Naveed Aman Khan
WILL Premier Imran Khan demand Dr Aafia Siddiqui’s release on his today’s official visit to the United States of America? Will he emphasize President Donald Trump on this pitiful matter in Washington? Will Premier Imran Khan and Trump face and answer media on this burning question? Or will this meeting prove American Trump Vs Pakistani Trump or American Imran Khan vs Pakistani Imran Khan only? On Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman’s visit to Pakistan Imran Khan raised the issue of release of three thousand jailed Pakistanis in Saudi Arabia. Practically, Crown Prince MBS fulfilled his promise to get the prisoner released. Contrary to his past position in Opposition now after coming to power will Imran Khan repeat the demand of release of Dr Aafia Siddiqui in Washington today as he has long been chanting this popular slogan? Mullahs of JI, JUI and other parties have been raising voices for Dr Aafia Siddiqui in the past but now all of them have forgotten her. Maryam Nawaz and Bilawal Bhutto Zardari are worried about their ‘Dads’ only. Both of these upcoming politicians have no concern with Dr Aafia. Let’s see what game Imran Khan plays with Dr Aafia’s release.
President Trump and Premier Imran Khan have some commonalities. Both are orthodox, populist, short tempered and confused to their causes. Both are not groomed seasoned politicians. Both take U-turns oftenly. Their chemistry can iron out many crests and troughs in the America – Pakistan relationship. Mr Khan should know that spoilers and lobbies, who view the America-Pakistan relations with suspicion, would try their utmost to spoil the atmosphere of goodwill through trivia and controversies. So he needs to be very careful on tossing too many lose balls. President Donald Trump’s policy on Afghanistan is to be implemented before 2020 and an amicable solution found which preserves US interests and guarantees that Afghanistan will not become a base of terrorism directed against America and the West any longer.
Before discussing the trajectory of where the America-Pakistan relations can go, it may be important to view the regional situation. Starting from the neighbourhood, Afghanistan is still extremely hot with insurgency and ruthless power play where all the stakeholders are jockeying for more strategic, geographic and political space. Premier Imran Khan is all set to commence dialogue with the US authorities during his stay in the US. Premier Imran Khan’s this very particular visit has come on the heels of the last round of talks at Doha which pushed the Afghan peace process on a positive trajectory. Today’s visit to US is taking place after a long wait as both the countries calibrate their relations to find common grounds based on the changing dynamics of the region. On his today’s visit to America IK will face highest level of shrewd diplomacy. This visit is test of Imran Khan’s political and diplomatic capabilities also.
Recent spate of attacks on tankers and shooting down of a high-tech American drone by IRGC indicates that the Gulf region is sitting on a powder keg. The Iranian Diaspora under Maryam Rajavi and exiled Crown Prince Reza Pehlavi has been very active in demanding human rights, women’s rights and regime change in Iran. In the Gulf region, the fog of uncertainty looms as US sanctions against Iran suffocate its economic and diplomatic space and anxiety persists on chances of triggering a major conflict through miscalculation. Premier IK will have his plate full the time he reaches the US capital, and Pakistan has to meander through a matrix of challenges as well as opportunity. Both Pakistan and America have had some high and low points in the fluctuating trajectory, and the relations have crossed red line on various occasions but by and large have been controlled positively. The Pakistan-America relations go beyond the conventional diplomatic, trade and military domains and have a major component of people-to-people contact and assimilation. In larger Eurasia, there is a visible wrangling for power between ideologues of Eurasian dream and the America-led coalition trying to build a barrier in the Indo-Pacific region.
Will Imran Khan be well-prepared on regional dynamics and try to build upon common interests and assure Trump that the Pakistan-US relations stand on merit and continue to grow despite multi-alignment and hedging being done by all major and mid-level powers? Will Pakistan once again help guard US interests in the region while maintaining its relations with neighbouring countries? Is Premier IK reaching America with full confidence and complete homework to gain political and economic stability reshaped in Pakistan? American State Department and its Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs have updated their info portal on the relations with Pakistan, which as of June 21, 2019 conveys, “The United States has been one of the largest sources of foreign direct investment in Pakistan and is Pakistan’s largest export market. Trade relations between America and Pakistan continue to grow and the US government supports this relationship by funding reverse trade delegations, business conferences, technical assistance and business outreach. Pakistan remains an attractive market for US companies due to favourable demographics, English language skills, low labour costs, and natural resources.”
Media punditry is already over drunk and over driven, debating what demands IK should put to President Donald Trump. Will IK be able to get any bleak concession on FATF for Pakistan? Will the US agree to tell the nasty IMF to take it easy? What more will Trump want from IK on Afghanistan? No surprises for this is how such visits have been approached in the past. But it’s time to think with politically and diplomatically an inexperience new Premier IK. This isn’t a typical head-of-state visit. Usually, such trips mark the culmination of prolonged behind-the-scenes preparation by working-level bureaucracies. Leaders meet with tangible deliverables to offer, most often multiple MoUs and agreements and strategic road maps for their relationship. This trip will determine where do we stand and what is what and who is who?
— The writer is book ambassador, columnist, political analyst and author of several books based in Islamabad.