Prospective Pak-US reengagement


Dr Muhammad Khan

THE three-day visit of Prime Minister Imran Khan to the United States on the invitation of President Donald Trump is being viewed with a lot of prospects in the bilateral relationship of {former} allies. While welcoming Imran Khan, President Trump has appreciated the Pakistani nation and personality of Pakistani Prime Minister. He glorified the role, Pakistan played against terrorism and particularly the assistance, Pakistan rendered for the return of peace and stability in neighbouring Afghanistan. President Trump also offered US services towards resolution of long-standing Kashmir dispute, which was also requested to him earlier by Indian Prime Minister, Narendra Modi. It is welcoming offer, like the one President Bill Clinton made on 4 July 1999 to end the Kargil conflict. It is worth mentioning that the US has approximately 15000 troops, still deployed at its strategic bases in Afghanistan to train and assist the Afghan security forces, engaged in combating Afghan Taliban, the major entity, fighting against the Kabul regime and foreign troops.
The major focus of Imran-Trump meeting was centred towards a peace in Afghanistan, which would allow the US to pull out its troops from that troubled zone, as promised by President Trump during his election campaign in 2016 and before he could jump start for another term of presidential candidature next year. Therefore, developing a cooperative mechanism for engaging Taliban for a negotiated settlement of ongoing war in Afghanistan was debated well. In fact, after having exhausted all other direct and indirect options for establishing peace and stability in Afghanistan, the US has finally concluded that negotiation is the only way forward and Pakistan is the linchpin for brokering this negotiation process. In the past, Pakistan has always asked US authorities that peace in Afghanistan cannot be achieved through use of force, talks and reconciliation among the warring factions is the only way forward. Unfortunately, both the political and military leadership of US opted for military solution of the dispute which finally failed, rather complicated the situation. Besides, the belated attempts of isolated US negotiation process with Taliban could not win for this super-power the desired peace in Afghanistan which could have allowed it to pull out its remaining troops honourably.
Re-engaging Pakistan for bringing peace in Afghanistan was left as the last option for the United States, which President Trump pursued personally and invited Prime Minister Imran Khan along with powerful military commander, the Chief of Army Staff. Prime Minister while interacting at the United States Institute of Peace made a commitment that he would personally meet the Taliban and President Ashraf Ghani for pursuing a durable peace in that country. It is to be noted that Pakistan view peace and stability in Afghanistan as a pre-requisite for peace in Pakistan. Pakistan also contemplates that peace in Afghanistan is not only essential for pull-out of US troops, but it is significant for regional peace in South and Central Asia. Pakistan has already assisted the US for rounds of negotiations with Taliban at Doha, Qatar which has created hope for signing a peace deal between US and Taliban may be before September this year. Nevertheless, Pakistan may use all its sources to convince Taliban, but seeing their past character and rigid nature of this battle hardened outfit, Taliban may not accept all the demands of US or Pakistan. Taliban are demanding immediate pull-out of US troops from Afghanistan (in a period of six months), whereas, Pentagon is not ready to undertake this exercise before two years at least. This is a sole point, where Taliban-US talks are not making any headway.
Can Pakistan really influence Taliban to accept all US demands, especially the withdrawal schedule of US troops? There has been one core demand of Taliban throughout from 2001 to-date that the US and all foreign troops have to leave Afghan soil. This was the sole argument which kept Taliban united and strong. If today, they are asked to create flexibility in their basic demand, this may point fingers towards their credibility besides creating frustration among their ranks and file. Pakistan must understand that if they are pushed more than their pliability for accepting US demands, they may even reject the Pakistani efforts which may give rise to differing relationship between Taliban and Pakistan, which has not happened until now. Pakistani leadership must understand that major powers have their own dynamics and they pursue their long-term national interests for which they can make use of smaller states under the shade of transitory friendship and enticements. In the case of Pakistan and United States, peace in Afghanistan may be a converging point; the common interest of both, but, the methodologies and subsequent goals of US may be differing from what Pakistan wishes. Therefore, the commitment(s) Pakistan may have made with US for brokering an agreement between US and Taliban for peace in Afghanistan and organizing an endurable intra-Afghan dialogue between Taliban and Afghan Government must be deliberated upon keeping in view the hardened nature of Afghans, the ultimate beneficiary of this exercise and the long-term strategic and economic gains, Pakistan is likely to accrue keeping in view its sovereignty, security and national integration. US may have larger futuristic and long-term designs in this region where it has clearly war-gamed two emerging competitors; China and Russia, both challenging the very nature of unipolar global order.
— The writer is Professor of Politics and International Relations at International Islamic University, Islamabad.