main cause is CPEC. It is no unfounded view. One could draw similar inference from statement of a US official and an important US document.
Of late, US Secretary of Defense, James Mattis has said that for US, terrorism is no more a number one priority. Now it is to counter rapidly expanding China economically, militarily and politically along with increasingly becoming aggressive Russia. US national security strategy also singles out China and Russia to challenge American power, influence and interests worldwide. The CPEC provides China a land opening at Gwader. It gives China an access to oil rich Middle East, Africa and other areas where at present US has the hegemony. Russia also stands to reap its dividends and Pakistan is instrumental hence, CPEC could cause restlessness to US. In era of cold war, an access to Russia to warm waters through Pakistan was core of friendship between Pakistan and US. In present times, CPEC may emerge fast a root of animosity between the two nevertheless, because of its huge geo strategic value, it is by no mean, a bane but a boon. Only need is handle it astutely.
In life of nations, time to change is not frequent. It is seldom. Invariably, it takes decades of colossal sufferings. Sadly, we have been no less unfortunate. We are seeing period of change after having suffered most grievously for long time. Our state of economy is threatening. Our debt liabilities are frightening. Our state institutions are nearly dysfunctional. Our 75% population is virtually illiterate. Out of so called educated, majority is unemployables. Our about half of the population is ill. 80% of people pay health bill by themselves. Our moral and social fiber is in tatters. We need to build almost afresh. We have to focus inwardly thoroughly. It is a gigantic task. PM Imran Khan knows it well. He intends to spend whole next year on internal uplift. The transformation of change into reality is a lifetime opportunity and could ill afford to fritter away. It is sacrosanct. It would certainly entail a lot of effort, time and money. Unnecessary entanglement from outside or inside, needs to be avoided.
US is still a predominant big super power. It has sway over international financial institutions and other international watchdogs. Latest examples are of FATF and a note of caution to IMF before lending to Pakistan. We need not to get scared however, need to remain mindful of this fact. During talks, we should assure US of our resolve not to allow soil of Pakistan for terrorism abroad with assurances of intelligence sharing, logistic and effective border management and monitoring. We should allay their apprehensions about CPEC. Equally we need to remind them that mutual trust, respect and bilateral approach could only constitute basis of future Pak US relations. If US shows understanding, it would definitely break new grounds for complimentary and mutually reinforcing pursuits. Contrarily, dignified nations gear up to hold the bull by its horns.
— The writer, retired Lt Col, is freelance columnist based in Islamabad.