During his recent official trip to Pakistan, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said that he was hopeful about the opportunity to “reset” the strained relationship between the US and Pakistan under the leadership of Prime Minister Imran Khan. Following his meeting with the civil and military leadership in Pakistan, he told the reporters that the “broad spectrum” of topics discussed included efforts to “develop a peaceful resolution in Afghanistan”. Despite “a lot of challenges” in the US-Pakistan relationship, he was also hopeful of finding “common grounds” with the country’s new leadership. Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi also termed the recent meetings with the US delegation “positive”. However, notwithstanding the optimism expressed by both sides, there are only dim prospects that the deteriorating Pak-US bilateral ties would improve in the near future. Now these ties are too deteriorated to be improved through this sort of lip service alone. Ironically, Secretary Pompeo is currently talking of resetting relationship with Pakistan, but the Trump administration’s policies and attitude towards Pakistan have become instrumental in upsetting the US relations with its old ally. Just a few days ahead of Pompeo’s visit to Pakistan, the US suspended $300 million in military support fund to Pakistan.

With so many twists and turns, highs and lows; the Pak-US bilateral bond is also termed as a roller coaster relationship. At present, there is a considerable trust deficit between the two countries. This trust deficit has overshadowed their bilateral bond. Though both countries have established close strategic, military and economic relations for a long time, they have failed in fostering trustable and reliable bilateral relations so far. Some post 9/11 political developments in Afghanistan have been instrumental in giving rise to this mistrust. Many believe that both allies are trying to advance their respective national strategic interests in this region in the name War on Terror. In this context, both countries also accuse each other of playing a “double game”.

United States has been blaming Pakistan for covertly supporting and harbouring various anti-US militant outfits like Haqqani Network, Quetta Shura, Afghan Taliban etc. On the other side, Pakistan has been very concerned about the US policies and strategies in Afghanistan since its invasion in Afghanistan in 2001. This invasion has provided a unique opportunity to its arch-foe India to expand its influence in Afghanistan. Ever since, India, the ‘strategic partner’ of the US has considerably consolidated its position in Afghanistan. Certainly, this is a matter of serious concern for Pakistan. In 2011, Salala Attack and Abbottabad Operation were the two significant incidents in Pakistan which forced Pakistan to substantially review its state policy towards the US.

As a matter of fact, Pak-US relationship is currently not resettable. Nor is there any serious and sincere intention to substantially reset them. There is a strategic divergence between the US and Pakistan owing to their conflicting stakes in the region, especially in Afghanistan. They look reluctant to compromise their broader strategic goals in this region. Therefore, they will likely to actively pursue these goals by keep adhering to their current strategy in this region. There would be no significant shift in the state policies of both countries.

Trump administration has never been seriously interested in improving or otherwise normalizing the troubled Pak-US relations. Instead, it has consistently been pointing finger at Pakistan and its state institutions for supporting and harbouring terrorists as part of its state policy. Formally unveiling the so-called US Afghan strategy in August 2017, President Donald Trump accused Pakistan of giving safe haven to “agents of chaos, violence, and terror” after identifying the AfPak region a hub of US-designated foreign terrorist organizations. Similarly, in his first tweet of 2018, he accused Pakistan of lying and deceiving the US in return for receiving more than 33 billion dollars in aid over the last 15 years. He also hinted at curtailing US ‘aid’ to Pakistan. In July this year, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo warned that any potential IMF bailout for Pakistan’s new government should not provide funds to pay off Chinse lenders. Zalmay Khalilzad, the recently-appointed US special envoy to Afghanistan is best known for his anti-Pakistan diatribe. He has been openly accusing Pakistan of interfering in the Afghan affairs. He has also favoured isolate Pakistan internationally just like the North Korea.

Pakistan felt itself neglected and alienated following the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan in late 1980’s as it was no longer required by the US to advance its national interests in this region. However, Pakistan again decided to extend an unqualified support to United States for its so-called War on Terror following the 9/11. But regrettably, this ‘Major non-Nato ally’ found itself in the middle of nowhere at the end of the day. During the last decade, Pakistan has been observed gradually moving from the frontline to the firing line. Strangely, despite losing more than 60 thousand lives, Pakistan is still being asked by the US to ‘do more’. Washington’s economic assistance to Islamabad has significantly reduced since 2014, as it came down to $1.6 billion per annum from the average of $2.3 billion between 2002 and 2013. Now the Trump administration has suspended the major chunk of this meagre amount too.

Pakistan should thoughtfully devise diplomacy to constructively engage with the US. Pakistan can’t afford an unnecessary confrontation with the sole super power in the world. Pak-US relations are currently passing through a hard and unpredictable phase. It is not an easy task to deal with an anti-Pakistan American like Donald Trump. Therefore, at this stage, the primary focus of Pakistan’s foreign policy should be on not letting its troubled relations with the US further deteriorate rather than trying to instantly and unrealistically improve them. Besides this, Pakistan should also focus on improving the state of its economy as we as the internal security.

Both United States and Pakistan need to pursue some concrete confidence-building measures to minimise the trust deficit between the two countries. Being a larger and superior state, the US can take the lead in improving and strengthening its relationship with Pakistan. It can only determine the future trajectory of Pak-US bilateral relations. The US must treat Pakistan, if not preferentially, at par with India in this region. Pakistan’s genuine grievances should adequately be addressed. Lip service, and optimism expressed in joint statements made by the officials of both countries, will hardly help setting things right. They must do something substantial and practical. Indeed, actions always speak louder than words.


n            The writer is a lawyer and columnist based in Lahore.