New US Viceroy to Islamabad is named ! | By Iqbal Khan


New US Viceroy to Islamabad is named !

AMERICA is going through the pangs of absorbing a defeat of great magnitude in Afghanistan.

The US exit from Afghanistan, and the way it happened, has raised serious questions about the future direction of Pakistan-US relations.

Against this backdrop, the appointment of an Ambassador, after a hiatus of three years, is a significant development.

New ambassador would be landing in an environment set out by Prime Minister Imran Khan’s “Absolutely Not” with regard to provision of air bases to hit America’s perceived “terrorists” in Afghanistan.

Appointment of a full-time US Ambassador is a welcome move. Pakistan stands for broad-based ties with the US.

The nomination of the new Ambassador comes just days after US Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman visited Pakistan, underlines the fact that despite differences on certain issues the US still considers Pakistan important at least in the context of Afghanistan.

While in India as part of her South Asia tour, Sherman had articulated that there was “No interest in returning to days of a hyphenated India & Pakistan”.

And that her trip to Islamabad was only for “specific and narrow purpose”, and is not meant to once again rebuild a broader relationship with the country.

Not in the distant past the US Ambassador to Islamabad had such an influence over the domestic and foreign affairs of Pakistan that he was taken as America’s Viceroy to Pakistan.

Over the recent years the US clout over Pakistan has declined; these days, Yanks are mainly doing disruptive role.

For example, the US continues to pressurise Pakistan by ensuring that it stays on the grey list of the Financial Action Task Force and by making International Monetary Fund talk tough, it is incrementally encroaching upon breathing space of Pakistan’s financial system.

Unipolar political World Order imposed by the US at the end of US Soviet Union cold war has since undergone a seismic change. While the entire world recognises this tectonic activity, America itself is in a state of denial.

It may take another half a century or so for the US to come out of ‘sole super power mindset’; after all even the mindset of the United Kingdom keeps revisiting erstwhile Great Britain status.

President Joe Biden has named Donald Armin Blome, a career diplomat, as the new US envoy to Islamabad. This indicates that there may be some positive movement in the relationship.

Long absence of a full-time Ambassador was seen as an effort by the US to downgrade its ties with Pakistan, which are, otherwise, considered crucial in the context of Afghanistan and the overall regional security.

The Trump Administration did not send an Ambassador to Islamabad after David Hale’s tenure, despite the fact that the relationship between Pakistan and the US saw an improvement after frequent interactions between Trump and Imran Khan.

Recent ‘Afghanistan Counter-terrorism, Oversight and Accountability Act’ bill in the US Senate introduced by Senator Jim Rischon September 28, 2021, has the support of a group of 22 Republican Senators.

Although the bill sponsors say it is primarily aimed at addressing the “outstanding issues related to the Biden Administration’s rushed and disastrous withdrawal from Afghanistan,” a significant portion is aimed at imposing punitive measures against the Taliban and those the US concludes supported and enabled them.

“The Secretary of State, in consultation with the Secretary of Defence and the Director of National Intelligence, shall submit to the Appropriate Congressional Committees a report on entities providing support to the Taliban.”

Pertaining to Pakistan, the bill elaborates that “the first report… shall include – (1) an assessment of support by state and non- state actors, including the Government of Pakistan, for the Taliban between 2001 and 2020, including the provision of sanctuary space, financial support, intelligence support, logistics and medical support, training, equipping, and tactical, operational, or strategic direction; (2) an assessment of support by state and non- state actors, including the Government of Pakistan, for the 2021 offensive of the Taliban that toppled the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan… (3) an assessment of support by state and non-state actors, including the Government of Pakistan, for the September 2021 offensive of the Taliban against the Panjshir Valley and the Afghan resistance.”

Some voices in Washington and other US allied Western capitals continue to scapegoat Pakistan for the failure of international system in Afghanistan.

Blaming Pakistan is not only factually incorrect, it also undermines the spirit of international cooperation necessary to end the cycle of violence that has devastated Afghanistan.

Afghanistan deserves peace and prosperity, and a blame game among international actors will not get us there, nor will a repeat of the mistakes of the 1990s, when the United States abandoned Afghanistan and sanctioned Pakistan.

Prudent way forward for the international community is to engage constructively with the new government in Kabul.

The goal must be to create the conditions for Afghan people to earn a respectable livelihood and to live in peace.

Pakistan has been at the forefront of international humanitarian efforts since the fall of Kabul.

It has helped evacuate over 20,000 foreign citizens and Afghans from the country, as well as creating an air and land bridge to channel emergency supplies to the country.

Pakistan wants an Afghanistan state which is inclusive, respects the rights of all Afghans, and ensures that Afghan soil is not used for terrorism against any country.

An understanding is also required on the terms of the release of the Afghan central bank’s reserves, most of which are held by the US.

Also, people-friendly unfinished development projects in Afghanistan need completion for the benefit of the Afghan people.

A coordinated global approach will reduce the risks of international divisions over how best to engage the Taliban. At the same time, it is important to remain realistic about what is achievable in the present context.

As of now, chaining-in China into an economic pygmy and projection of a disgraceful runaway of US military from Afghanistan as a great victory, at least for the American people, are the two national policy objectives which the US is forcefully pursuing, both are not attainable.

And more vehemently the US chases these objectives, faster its grip would loosen over global affairs.

Pakistan-US relations are too complex and complicated to degenerate into zero sum status. This relationship is multi-layered, multi-track and multi-domain. Such relationship is difficult to disengage from by either side.

While it may touch a low in a domain or two for some time and appear dysfunctional, it continues potent functioning in remaining domains. The incoming US Ambassador to Islamabad has a plateful of tasks. We wish him Luck!

—The writer is contributing columnist, based in Islamabad.

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