Islamabad is suspending large-scale military-technical cooperation with its chief ally, Washington. Pakistan’s unprecedented move came in response to a decision made by US President Donald Trump to freeze aid programs to the South Asian nation, which is accused of failing to honor its allied commitments and aiding and abetting terrorism.
The chill in relations between Washington and Islamabad is nudging Pakistan towards rapprochement with China and Russia, which can eventually result in a change in the balance of power and a redistribution of roles in the Asian region, Dmitry Mosyakov, Director of the Center for South-East Asia, Australia and Oceania Studies at the Russian Academy of Sciences, told Kommersant. “Considering that Islamabad needs foreign assistance, it will try to receive it from Moscow and Beijing, which likewise have problematic relations with Washington,” he explained.
Meanwhile, Pakistani political scientist Ahsan Chaudhary said in an interview with the paper that, no matter how strong Pakistan’s ties with China and Russia may be, its rapprochement with them has certain limits. In his view, one should not expect relations between the US and Pakistan to cool down dramatically. What we see now is some kind of bargaining rather than any fundamental change in position, he stressed.
However, the basic reason why cooperation between Washington and Islamabad will not be frozen altogether is Pakistan’s role as a transit country for the US and NATO in their operation in Afghanistan. “There is no alternative to this transit. Logistics issues need to be tackled regardless of the formidable and unpredictable statements made by Donald Trump,” Ivan Konovalov, Director of the Center for Strategic Trends Studies, told the paper.
Pakistan-US ties tested but not killed
According to reports, Pakistani and US officials are continuing to meet and cooperate “at all levels”, despite the suspension of almost $2bn in US aid and amid fiery statements by political leaders declaring the end of Islamabad’s alliance with Washington, diplomats told Al Jazeera.
“There is no freeze [in relations],” said a senior Pakistani foreign ministry official, speaking on condition of anonymity. “We are speaking to each other, at all levels. We are not sharing the details of that at this time, but the effort to find some common ground or traction on both sides is there.”
A US State Department official, also speaking on condition of anonymity, confirmed that talks between the two sides were “ongoing”.
A high level visit by a senior US diplomat to the Pakistani capital is expected in the coming week, with talks on moving an increasingly troubled relationship forward.
On Friday, Pakistan’s powerful military, confirmed that Army Chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa had spoken with US CENTCOM military commander General Joseph Votel twice in the last week, as well to an unnamed US senator.
Gen Bajwa according to ISPR said Pakistan would not seek to unfreeze the funding, but did “expect honorable recognition of our contributions, sacrifices and unwavering resolve in fight against terrorism”,, adding that Pakistan would continue the counterterrorism operations without US’s financial support.
Analysts say the aid cut is unlikely to have a major effect on Pakistan’s policy in the region.
“Aid cuts are nothing new in the US-Pakistan relationship,” said Michael Kugelman, deputy director at the US-based Woodrow Wilson Center think-tank.
A day earlier, Pakistan’s foreign ministry spokesperson confirmed the two sides were “continu[ing] to communicate with each other on various issues of mutual interest at different levels”.
The diplomatic and military contacts are at odds with public statements made by both Pakistani and US leaders.
Earlier this week, Pakistani Defence Minister Khurram Dastgir claimed that Pakistan had suspended all military and intelligence cooperation with the United States, a claim the US State department denied, and which seems to be at odds with General Bajwa’s contact with the US CENTCOM chief.
“We have received no notification regarding a suspension in defence and intelligence cooperation,” said Richard Snelsire, the spokesperson for the US embassy in Islamabad.
Last week, Pakistani Foreign Minister Khawaja Asif declared that an alliance with the United States was “over”.
The foreign ministry appeared on Friday to publicly back down from that position.
“The remarks of the foreign minister need to be seen in the proper perspective,” said Muhammad Faisal, the ministry’s spokesperson. “The foreign minister was expressing his frustration at the unwarranted US accusations against Pakistan and the unilateral decision to suspend the security assistance, despite Pakistan’s extraordinary sacrifices and contribution in the war against terrorism.”
Despite the fiery rhetoric from political leaders on either side, however, both sides appear determined to push forward through dialogue.
“Both of us have to move from our stated positions, whether it is a superpower or Pakistan. We have to find common ground. This is exactly what we are trying to do now,” a senior Pakistani diplomat told Aljazeera.