Foreign Minister, Khawaja Asif’s meeting with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson brought forth the urge from both sides to improve bilateral relations and work together to combat extremism in South Asia. However, it seems that both nations have a few more fundamental disagreements to work out.
The US Defense Secretary, Jim Mattis, has taken the liberty to express disliking for the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) in recent statement to the Senate Armed Services Committee on Saturday – an initiative that is central to Pakistan’s long term plans for the region.
He said that the US opposes the One Belt One Road (OBOR) as it passes through disputed territory. Furthermore, he made abundantly clear that the US is extremely wary of the strategic implications of the project. While America has always been quietly supportive of “regional cooperation”, this is the first time that they have explicitly expressed their reservations against the project. Considering the fact that Mattis seems to be the authority on military matters in Trump’s administration, we can expect this to be the current official policy.
What they fail to understand is that this statement is extremely problematic and perhaps the most unacceptable stance that the US has taken with regards to Pakistan. Let us break this down for our ally.
Firstly, this about turn on the CPEC project contradicts all US talk of “regional solutions for Afghanistan” and a “stable Pakistan”. Years of diplomatic efforts - by the US itself as well – to build regional ties in the region is undone by objection against a major component of that cooperation.
The second problem is the ease with which it took into account India’s narrative to talk about Azad Kashmir, while completely ignoring Indian Occupied Kashmir (IOK) – despite the recent debate on the matter in the United Nations (UN). Its silence on the continued and undisputed violations of human rights by India, while giving air to India’s territorial ambitions will not only antagonize every group in Pakistan, it is principally hypocritical as well.
Thirdly, the US seems to be only opposing OBOR because of grand strategic power plays in the region despite having no territory or stake in the region – this Cold war era thinking is what got us into this mess, and one that needs to be jettisoned when looking for lasting solutions.
After this statement, Pakistani politicians should be wary of the US and its willingness to help the region. It brings a lot of past actions into context – and with hindsight the US has lost a lot of goodwill in the region.