The arrival of President Donald Trump has not only affected the domestic politics, it has immensely impacted the foreign policy of the world’s sole super power as well. President Trump has unabashedly expressed his dissatisfaction with allies such as NATO members for not contributing more than two percent of their GDP, with Saudi Arabia for their reliance on United States for their security, with Canada and Mexico for benefitting unevenly from previous trade deal NAFTA, and with China for having benefitted unequally in bilateral trade dealings with United States, and in this very foreign policy ecology, President Trump administration express its lack of content with Pakistan’s progress on Afghanistan. Some of these concerns did not come out of the blue, they were equally shared by President Trump’s predecessor President Barrack Obama and while President Trump’s personality somehow makes it come out completely odd with traditional U.S. foreign policy. However, unlike his predecessor President Trump is acting in favour of getting something done about these foreign policy challenges. In this ongoing evolution of US foreign policy, Pakistan needs to make sense of it and create space for enhancing its cooperation with United States.

Despite the incoming Prime Minister Imran Khan and Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi, have called for having bilateral relationship with United States based on mutual respect. And that so far, both Pakistan and United States are negotiating on the question of bringing back stability to Afghanistan, there are some pivotal key points missing at present in Pakistan’s foreign policy.

Pakistan’s foreign policy towards United States is guided by oscillation between extremities of apprehensions and optimism. Among apprehensions there is the popular belief that alike in the past United States is likely to forsake Pakistan once again in the history of their bilateral relations. And as an offshoot of this abandonment Pakistan could be subjected to various penalizing foreign policy actions. On the other hand, there is a euphoric sanguinity that Pakistan and United States will come to shed their transactional nature of bilateral engagement and usher into a period of strategic partnership, and under which both countries can engage in different areas of strategic cooperation. While both such fears and expectations could be plausible they are devoid of pragmatism true to international relations. There is no harm in fearing for the worst and hoping for the best to materialize; however, to make them the driving factor of foreign policy only traps states to either become victims of learned helplessness or self-serving biases. Both of which would lead to lack of required recourse for setting up a viable foreign policy.

There is a need for realization by Pakistan to make its case in favour of resetting its relations with United States. Afghanistan despite being crucial in Pakistan’s foreign policy will remain a transactional area for cooperation with strategic objects. Pakistan will need to re-table its case before United States to rework Pakistan’s role in bringing political settlement to violence in Afghanistan. And most importantly the two countries need to expand their cooperation in defeating the threat of Daesh in Afghanistan. To subject cooperation on Afghanistan as the sole factor in bilateral equation is itself self-restricting for the two countries.

Despite presence of this realization, the disillusionment merits coming to terms with it that Pakistan’s current relative power disparity doesn’t allow it the leverage to abruptly seek areas under strategic partnership. Secondly, but most importantly, United States as the sole super power will seek cooperation for accomplishment of its foreign policy objects. Its foreign policy doesn’t pivot around a single region or single country. Therefore, foreign policy makers need to go back to their drawing boards and chart out a foreign policy that must fall between extremities of anxieties and best case scenarios. And this policy should at first devoid itself of firefighting characteristics. Not only does this rob Pakistan and United States of building durable cooperation, it brings them back on a road full of potholes. Therefore, such a policy needs to have a vision set out forth for coming decades. And it needs to make the often ignored areas of its cooperation to reset its ties with United States.

In order to transform these challenges into opportunities, firstly, Pakistan’s political leadership and foreign office needs to underscore centrality of building democratic ties with United States. Pakistan’s two successive democratic governments and the third ongoing democratic tenure is a sign of democracy finally taking root in the country. In extension of this development Pakistan must make democratic cooperation a central cornerstone of its cooperation with United States. The nature of this cooperation needs to be reset in areas of institutional development, particularly those central in state governance, such as law enforcement, financial regulation, land revenue, disaster risk management and local bodies administration, and in other important areas of human development such as education, entrepreneurship, knowledge exchange under research and development programs, and most importantly in economic development creating attraction for American business that are interested in expanding their business to Pakistan. It is this wide mountain lying between the fringes that Pakistan is missing on rejigging its relations with United States. And it is this space which is pivotal for nation building and bringing stability to Pakistan as well as in the region, but importantly it is on this Pakistan and United States can expand their cooperation to actualize the best of expectations in years to come.


The writer is a consultant at the Islamabad                           Policy Research Institute.