Syed Qamar Afzal Rizvi
This conviction seems not lean in argument that despite many cross-currents that flow in Islamabad – Washington relationship, the urge of pragmatism cannot be ruled out while discovering new pathways to mend fences via objective diplomacy between the two sides. Pakistan’s Foreign Secretary Tahmina Janjua held some diplomatic rounds of talks with the Trump administration’s officials in Washington where the two sides remained engaged in warding off the brewing differences. The US wishes to continue talks with Pakistan, said the Foreign Secretary, who was on a crucial visit to Washington, last week.
The Foreign Secretary said that the Afghan government and America should evolve a mechanism to hold direct talks. She said: “We are taking action against terrorists in our interests, not under pressure from someone.” The Foreign Secretary said that decisive victory in the war against terrorism requires strategic policy, adding that both the countries need to continue good relationship to defeat terrorism. National Security Council (NSC) Senior Director for South and Central Asia Lisa Curtis’ mad a surprise visit to Islamabad recently where Curtis had expressed the desire to “move toward a new relationship” with Pakistan, based on a shared commitment to defeat all terrorist groups that threaten regional stability and security.
The US is still Pakistan’s major trade partner, whereas the former also provides one of the biggest sources of foreign remittances for the country, with the number nearing $2 billion in the last financial year. Additionally, Pakistan’s fate of not being declared a terror-sponsor still rests with the Trump administration. Nonetheless, Pakistan’s advances towards the East, especially with Russia, signal a major paradigm shift in the country’s foreign policy. Where on one hand, such a policy reduces Islamabad’s dependence on Washington, while on the other it also helps the country in venturing into new regional and closer territories. However, such paradigm shifts in the foreign policy need to be strategically calculated moves, and not the result of mere rhetoric or anti-American sentiment.
Some of the analysts/geo-strategists view that it would be a mistake to presume that China is glad to see a deterioration in the relationship between Washington and Islamabad. While much of the Trump administration’s action and inaction elsewhere has coincidentally had the effect of abetting Chinese ambitions – for example, in Southeast Asia – nothing could be further from the truth in Pakistan.
Beijing has a broad and difficult agenda with the U.S. already, with areas of contention ranging from the South China Sea to the Korean Peninsula. Having its activities in Pakistan come under U.S. scrutiny would be unwelcome. The thing is that Pakistan is in search of an alternative. A more credible alternative and if the United States is encouraging an alignment in South Asia in which India becomes the center piece, then Pakistan is not into in engaging, but what Islamabad also wants is a relationship which it feels it will get with China and Russia. A relationship in which it is respected, where it’s treated much more honorably than the treatment it feels it is receiving from the United States historically.
Probably convergence may come back, but one can’t ignore the truth what is important for a country like Russia and Pakistan to think about is whether they would want the bilateral relationship between Moscow and Islamabad to be temporary, to revolve around convergence of military interests or can it be deeper. A relationship of people to people contact, a societal contact is there, is far more helpful than what one saw in the case of Pakistan and United States.
Unlike the U.S., which has long opposed the idea of holding a political dialogue with the Taliban, both Moscow and Beijing have stepped up their efforts to involve the Sunni Islamic fundamentalist political movement in peaceful political talks to resolve the Afghan crisis. In fact, both Russia and China have spearheaded a series of talks to end the long-standing war in 2016 and 2017. Washington has not taken part in any of the China-Russia-Pakistan meetings on Afghanistan.
Sentiment in favor of improved Pak-US relations was voiced by a senior White House official earlier this week. The official said Pakistan can still “choose to cooperate with the U.S. and change some of the unhelpful behaviors,” adding that this is “very much in its interest.” While talking to the delegation of Los Angeles Times, Pakistan’s US envoy Aizaz Chaudry argues ‘’ there’s not structured engagement. It’s just conversations that we’re having. But we think that we need to actually engage more seriously and in a more structured format. It is important these conversations are continued and upgraded. Rupture, in my view, is not an option. It would be equally injurious to the U.S. and to Pakistan’’.
And yet it seems arguably appealing to juxtapose Washington-Islamabad relations with that of Ankara – Washington partnership. By giving this analogy, one may debate that despite some gray-areas accompanied by some degree of divergences shown between Turkey and the US, both states yet regulate bilateral diplomatic mechanism, a similar case study seems rightly referred to the US and Pakistan tango that their emerging policy divergences notwithstanding, they cannot adopt a policy of convenient estrangement in their future ties since the catch 22 geostrategic binding force may yet be an irrefutable cause of creating an emulsifying effect between them.
Islamabad fervently advocates that US must avoid its blackmail tactics vis-à-vis Pakistan and must also avoid making Pakistan a scapegoat regarding its failures In Afghanistan. Understandably, diplomacy is the only viable instrument to pacify dispute between two paranoid states as being reflected on seemingly future talks between Washington and Pyongyang.
— The writer, an independent ‘IR’ researcher-cum-analyst based in Karachi, is a member of European Consortium for Political Research Standing Group on IR, Critical Peace & Conflict Studies.