Notwithstanding geography and geopolitics, the epitome of measuring national power is the leadership, national character and morale. Pakistan now has all three. This is a development that shall bode well for Pakistan’s engagement amongst comity of nations.
Prime Minister Imran Khan’s victory speech left analysts and policy makers in USA guessing the future of Pakistan-US relations. US discomfort was visible because Imran Khan mentioned China and Afghanistan ahead of USA. He wanted a mutually beneficial policy with the US administration. USA was certainly aghast that it was mentioned in the regional and not global context. There was no mention of terrorism, the bone of contention in US-Pak relations.
Predisposed towards a ‘Shock and Awe’ or more diplomatically ‘Carrot and Stick’ policy for decades, they decided to test a few salvos to read and shape the situation. Yet these testers would not work in US favour till such time US moves towards a ‘mutually beneficial policy’.
Already convinced that their favourite Nawaz Sharif or his party would not return to power, USA had tightened screws on security assistance since January and also passed remarks on IMF funding. The remarks came at a time when the present government was beginning to take over and grapple Pakistan’s self-created issues of current account deficit and balance of payments. These remarks were certainly dissuasive, leaving experts in Pakistan to ponder if there was another way out. Imran Khan’s maiden speech to the nation indicates that he is thinking on more creative and home grown solutions. Any leverage USA could have exerted on this count is not likely to materialise. Premature US utterances on IMF were a blessing in disguise.
US doubts about the future Pakistani government are amplified by Alyssa Ayres writing for Council on Foreign Relations:-
“Khan did not address what many in the United States will see as a threshold issue: the question of tackling and ending the presence of terrorist groups on Pakistani soil…For U.S. leaders, improvement in U.S.-Pakistan ties will be possible once a clear commitment to tackling terrorism becomes more apparent. This will surely also rank as priority number one for Indian interlocutors as well; and for Afghans, too… Khan will have a hard time delivering better ties with Afghanistan, India, and the United States without addressing the terrorism issue writ large.”
The US readout on telephonic conversation with Prime Minister repeats the above assessment. Pakistan has denied that the subject of terrorism was ever discussed in that context. Knowing that such conversations are recorded and scripted, Pakistan’s denial is authentic and beginning of a very difficult relationship when Secretary Pompeo visits Pakistan.
According to CNN and other sources in USA, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is expected to name Zalmay Khalilzad as a special envoy on Afghanistan. Post 9/11 he served as a US advisor and ambassador to Afghanistan, Iraq and the United Nations. A source told CNN that Khalilzad is close to all players, knows the region well and is known by the Afghans.
What was missed out is that he is disliked by Pakistan and Afghanistan for his commissions in the past four decades particularly the ‘shock and awe’ operations in Afghanistan and Iraq. He is a self-styled Pashtun and Afghan who neither speaks Pashto nor Persian. This sidekick would be part of the stick USA hopes to use against Pakistan. A con artist, Khalilzad will worsen relations with Pakistan and instability inside Afghanistan. He is miles apart from men like Holbrooke whose dreams were cut short.
And certainly, Michael Kugelman of Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, DC needs to be reminded that America’s new modified Plan ‘B for Afghanistan has never been Pakistan’s Plan ‘A. Pakistan’s Plan ‘A was the one rejected by USA in 1996 and subsequent ouster of Benazir Bhutto from power. Seymour Hersh speculated her to be a victim of special assassination squads?
Relations between USA and Pakistan were never in alignment. They passed through many highs and lows. Back in 2010-11, I had assessed in a series of articles that Pakistan’s plan was unacceptable to USA, (Nation: August 1, 2010 The Elusive Peace: a War of Error). I had also commented that “recent diplomatic offensive indicates that in the next few months, the violence in the region will reach new levels including strikes deep inside Pakistan. If empiricism leads to prediction, then it also points to another elusive summit overseeing valleys full of snakes, in which Pakistan dangerously treads”.
Military despatches, sitreps and intreps leaked through WikiLeaks were in tandem with this policy. The entire western media was in a frenzy to discredit and disgrace the military and ISI which was implicated only in 30 out of 92,000 reports along with a disclaimer about authenticity. The target was and is Pakistan army and ISI accused of playing a double game, assisting Taliban against coalition forces and creating a new terror network with the help of LeT. This also implied that Pakistan army continued to deliberately and consciously play a double game against its field formations by engaging them in stage managed and fakes encounters; a proposition desi liberal Pakistani media adopted with glee.
The confusion in Pakistan was carefully crafted. Missing containers, deluge of visas to US personnel, memogate, Baloch separatism and grants for foreign funded civil-military relation projects were strings tied to the same knot. These assessments were proven correct within a year. Raymond Davis, Abbotabad Operation and Salala Raid took place in quick succession to teach Pakistan a lesson.
It is evident that USA is least prepared to change its policy on Pakistan. Even if Pakistan does not go to IMF, USA will try its best to squeeze Pakistan over FAFT and other sources of funding. In this connection, it has shown its prowess in Venezuela and Turkey. The thinking is that Pakistan with its very low human resource indices could just succumb.
But as summarized by Anatol Lieven in his opinion, ‘Battered, but Still Afloat’ Pakistan has quietly moved away from a military dependent country for internal cohesion. An evolutionary social revolution brought by Imran Khan has reinforced integration. As a plus this goodwill affects both Afghanistan and India. Pakistan’s national power has been strengthened manifold by a strong leadership backed by the people. Pakistan will no more be a walk over.
USA policy makers should consider the following facts before strategizing policies on Pakistan.
Prime Minister Imran Khan is no novice on the War on Terror. His province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KPK) was adjoined to Waziristan where Pakistan’s law enforcement agencies fought the fiercest battles to pluck out terrorists. The area is now part of KPK. This peace and integration would never have been possible had the provincial government led by his party not worked in close cooperation with the armed forces. It is no coincidence that the Chief Minister of KPK who brought peace to the ravaged province is now the defence minister of Pakistan.
US policy makers must also take cognizance that Shah Mahmood Quraishi resigned as Foreign Minister in protest in 2011 and again holds the same office under Prime Minster Imran Khan. His diplomatic memory like my articles will never fade away and provide a perspective for future engagements.
Prime Minister Imran Khan’s public appeal transcends Pakistan to both Afghanistan and India. In Pakistan, he has emerged as a very strong national and Pashtun symbol that shuts doors on parochialism. Afghans love this rise of symbolism amidst a Pashtun and Gujjar dominated majority. Indian intelligentsia, barring the Hindu Right understands that he is serious about whatever he says. His rise as a left of centrist could usher winds of change in the region.
Last but not least, the rise of Mahathir Muhammad in Malaysia and Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in Turkey represents a new paradigm in Muslim leadership. With the end of geostrategy, this relationship will get stronger.
The writer is a political economist and a television anchor person