Syed Qamar Afzal Rizvi
THE US State Department announced that the US Administration has resumed the International Military Education and Training Program (IMET) (for more than a decade a pillar of US-Pakistani military ties) with Pakistan. President Donald Trump authorized the resumption of Pakistan’s participation in a US military training and educational programme in order to strengthen military-to-military cooperation on shared priorities and “advance US national security”, senior US diplomat Alice Wells said on Saturday. “The said move to resume a military training programme indicates to have a thaw in relations between Washington and Islamabad.
To strengthen mil2mil [military to military] cooperation on shared priorities and advance US national security, @POTUS [President of The United States] authorized the resumption of International Military Education and Training #IMET for Pakistan. The overall security assistance suspension for Pakistan remains in effect, “the Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs at the U.S. Department of State said on Twitter. In May 2018, the U.S. State Department suspended most of its security aid, delivery of military equipment or transfer security-related funds to Pakistan on the pretext that Islamabad provided safe haven for terrorists in Afghanistan, which Islamabad had denied. In 2018, both Pakistan and Russia also signed a military training agreement. The said development came just hours after U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo spoke to Pakistani Chief of the Army Staff General Qamar Javed Bajwa to discuss the killing of senior Iranian commander Qasem Soleimani. Prima facie, it appears that Washington envisaged a role for Pakistan in dealing with the tension caused in the Mideast region by Soleimani’s killing. Veritably Pakistan has good ties with both Tehran and Riyadh, the two instrumental players in West Asia. President Trump reportedly had asked Imran Khan to broker peace between Iran and Saudi Arabia in September 2020 in the aftermath of the bombing of Saudi Aramco’s oil facility. Riyadh had accused Tehran of involvement in the bombing. Recently, Pakistan’s Foreign Office expressed concern about the growing tides in the Mideast crisis.
The resumption of IMET for Pakistan, more than a year after it was suspended, vindicates warming relations that followed last year’s meetings between US President Donald Trump and Prime Minister Imran Khan. Washington has also credited Islamabad with helping to facilitate negotiations on a US troop withdrawal from Afghanistan. The resumption of the IMET programme “provides an opportunity to increase bilateral cooperation between our countries on shared priorities,” the State Department spokesperson added. “We want to continue to build on this foundation through concrete actions that advance regional security and stability.”IMET also extends the spaces to foreign military officers at US military education institutions, such as the US Army War College and the US Naval War College. The U.S. military has traditionally sought to shield such educational programs from political tension, arguing that the ties built by bringing foreign military officers to the United States pay long-term dividends. Such as, the U.S. Army’s War College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, which would normally have two Pakistani military officers per year, boasts graduates including Lieutenant General Naveed Mukhtar, the former DG (ISI).The War College, the U.S. Army’s premier school for foreign officers, says it has hosted 37 participants from Pakistan over the past several decades. It will have no Pakistani students in the upcoming academic year, a spokeswoman said.
The United States’ Department of Defence (DoD) fosters a range of policy instruments in that pursuit, exclusively among them is International Military Education and Training (IMET), one of the foreign assistance programs overseen by the Department of State but implemented and managed by the Department of Defence. The US Institute for National Strategic Studies (INSS) of the National Defense University is the mentor of IIMET’s programmes. The US Department of Defence (DoD) conducts the IMET.
Basically, IMET is designed to accomplish two primary goals. The first is to help strengthen foreign militaries through the provision of skills (and exposure to values) that are necessary for the functioning of a civilian controlled, apolitical, and professional military. Secondly, IMET is an ‘instrument of influence’ through which the U.S. shapes the doctrine, operating procedures, values, choice in weaponry of foreign militaries and occasionally the policies of the recipient governments. Foreign students – many of whom will occupy the upper echelons of their country’s military and political institutions – are taught infantry tactics and operations by American instructors, learn how to operate and maintain American weapons systems, and establish ties with American officers. The resulting doctrinal and operational commonalities, and institutional and individual ties that form between the U.S. armed forces and their foreign counterparts, lead to more interaction and thus, in theory, to stronger relations between the two militaries. Additionally, the U.S. government claims that more interaction translates into more U.S. access to foreign military facilities and bases, which in turn allows the U.S. to establish a military presence in more regions and facilitates the use of military force, or the threat of military force, to address regional threats.
Against this backdrop, a US Congressman(a Republican) Congressman Andy Biggs has currently introduced the bill to remove the designation of Pakistan as a major non-NATO ally, a status that allows for various benefits such as access to excess US defence supplies and participation in cooperative defense research and development projects. Given the fact that the Trump Administration has restored the IMET programme with Pakistan, the said bill loses its logical appeal. There can be no denying the fact in the post- withdrawal phase from Afghanistan, the US will need Pakistan’s strategic support in the region. In this backdrop, there appears the inevitable imperative of reconnecting the Pak-US strategic dots. There can be no denying the fact that the professional military training of Pakistan Armed Forces is very exemplary. This is why the leadership and capacity development building is an important tool of Pakistan military personnel. The restart of the military training between the US and Pakistan will boost professional enhancement and growth. Pakistan believes that a robust military training is the pivot of our military professionalism. The Trump Administration’s resumption move paves way for Biden Administration to revise the status of Pak-US strategic relationship based on mutual understanding to build durable peace and stability in South Asian region.
—The writer, an independent ‘IR’ researcher-cum-international law analyst based in Pakistan, is member of European Consortium for Political Research Standing Group on IR, Critical Peace & Conflict Studies, also a member of Washington Foreign Law Society and European Society of International Law.