Most friends come bearing gifts when they visit. But the transactional Trump administration seeks to bring Pakistan into line through financial punishment
IRSHAD SALIM (SEP 3, 2018): Pakistan Army Chief Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa called on Prime Minister Imran Khan on Monday at the PM Office in Islamabad — the third one to take place between the military and civil heads since the latter assumed the prime ministerial office on August 18.
The huddle comes amid reports that the Trump administration has made it clear that Pakistan will have to back the US strategy in Afghanistan if it wants good relations with Washington and has put conditions precedent on such a move by Islamabad.
Commenting on Pak-US relations going forward for the first time after becoming the PM, Imran Khan stated said last week that Pakistan will only ally with the US for peace in Afghanistan and tand shall not act like a client state.
This week the Pentagon scrapped $00 million for reimbursement to Pakistan under Coalition Support Fund for what it claimed was Islamabad’s lack of “decisive actions” in support of regional American strategy.
The White House believes that a Pakistani crackdown could be pivotal in deciding the outcome of the long-running war in Afghanistan. So does China, Russia and Iran but state that Islamabad has indeed been doing a great deal to counter terror inside and outside – a narrative Trump administration has shot down since it first announced South Asia strategy last summer.
So the terms of engagement and negotiations between Islamabad and US remain a dice on a Russian roulette — back-channel discussions continue though, some observers say.
So far the most detailed explanation of the US terms of engagement came from a senior Pentagon official — Assistant Secretary of Defense for Asian and Pacific Security Affairs Randall G. Schriver.
In his talk at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Washington, Mr Schriver emphasized several key points: no restoration of US security assistance to Pakistan before the war in Afghanistan ends, more restrictions may be imposed, and Washington has serious concerns about Pakistan’s growing economic ties with China — Schriver was referring to China’s so-called “debt diplomacy” US-based Think Tanks have been pointing out for some time now.
But he also said that the Trump administration was willing to give PM Khan and his team some “space” to make their policies. Khan and his team spent nearly 8 hours at the GHQ last week getting full spectrum briefing on the internal and external situation. According to observers’ accounts, the civil and military is on the same page on all issues, and that includes Pak-US relations in general and related to Afghanistan.
“In terms of separating what was said during a campaign and what he said since the election, we want to give him (Mr Khan) space to find the opportunities to improve things with India,” he said.
Mr Schriver also dispelled the perception that Washington was trying to destabilize Pakistan.
“We are not interested in a failed Pakistan by any stretch of the imagination. So, we want them to be successful,” said the top US official while indicating that Washington could also work with international financial institutions to help boost the ailing Pakistani economy because “economy is going to be the key” to Pakistan’s success.
In earlier statements, US officials had indicated that they might not support Pakistan’s bid to seek an estimated $12 billion from the International Monetary Fund until what they said Islamabad stopped supporting certain Taliban groups in Afghanistan.
Mr Schriver not only offered conditional support to Pakistan’s efforts to seek international or bilateral loans, but also acknowledged the key role that Islamabad has to play in bringing the Taliban to the negotiating table. Washington carries maximum vote in the IMF.
“There is no question we need Pakistan’s help in encouraging, persuading, pressuring Taliban to come to the negotiating table, deal with the national unity government under President Ghani and talk about a future where they are included, not through force, but through a political process,” Schriver said.
Responding to the latest development, Shah Mehmood Qureshi, the newly appointed foreign minister of Pakistan, clarified that Pakistan wants mutually respectable and positive relations and that the payment, which the US is now considering scrapping, is in fact the support coalition fund.
“This is not an aid of any kind that can be suspended,” he said. “This is actually the payment of expenses incurred by us during the war against terrorism.”
The foreign minister said that to “rid the region and the world from terrorism is a joint effort, for which Pakistan has done a lot. The Pakistan Army and people have sacrificed a lot, which is why the positive thinking should be that all the measures that are for our joint goals should continue as is.”
Qureshi said that the matter will be discussed with US Secretary of State Michael Pompeo when he visits Pakistan on Wednesday.
“We will sit with him, present our point of view and exchange ideas,” he said. “We have several combined interest … we will take our mutual respect for each other into consideration and move forward.”
Earlier this year, $500 million set aside for Pakistan’s support to US on counterterror efforts was withheld from the Fund. So the total withheld so far stands at $800 million.
It’s not the amount that ultimately matters but the stick and carrot tactic Trump administration appears to be taking. That puts the relationship in a cul de sac. The best part is only one road leads out of a Cul de sac. And that is driving out together within speed limits.
On Wednesday, US Secretary of State Michael Pompeo alongwith Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee General Joseph F. Dunford will be visiting Islamabad and Rawalpindi for talks — some observers expect these would be tense — they have been allies for decades.
Most friends come bearing gifts when they visit. But the transactional Trump administration seeks to bring Pakistan into line through financial punishment.
Responding to a question about the Pakistani economy, Mr Schriver said: “I don’t have a good answer on the economic difficulties and challenges that Pakistan finds itself in. What I can say is, if you look at other examples where countries went all-in or largely-in with China, the results have not been particularly good. There has been an erosion of sovereignty and an erosion of control. There are many examples of that.”
The US, he said, was willing to help Pakistan.
“So, if our friends in Pakistan want to talk about a way out of that or want to talk about ways to strengthen their economy and deal with that, I am sure we would be open to that in trying to work with Pakistan — bilaterally or through international institutions — to try to get them on a better path,” he said.