ISLAMABAD - A tense Pakistan-US dialogue is likely today (September 5) as US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff General Joseph Dunford land in Islamabad with some ‘serious messages’ for the Pakistani leadership.
The duo is expected to meet Prime Minister Imran Khan, Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi and Army Chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa.
Sources told The Nation that PM Imran Khan was under immense pressure – by the close aides - not to become part of the formal dialogue process with Pompeo but may meet him later or earlier than the official meeting.
Senior government officials said Foreign Minister Qureshi was likely to lead the formal dialogue process with Pompeo’s delegation while he will meet the PM and the army chief separately.
However, there was still a possibility that all the Pakistani leaders – PM Khan, Qureshi and General Bajwa – sit on one side of the table for the talks with the Pompeo-led US team.
“Imran is yet to decide what part he will play in the talks. But the talks are definitely expected to be tense and straightforward,” one official said. He added that Pakistan was not ready to give ‘too much’ but the US wanted ‘total compliance.’
“There is going to be a tug-of-war between the two sides. Washington is aggressive and we are not going to say ‘yes’ to everything,” he maintained.
Afghanistan and Pakistan’s erstwhile tribal areas are the two main issues to be discussed between the two sides as the US wants to expedite exit from the war-torn Afghanistan. This week, Pakistan and Afghanistan had agreed to remove misunderstandings and improve ties during a telephonic contact between FM Qureshi and his Afghan counterpart Salahuddin Rabbani.
About the Pompeo visit, US Defence Secretary James Mattis earlier said: “It will be made clear to authorities in Pakistan that what we have to do for all our nations.” He said Pompeo and Dunford will hold talks with Pakistan new leadership on “action against common foes and terrorists.” Pak-US ties have been frosty for several months. In January, the US suspended security assistance to Pakistan targeting the Coalition Support Fund. State Department said the US was suspending ‘security assistance’ to Pakistan as the trust level between the two countries drastically declined. Washington said Pakistan will be able to receive the suspended funding if it took ‘decisive actions’ against the Haqqani Network and the Afghan Taliban.
Last week, the US cancelled $300 million aid to Pakistan. Another $ 500 million in Coalition Support Fund was stripped by Congress from Pakistan earlier this year, to bring the total withheld to $ 800 million.
Pakistan claims it fought the war against terrorism largely from its own resources “which has cost over $120 billion in 15 years.” Islamabad clarified that the money it had received from the US was mainly reimbursements for supporting US-led coalition forces after they invaded Afghanistan in 2001.
Also, Pakistan supported Iran last week over its ‘principled stance’ on the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action with the P5+1 and the European Union, upsetting Washington.
A senior official at the foreign ministry told The Nation that Pakistan will only be ready for ‘give and take’ instead of agreeing to all the US demands.
“As far as the action against terrorism is concerned, we are fighting terror for decades now. The US needs to understand our efforts instead of doubting us (Pakistan). As we know, they are coming with some serious messages and the crux is ‘do more.’ We are already doing more. In fact we have done more,” he added.
Meanwhile, the Strategic Vision Institute yesterday warned of implications of Strategic Trade Authorization-1 status given to India by the United States saying Washington was undermining regional stability and the global non-proliferation regime by doing so.
On the eve of the visit of Pompeo, the think tank that specializes in strategic stability issues said: “The US tilt towards India for its geo-political goals, including containment of China, marked a paradigm shift in the American non-proliferation policy”.
US Department of Commerce had on July 30 granted STA-1 status to India. This allows license exceptions for export of certain critical dual use defense related and military technologies to India from the US. The US move had preceded the initiation of India-US 2+2 dialogue involving their foreign and defence ministers for which Pompeo will visit Delhi after completing his Islamabad trip.
President SVI Dr Zafar Iqbal Cheema recalled that this status was normally granted by US to a country, which is a member of all four export control regimes - Wassenaar Arrangement, Australia Group, Missile Technology Control Regime and Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG). Trump Administration, he noted, again made an exception for India by giving the status to it although it is still not a member of NSG.
US, it should be recalled, had backed India’s entry into Wassenaar Arrangement, Australia Group, and Missile Technology Control Regime and had helped it earn a waiver from NSG in 2008. India’s membership of NSG has been held up because of differences among the members over admission criteria for non-member of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.
Cautioning about the implications of STA-1 status, Dr Cheema said it would accelerate sale of critical equipment that can be used for military purposes particularly Electromagnetic Aircraft Launch System, armed version of Guardian Drones, and NASAMS-II, which is a multi-tiered air defence network featuring 3D mobile surveillance radars and missile launchers.
He maintained that India would be able to get communications and security equipment circumventing COMCASA - a legal framework for the transfer of communication security equipment from the US to India - over which India had reservations.
Earlier SVI had held an in-house roundtable on the implications of STA-1. Speaking at the roundtable Dr Zafar Nawaz Jaspal, a defense academic, said: “STA-1 will legitimize India’s right to acquire technologies for boosting its peaceful nuclear program as well as enhancing their weapons program.”
Dr Ghulam Mujadid Mirza observed that while India and US had been cooperating in the domain in space for few decades now, but STA-1 would “further boost the high-tech space, military, strategic, and commercial trade transfers”. He warned that STA-1 could de-stabilize the regional power balance and intensify arms race in the region.