When it comes to diplomatic niceties between states, a harsh word or a small disagreement can often set a formidable tone for the future of the relations between those countries. The disagreement between PM Imran Khan and US Secretary of State Michael Pompeo, over whether the topic of taking action against terrorists was discussed, may seem like a small misunderstanding, but the fact that the PM’s first call with Pompeo has erupted in controversy can be interpreted as a dark indicator for Pakistan’s looming foreign relations with the US.
The heart of the controversy is a dispute over the transcript of the first call between the PM and Pompeo. A readout issued by the US State Department had stated that Secretary Pompeo , in his call, had raised the importance of Pakistan taking decisive action against all terrorists operating in Pakistan, a statement which the Foreign Office of Pakistan had taken issue to, calling it factually incorrect and adding that there was no mention at all in the conversation about terrorists operating in Pakistan. Quintessentially, it is a case of “he said she said”, and until any proper transcript of the call is released, we cannot get a confirmation on who is on the right. The fact that both sides cannot agree on what was said is a problem and both sides are free to reiterate their views.
The bigger question however should be- does it matter if action against terrorists outfits was mentioned or not? The subject matter - that militant groups are present in Pakistan - should be a foregone conclusion, and is an imperative issue facing both the US and Pakistan. The number of terror incidents attests to that and accepting it is the first step to combating it. With Pompeo’s visit to Kabul, and now to Pakistan in September, and heightened efforts to initiate peace talks with the Taliban in Afghanistan, it should not be an issue of contention that countering action against militant groups wanting to sabotage the peace effort was discussed.
With a hostile first move by Pompeo against the new government, when the US warned an IMF bailout for Pakistan, it is understandable why the Foreign Office took contention with what looked like a minor transcript issue. However, it would be in the best interest for everyone to move past the passive-aggressive to collectively counter the enormous dangers of militancy facing us all.