RESET is an American way to cover up a stupidity under the garb of ambiguous misnomer without admitting its failure. Pakistan and the US are following divergent interests in the region; hence, space for any meaningful course corrections to achieve convergence of interests is rather limited. The US needs Pakistan to sustain its presence in Afghanistan. With President Trump’s folly of walking away from Iran nuclear deal, availability of alternative supply route to Afghanistan via Iran has become a pipedream for American leadership. Thus, at least for now, the US does not want to lose Pakistan in totality. Nonetheless, Pakistan cannot continue cosying up with the US as long as it continues to shift Pakistan-India strategic balance in latter’s favour. While US officials tried to keep the meetings focused on Afghanistan, Pakistan pointed out American favouritism toward India and bias against their country. And Secretary of State Mike Pompeo went straight to New Delhi to sign another strategic agreement.
Former Chief Spy and current Secretary of State is well documented for his hawkish leanings towards Pakistan, which are amply reinforced by his boss’s dislike for the country. He undertook the visit with a pinch of salt, and hence was under no pressure to rollout any meaningful initiative for course correction, and he did not. At best the two sides may have reached an understanding to arrest further downslide, if so, this in itself is no meagre achievement. One has to wait and see American inclinations in coming days to draw some conclusions. Apparently there are no visible signs of outright improvement in bilateral relations. During recent weeks, American posturing towards Pakistan had become more aggressive rather than reconciliatory: the US went out of the way for Pakistan’s grey listing in Financial Action Task Force (FATF); raised questions about funding from IMF; demanding respecting American sanctions on Iran; appointed special forces expert to command occupation forces in Afghanistan; cut military and economic aid to Pakistan; provide space to India to gain influence in Afghanistan; and appointed a known hawk towards Pakistan Zalmay Khalilzad as special advisor for Afghanistan. Especially, Prime Minister’s Defence Day declaration that “We’ll never again fight someone else’s war” quashes the impression that Pakistan promised something to American side in exchange for the touted reset.
Moreover, Imran Khan has always been opposed to the open-ended presence of the US forces in Afghanistan and at the same time he views the Afghan Taliban insurgency as a legitimate movement against foreign occupation forces. He is not likely to change that stance. There are contradictions on the way two sides projected the achievements. On cancelation of $300 million reimbursement, Foreign Minister Mahmood Qureshi said he did not raise the issue with Pompeo since the PTI government wanted to go beyond the policy of “give and take”. “The honourable and respectable nations do not talk and raise such matters,” the foreign minister said. Reportedly, Pompeo and Prime Minister Imran discussed Afghan peace process and blockage of $300 million in Coalition Support Fund (CSF) among other matters of mutual interest. Pompeo told reporters that the Islamabad government had been told in advance the sanctions were coming and why. “The rationale for them not getting the money is very clear,” he said. “It’s that we haven’t seen the progress that we need to see from them.”
Foreign Minister Qureshi reported ‘forward movement’ in talks, insisting there was no demand of ‘do more’ from Washington. However, the US embassy issued a statement while Qureshi was busy addressing the news conference, saying, “In all of his meetings, Secretary Pompeo emphasised the important role Pakistan could play in bringing about a negotiated peace in Afghanistan, and conveyed the need for Pakistan to take sustained and decisive measures against terrorists and militants threatening regional peace and stability.” Insiders say the tone, nevertheless, was not harsh compared to recent statements by some other US officials. Pompeo also held out the possibility that military aid could be restored under the right circumstances. Carrot and stick beautifully tossed in unison! Almost all US military aid has been stopped and only a trickle of civilian aid is now coming to Pakistan. American officials regularly question Beijing’s strategic stakes in CPEC. The recent warning by Pompeo against any IMF bailout for Pakistan as it could help the latter pay off its Chinese debt indicates that Washington is willing to go to any extent to stifle Pakistan financially as part of its pressure tactics.
The US has laid down its rules that require Pakistan to ‘do more’ in fighting terrorism on its soil, bring the Afghan Taliban to the negotiating table and force the insurgents to work with the Kabul government. Pakistan is not likely to deliver on any of these, as it believes that it has already done enough with regard to first demand and does not have singular responsibility with regard to the remaining two, as these are shared objectives. Pakistan also believes that all its earlier initiatives for negotiations were purposefully sabotaged by the US. And that despite ostensibly vying for peace in Afghanistan, the US wants to keep the pot boiling to justify stationing of its 10-15000 troops in Afghanistan for other undisclosed strategic objectives, including keeping a watch on Pakistan’s nuclear programme. Before leaving for India, Pompeo told American journalists that he had come to Pakistan to reset the relationship “between our two countries across a broad spectrum – economic, business, and commercial, the work that we all know that we need to do to try and develop a peaceful resolution in Afghanistan, which benefits certainly Afghanistan but also the United States and Pakistan”. One wonders: Where is the reset?
—The writer is a freelance columnist based in Islamabad.