As US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo visits Pakistan tomorrow (Wednesday) the diplomatic air surrounding the visit has high inane density – even by Washington and Islamabad’s pretty thick standards.
First there was the hoopla over the call between Pompeo and Prime Minister Imran Khan with regards to “the importance of Pakistan taking decisive action against all terrorists operating in Pakistan”.
These words under inverted commas were denied by Islamabad, prompting the US State Department to send a transcript to ‘satisfy’ the objectors. Following this the Foreign Office declared that there would be no further talks on the matter – probably because of the natural question about various omelets that can be cooked using the eggs on the collective faces of the Pakistani government.
If that weren’t ridiculous enough, the US decided to up the ante on outrage at its end by announcing a $300 million worth of “aid cut”. Another reaction ensued with Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi saying that the money wasn’t aid, but the payment that Washington owes Pakistan for its contributions in the War on Terror.
If it weren’t evident in the lead up to the formation of the Pakistani government, it is obvious now that we have two regimes at either end of the US-Pak ties, which do not have the slightest of inhibitions when it comes to the outrageous.
An example was the clearly planted fabricated story in the media that PM Khan asked French President Emanuel Macron to “wait for 30 minutes” because he was busy in a meeting. It was later revealed that the call was from the French embassy with officials checking in to set up a call between Khan and Macron.
Had it actually been a call from the French president, asking him – or any foreign state head, for that matter – to wait because there was a briefing of local journalists going on would’ve been ill-advised, nay preposterous. And yet it is obvious that the Khan government won’t mind treading that line – there or thereabouts.
Meanwhile, Washington announcing the “aid cut” right on the brink of Pompeo’s visit to Pakistan is clearly an attempt to follow through with what the Donald Trump regime has maintained from the onset: that instead of providing support to the US, Pakistan provides safe havens to jihadists.
This has been at the heart of Trump’s Af-Pak policy, which he announced little over 12 months ago. That he chose to call out Pakistan in his first tweet of the year shows who Trump wants to scapegoat for US failures in the region.
Of course, this isn’t to say at all that the US claims are completely baseless. Pakistan quite obviously hasn’t done much – let alone enough – to deal with jihadist elements in the country, many of whom have been undergoing a process of political mainstreaming, which never received any sanction from the Parliament – theoretically the supreme institution in the country.
The immediate flare for the US would’ve come through Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif’s visit to Pakistan and Islamabad’s support for the nuclear deal. That and the safe havens would dominate talks on Wednesday from the US end, with the more pertinent collaboration over the Afghan Taliban and talks with them, probably reduced to a subplot.
What, however, cannot be predicted are Pakistan’s ripostes to the onslaught that Pompeo is going to bring forth. For, it might be the most pompous and arrogant Pakistani regime that the US has ever had to face.
Considering the depletion of realism and penchant for populism at either hand, perhaps it’s not the worst thing in the world that tomorrow Pompeo shall meet the pompous.
The writer is a Lahore-based journalist.