National and International Issues

Reconnecting with Washington

PM Imran Khan’s three-day visit to Washington was a resounding success.
He received a rock star welcome from the Pakistani-American community; established good personal chemistry with the U.S. President; there was convergence on the core issue of Afghanistan; Trump’s offer of mediation on Kashmir was an unanticipated “bonus”; the PM received numerous proposals for investment and economic cooperation from U.S. and expatriate businessmen which could contribute significantly to Pakistan’s growth.



At the White House
President Trump received the PM warmly. The instant rapport with the U.S. President was reflected in the joint press meeting, Trump’s personal tour of the White House to the Pakistani delegation, during the formal talks, in the one-on-one meeting and the “family photo” with the First Lady.
The White House talks mainly covered the peace process in Afghanistan and bilateral relations. This was the first high level Pakistan-U.S. encounter in over five years. So far, the Trump administration had refused to engage with Pakistan in a structured dialogue at the senior-most level. It was made possible by Pakistan’s indispensable facilitation of the U.S.-Taliban talks and the considerable progress made in these talks on 2 of the 4 identified agenda items.
Unlike the past, Pakistan was led by a person not beholden, personally or financially, to the Americans and thus confident enough to convey Pakistan’s positions frankly and clearly. The positions expressed by both sides assumed added credibility due to the presence of the COAS and DG ISI on the Pakistan side and the Chiefs of Staff and Secretary of State on the U.S. side.


Trump’s offer of mediation on Kashmir was an unanticipated and a pleasant surprise for Pakistan. It has placed New Delhi in the uncomfortable position of calling the U.S. President a liar. 


The PM described the exchanges as “straightforward”. He said that Pakistan and the U.S. were now on the same page and endorse the common objective of a negotiated peace in Afghanistan. Pakistan would do “everything it can” to ensure the success of the Afghan peace process.
In the extended press encounter at the White House prior to the talks, President Trump was effusive and complimentary towards Pakistan and the PM. At this press meeting, and in the subsequent interviews, the PM articulated Pakistan’s positions with restraint and quiet dignity, while adroitly avoiding controversial issues.
Trump’s offer of mediation on Kashmir was an unanticipated and a pleasant surprise for Pakistan. It has placed New Delhi in the uncomfortable position of calling the U.S. President a liar. There is potential diplomatic mileage for Pakistan to derive from this episode.
Pompeo’s Call
Secretary of State Pompeo’s call to the PM at the Pakistan Ambassador’s Residence the next day was an expression of support for the positive evolution in Pakistan-U.S. relations from its foreign policy institution.
On the Hill
The PM was welcomed on the Hill by the “Pakistan Caucus” in the U.S. Congress. The long dormant Caucus has recently expanded to over 80 members. In another sign of Pakistan’s growing relevance, and bipartisan support for improved relations with Pakistan, the event for the PM was attended by members of the Caucus and a large number of other U.S. legislators, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, the leading figure in the Democratic Party.
The Capital One Rally
By all accounts, the mammoth congregation of nearly 30,000 Pakistani-Americans organized on the second evening of the trip by local PTI leaders to welcome PM Imran Khan was unprecedented in its size and enthusiasm. This “show of strength” will have reverberations both domestically and for Pakistan-U.S. relations.
Charisma and Preparation
The success of the visit was due to PM Imran Khan’s international celebrity status, personal charisma and the careful preparations on substance and logistics both in Islamabad and Washington, especially by Pakistan’s new and professional Ambassador and his staff.
Afghanistan – the Key Issue
In the short term, the graph of the Pakistan-U.S. relations will be drawn largely by the progress made in promoting peace in Afghanistan. Over the longer term, the evolution in Pakistan-India, U.S.-India and U.S.-China relations will influence the tone and substance of the Pakistan-U.S. relationship.
Afghanistan and counter-terrorism were reportedly discussed in greater depth in the COAS’ talks at the Pentagon and with the U.S. Secretary of State. Although both Pakistan and the U.S. desire a political settlement in Afghanistan, the devil is in the details.



PM Imran Khan wisely sought to avoid U.S. pressure by expressing his aversion to U.S. “aid”. Yet, this does not foreclose reciprocity, which is a core principle of inter-state relations and diplomacy. To reciprocate Pakistan’s help in facilitating the Afghan peace process, the U.S. has declared the BLA as a terrorist organization and, following the talks with the COAS, renewed the repairs and servicing program for Pakistan’s F-16 fleet.


On Afghanistan, the discussions are focused on how to convince the Taliban to enter into negotiations with the Kabul Government and to accept a ceasefire while these talks are underway. The U.S., Russia, China and Pakistan advocated this in Beijing recently. There may be high expectations in Washington that Pakistan and PM Imran Khan can persuade the Taliban to accept talks with Kabul and a ceasefire when they visit Islamabad shortly at the PM’s invitation.
Convincing the Taliban will not be an easy task. They may agree to some diplomatic modality for the intra-Afghan talks; but they have again announced that they reject a ceasefire.



On the other hand, the U.S.’ position is also not entirely clear. President Trump favors a quick withdrawal (driven by the 2020 election timetable). U.S. Generals have, however, continued to assert that U.S. withdrawal is “conditions based”, implying that it will happen only after a political settlement. The U.S. may also want to leave behind a “small” counter-terrorism force in Afghanistan post a settlement. Such demands could complicate and delay troop withdrawal and the entire peace process.
In these circumstances, Pakistan would be wise not to assume the entire onus for persuading the Taliban and should share the task with the three great powers parties to the Beijing consensus.



India has infiltrated most of the U.S. think tanks and built a powerful intellectual lobby which portrays Pakistan in the worst possible light. Pakistan will have to mount a counter campaign. Among other steps, it could fund “chairs” on areas and issues of interest to Pakistan at various think tanks and universities, and arrange speaking engagements for Pakistani personalities etc.


Indeed, Afghanistan is one area where the U.S., China and Russia, despite their global rivalries, could cooperate to promote their common objectives of eliminating international terrorism and promoting peace and stability.
U.S. Reciprocity
PM Imran Khan wisely sought to avoid U.S. pressure by expressing his aversion to U.S. “aid”. Yet, this does not foreclose reciprocity, which is a core principle of inter-state relations and diplomacy. To reciprocate Pakistan’s help in facilitating the Afghan peace process, the U.S. has declared the BLA as a terrorist organization and, following the talks with the COAS, renewed the repairs and servicing program for Pakistan’s F-16 fleet.



Indeed, Afghanistan is one area where the U.S., China and Russia, despite their global rivalries, could cooperate to promote their common objectives of eliminating international terrorism and promoting peace and stability.


If the positive trajectory of relations is preserved, Pakistan could also expect: U.S. action against TTP safe havens and BLA safe houses; coordination in preventing cross-border TTP/BLA attacks from Afghan territory; help in fencing and monitoring the Pakistan-Afghan border; release of counter-terrorism equipment and the CSF repayments; and eventually promotion of a program for the early repatriation of Afghan refugees.
Countering Terrorism
During the Washington visit, PM Imran Khan reaffirmed that, in its own interest, Pakistan will no longer tolerate the existence of armed militant groups within the country. Recent actions taken against the LeT and JeM and their leaders do reflect this commitment. These actions ought to remove one of the strongest “talking points” used against Pakistan by India and its friends.



Pakistan would be remiss if it does not pursue the unilateral offer made by President Trump to mediate the Kashmir dispute with India. To give life to this offer, Pakistan could request President Trump to convey a specific proposal to India for an interim solution to the Kashmir dispute and a halt in India’s brutal human rights violations in occupied Kashmir. 


While affirming Pakistan’s determination to terminate “terrorist financing” as required by the FATF, Pakistan’s PM urged equally vigorous international action to halt money laundering by corrupt politicians and officials and the repatriation of stolen capital. (This is a demand for which Pakistan can secure global support at the UN General Assembly.)
Kashmir
Pakistan would be remiss if it does not pursue the unilateral offer made by President Trump to mediate the Kashmir dispute with India. To give life to this offer, Pakistan could request President Trump to convey a specific proposal to India for an interim solution to the Kashmir dispute and a halt in India’s brutal human rights violations in occupied Kashmir. If India refuses to utilize Trump’s good offices, Pakistan could present a resolution in the UN (Security Council, General Assembly or Human Rights Council) urging New Delhi to do so. Given the supportive statement on Kashmir from China, such a proposal is likely to enjoy majority support in UN forums. At the least, such a move may open doors for resumption of the comprehensive Pakistan-India dialogue which India has spurned so far.
Economic Cooperation
During the visit, PM Khan displayed full awareness that economic cooperation offers the most promising avenue to accelerate Pakistan’s growth and improve Pakistan-U.S. relations. The PM’s delegation included his principal economic Ministers and Advisers. Promising full security and business facilitation, the PM asked for the removal of travel and other impediments to U.S. investment and trade expansion, highlighting that the vast potential of Pakistan’s economy remains to be unleashed. President Trump publicly confirmed the potential to exponentially expand U.S. trade and investment with Pakistan.
The vast possibilities for economic cooperation can be realized only through the conception, initiation, approval and execution of specific investment or trade projects. Several specific proposals for investment and cooperation were made during the PM’s meetings with a large number of Pakistani-Americans and U.S. corporations organized by the Ambassador of Pakistan. These covered investments in industrial and agricultural expansion; energy infrastructure; renewable energy; mining; IT and advanced technology; social infrastructure; education and healthcare; exports of textiles, consumer and agricultural goods from Pakistan and LNG and high tech imports from the U.S.
These proposals will require active follow-up by the Washington Embassy and the relevant ministries and officials in Pakistan. If pursued diligently, these initiatives could yield billions in foreign investment and trade and accelerate Pakistan’s economic growth.
Follow-up
An organized effort will be needed to utilize the goodwill and momentum created by the PM’s Washington visit to improve relations with the U.S. and promote Pakistan’s national objectives.
U.S. Congress
A more active interaction with the U.S. Congress is necessary, in part to counter the ingrained hostility of some mid-level U.S. officials and the hyperactive Indian lobby. The newly hired lobbyist can be helpful in this process.
U.S. Media
A media campaign is sorely needed to counter the pervasive Indian-sponsored propaganda against Pakistan. The PM’s trip was not adequately covered in the U.S. print and electronic media. The newly recruited PR firm will need to help redress this. It should undertake a wide ranging effort to project a positive perspective of Pakistan.
Think Tanks
India has infiltrated most of the U.S. think tanks and built a powerful intellectual lobby which portrays Pakistan in the worst possible light. Pakistan will have to mount a counter campaign. Among other steps, it could fund “chairs” on areas and issues of interest to Pakistan at various think tanks and universities, and arrange speaking engagements for Pakistani personalities etc.
The Pakistani Diaspora
While the PTI will no doubt be reinvigorated within Pakistan by the Capital One congregation, the mass adulation evoked by Imran Khan must have been duly noted by U.S. politicians as well. Trump almost certainly did. Pakistani expatriates are present in almost every political constituency in the U.S. and, if properly mobilized, they can influence U.S. political leaders to adopt a more balanced attitude towards Pakistan and its legitimate interests.
Strategic Realities and Opportunities
While Pakistan-U.S. interests currently converge on Afghanistan, counter-terrorism and economic cooperation, the relationship is constrained at the strategic level by the U.S. desire to promote India as a counter to China across the so-called “Indo-Pacific” and Asia.
The Indo-U.S. “strategic partnership” has had several negative consequences for Pakistan including an arms imbalance, Indian belligerence and the brutal suppression of Kashmiris. Pakistan’s security and development objectives remain intensively dependent on its deep and durable strategic partnership with China.
However, there are flaws in the foundation of the Indo-U.S. partnership which Pakistan can and should assiduously exploit. While desiring the advantages of an alliance with the U.S., India wants to be a global power, not a regional U.S. satrap; it is hyper nationalist; it is working for a multipolar world, (and thus the erosion of the U.S.-led “world order”); it buys most of its weapons from Russia; and its largest trading partner is China. Over time, India is likely to emerge as America’s rival rather than its “natural ally”.
The Washington “establishment”, like a large ship, is difficult to turn around once it reaches a “consensus” on any issue. It will be an uphill task for Pakistan to change the present pro-India consensus. Yet, given the high strategic stakes and the significant implications for its national security and development, Pakistan must commence the effort to erode the pro-India and anti-Pakistan “Washington consensus”. PM Imran Khan’s visit was a good beginning.


The writer has served in the Pakistan Foreign Service for over 40 years. He was Pakistan’s Permanent Representative to the UN in New York; Permanent Representative to the UN and WTO in Geneva; Additional Foreign Secretary and Ambassador to the European Economic Community in Belgium and Luxembourg.
E-mail: [email protected]
 

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