National and International Issues

Revitalization of Pak-U.S. Relations: An Analysis of Prime Minister Imran Khan’s U.S. Visit

Every state, may it be smaller or greater, has its political and geographical impact on other neighboring and regional states. In the intellectual discourse, the impact of geopolitical position of a state on other states is referred as geopolitics. By virtue of its location, Pakistan is considered among one of the blessed countries, full of multifaceted potentials. Geographically, Pakistan (a potential gateway of regional economic connectivity) is the hub of existing and emerging economic zones of the Middle East (Arabian and Persian Gulf), Central Asia, South Asia, China and Russia. With the changing political environment in South Asia, Pakistan needs to find new and parallel policy options. In the future, Pak-U.S. relations would play an important role in politics, economy and security related issues of South Asia, especially for Afghanistan. 
The history of Pak-U.S. relations has remained unpredictable in its nature since the beginning. The initial stage of engagement was welcomed warmly by U.S. when the Prime Minister of Pakistan Liaqat Ali Khan paid an official visit to the U.S. Both states experienced various phases of bilateral engagement with many ups and downs during the regional agreements, Pakistan-India wars, civilian and dictatorial regimes, Pakistan’s nuclear program and, recently, in Pakistan’s commitment to regional economic connectivity through China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). In the beginning of 2018, the relations were spawned by U.S. President Donald Trump’s tweet in which he blamed Pakistan for deceiving the U.S. in Afghanistan. Apart from ignoring the huge sacrifices made by Pakistan in the war against terrorism, Pakistan was put under pressure in the revised South Asian policy of U.S. The new U.S. policy was not merely rhetoric but was followed by concrete policy actions. The Coalition Support Fund was suspended and Pakistan was also put on Financial Action Task Force, (FATF) grey list. The training of Pakistani military officers in different U.S. military institutions was also banned. Pakistan was squarely blamed for the law and order situation in Afghanistan. However, the U.S. President then wrote to Prime Minister Imran Khan seeking Pakistan’s help in bringing peaceful resolution to the Afghan war. 

It is the first time that U.S. has recognized Kashmir as the core issue between Pakistan and India. Trump’s offer of mediation on the issue has been warmly and wholeheartedly welcomed by Pakistan’s government, media and public. India, however, continued its stereotypical approach and has remained reluctant to discuss a third party’s role.

U.S.’ new South Asia policy has conditioned Pakistan’s relations with the U.S. on the situation in Afghanistan. The U.S. and NATO troops are there in support of Afghanistan’s security forces yet after 18 years of U.S. presence and military operations in Afghanistan, Taliban have made a brazen comeback. Looking to its longest war, U.S. has expressed the desire to reach a settlement with renewed vigour. However, it is not without challenges, particularly with the involved parties’ varied opinion on how it should unfold. Pakistan has been saying for years that any peace process in Afghanistan should be Afghan-led and Afghan-owned whereas the U.S. wants the process to be Afghan-owned but U.S.-led.
Significance of the Visit
• The leadership of both countries gave massive focus to regional peace paradigm, which would act as an energizer to future political settlement of Afghan issue and future regional security.
•  As most of the analysts are assuming, the visit can be a ground for rekindling and refreshing the ties between Pakistan and U.S. in multifaceted domestic and regional matters of mutual interest.
• After U.S.’ revised policy of South Asia 2017, there was significant remoteness in Pak-U.S. relations. This visit is expected to revitalize the relations and drive many new avenues of bilateral engagement.
• With the opening of new avenues of opportunity, the role of Pakistan would be better recognized for settlement of regional issues, especially the Afghan peace process.
• In the domestic context, PM Khan is showing thoughtful tenacity to attract businessmen and investors living abroad, which is expected to encourage Pakistani community to invest in Pakistan. There are calculated assumptions of analysts that Pakistan would provide better investment opportunities and potential in the near future.
• Pakistan’s diaspora will play an important role in the economy with their remittances through official channels, especially when institutions in Pakistan are slowly but surely gaining dynamism.
• While accompanying PM Khan, Chief of the Army Staff (COAS) General Qamar Javed Bajwa reiterated at various forums that the improved security situation in the country would result in opportunities for foreign businesses to invest in Pakistan. It will also provide opportunities to the Pakistani diaspora to invest in a comparatively better investment friendly Pakistan.
Media’s Perspective
PM Khan’s visit to the U.S. appeared as one of the leading news headline of media across the globe with a combination of predisposed and balanced reporting. In a nutshell, the media remained appreciative about the unprecedented and timely visit of PM Khan to counteract the prevailing media conception of deteriorating Pak-U.S. relations. Pakistani media widely appreciated the visit and conceived it as one of the most welcomed U.S. visit after the visit of President Ayub Khan in 1961. President Trump’s offer to mediate on the Kashmir issue between Pakistan and India is indicative of a substantial shift in U.S.’ role in the long outstanding issue. President Trump’s statement that “relations with Pakistan are much better today than ever before” raises the prospect of revitalization of the bilateral relations between both states. The neutral and balanced analysis in India has declared the visit as a “diplomatic setback for India” because India’s significance for the U.S. in the region had increased significantly and Pakistan’s role had been marginalized. After the visit, the perceived revitalized ties between Pakistan and U.S. would be seen with keen concern by the Indian government.
Pakistan’s media and public might also have high expectations from this visit but from the U.S. perspective the main focus would only be on Afghan peace process and Pakistan’s resolve to take action against the banned militant groups. Pakistani media claimed that there was the biggest ever gathering of Pakistani-Americans as PM Khan addressed the Pakistani diaspora and other community at Washington DC. Some U.S. media remained suspicious regarding the visit, especially on Trump’s offer to mediate Kashmir conflict by expressing Indian viewpoint. The international media mostly linked the visit with Afghan crisis and U.S. drawdown strategy by claiming “U.S. is working on a way out of Afghanistan” as reported by CNN. Some other international media like BBC News termed the visit as a bilateral diplomatic step to mend ties. Indian media negatively framed the visit of Pakistani Prime Minister to U.S. in a rather stressed tone. Most of the Indian media covered the denial to U.S. President’s claim by news framing, much like News 18 reporting that, “Prime Minister Modi did not ask Trump to mediate on Kashmir”. Indian media had expressed its serious concerns over the accompanied visit of Pakistan’s COAS to U.S. In the parallel, coverage by India Today, like some other Indian media referred to the visit as, “Imran-Trump meet to reboot Pak-U.S. ties”. By stating, “Trump’s ignorance was on full display in his meeting with Imran Khan” media analyst Barkha Dutt criticized Trump in her article published in The Washington Post on July 22, 2019.
Takeaway for Pakistan
The maiden visit of PM Khan to the U.S. can termed as very successful for the future of Pak-U.S. relations. In politico-military and economic paradigm, the following aspects would have serious influence on future Pak-U.S. relations:
• It is the first time that U.S. has recognized Kashmir as the core issue between Pakistan and India. Trump’s offer of mediation on the issue has been warmly and wholeheartedly welcomed by Pakistan’s government, media and public. India, however, continued its stereotypical approach and has remained reluctant to discuss a third party’s role.
• It was one of the major achievements and diplomatic successes of Pakistan that the U.S. President recognized the contribution Pakistan has made for regional peace. It is a major shift from the irrational demands of “Do More” from Pakistan.
• PM’s meeting with President Trump remained open to many areas of bilateral relations. Pakistan’s Premier, with the vision of a statesman, conveyed Pakistan’s concerns to the U.S. President.
• PM Khan’s interactions  with the Pakistani diaspora and on other forums like the United States Institute of Peace, his meetings with the Secretary of State and others officials of the U.S. remained very useful and objective-oriented.
• The PM expressed his serious concerns on likely U.S.-Iran confrontation in the Gulf region while addressing the United States Institute of Peace and anticipated severe consequences in the region. He suggested that U.S. and other stakeholders adopt diplomatic and negotiated means to defuse the situation.
• It was announced by White House spokesman that the aid to Pakistan which had been discontinued would now be restored. This gesture will play a vital role in breathing new life into the cordial relations between both states.
• Pak-U.S. bilateral trade and investment would substantially be enhanced in the future as stated by U.S. President, “U.S. is interested to improve its economic relations with Pakistan and wants to increase trade volume up to 20 times more”. 
• COAS accompanied the PM during the visit and had interactions with the U.S. military and defense leaders. It is expected that with better confidence level, the security and military cooperation between Pakistan and U.S. would increase in the future.
• It was conceived by some elements, including the Indian media, that Pakistan’s role has been minimized in the Afghan situation. In the political scenario of post-PM’s visit, Pakistan would have strong footing in the region, especially in the Afghanistan peace process.
• A few analysts are considering the visit as a “paradigm shift” for regional policies and U.S.’ focus toward related political and security matters. 
• There had been strong lobbying by anti-Pakistan elements, including India, to isolate Pakistan at the international level, however, renewal of Pak-U.S. relations would allay all such concerns.
• With President Trump’s offer of mediation in the core dispute of Kashmir between Pakistan and India, the emerging paradigm would provide new strength to Kashmiri people and it might be a start towards the internationalization of issue.
• The visit has further clarified U.S.’ stance that it wants to leave Afghanistan by finalizing an acceptable peace formula, as stated by President Trump, “We’re working with Pakistan and others to extricate ourselves. Nor do we want to be policemen, because basically we’re policemen right now. And we’re not supposed to be policemen.” PM Khan has been against military action since the start and has always maintained that “war is not the solution to Afghan crisis”.
• Revitalization of Pak-U.S. ties after PM Khan’s visit would create a security balance between Pakistan and India in the region.
Suggested Follow-up Policy Parameters
There are some suggested policy parameters to capitalize the dividends of this historical visit:
• Pakistan should follow Kashmir policy as a topmost foreign policy agenda with new approach at the regional and global level and after Trump’s offer of negotiation, the issue should be internationalized by using all possible policy options.
• Pakistan should enhance bilateral diplomatic arrangement to transform the committed actions into reality.
• Comprehensive intellectual debates should be carried out on media and think tank level to streamline policy options for Afghanistan in the future.
• Pakistan should augment diplomatic efforts with the U.S. and friendly regional powers for cumulative security arrangements in the region. Pakistan can play a leading role in bringing about a workable solution for Afghanistan.
• PM’s announcement to allow expatriates to contest elections is a positive step to build confidence of Pakistani community living abroad. Pakistani diaspora living in U.S. and other countries should be given full confidence for their economic initiatives in Pakistan.
• Pakistan can further negotiate with the U.S. for having more exchange programs in the field of education and research to further strengthen Pak-U.S. ties.
• U.S. investment in Pakistan should also encouraged, for which lucrative investment environment should be presented by strengthening public institutions and further improving security situation in the country.
• Confrontational approach towards U.S. is not in the interest of Pakistan, therefore, it should continue to draw foreign policy balance between East and West. This policy mode would provide more policy options to the government with global outreach.
• Although India would take it as against its national interest if U.S. comes closer to Pakistan, cordial Pak-U.S. relations are in the interest of all regional states.
It is in the interest of not only Pakistan and the U.S. but also the whole region that Washington and Islamabad build trust between them. The U.S. should establish its relations with Pakistan based on bilateral understanding and not condition it on the security situation in Afghanistan alone. The U.S. should understand that Pakistan can play a vital role in bringing about a peaceful resolution of the Afghan conflict.

The writer is an analyst of international relations, including domestic, global and media politics.
E-mail: [email protected]

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