Pakistan and the United States of America have always maintained strong relations since 1947. There were ups and downs also but overall relations between the two have always been good and fruitful for both. After the 9/11 attack, Pakistan became the frontline ally of the US against the so called ‘war on terror’ and as a result we saw the strongest of ties between them in their history both militarily and economically. But after the Trump administration took over in 2016, the ambiguities in relations between the two has greatly increased due to the Trump administration’s ‘America first’ and ‘Do more’ policies thus harming the bond of the post 9/11 scenario.
The future of relations between the US and Pakistan relies on three key factors, the first is the US acceptance of Pakistan’s gains in counter terrorism policies. It seems that Washington is seeing Islamabad’s efforts against terrorism in a positive manner as the US Senate’s Armed Services Committee praised Islamabad’s proceedings in counter terrorism policies in its report in 2018, and on another occasion on May 1st 2019, a US Official of the Trump Administration said “Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan is saying right things and trying to make some changes in the country”, he also said that the US supports the civilian government in Pakistan and support the “Nascent” democratic system there.
These proceedings indicate that trust is building between Washington and Islamabad again but the US administration seems confused as the President uses the ‘do more’ slogan in his speeches often referring to Pakistan. Recently, the Trump administration has imposed sanctions on Pakistan, warning that it may withhold visas of Pakistanis. So, on one hand the US administration is praising Islamabad’s efforts against terrorism but on the other hand, the Trump administration is promoting anti-Pakistan agenda, this mistrust and ambiguity has to minimize to ensure the mutual corporation and the strengthening of ties and Islamabad has to convey a very clear policy about its counter terrorism efforts and gains to Washington.
The second factor is the role of Pakistan in the Afghan Peace Process. The US is trying to end its 17 year long war in Afghanistan by sitting in negotiating table with the Taliban and it needs both the Afghan and Pakistan Governments in doing so. The recent emergence of Taliban and their territorial expansion forced Kabul and Washington to see Islamabad as a reliable neighbour and a negotiator.
Responding to a question about Pakistan’s role with regard to the peace process in Afghanistan, US State Department Spokesperson Robert Palladino in March 2019, said that the Afghan peace process is grateful for Pakistan’s role, he said “Pakistan could play an important role in bringing about a negotiated settlement in Afghanistan and that’s something that we’re thankful for”. He also remarked that “As far as Pakistan itself is concerned, the Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, has also emphasized the need to deliver outcomes and to build confidence and trust between our two nations, and we do want to see a prosperous Pakistan that contributes positively towards regional stability and security”. These statements from the top US Officials suggests that Islamabad has become a prominent factor in the Peace Process and Washington has to see Islamabad as a trustful ally in the future because of its importance in the region.
The third factor in this regard, is the US policy of countering China in South Asia. The US is trying to confront China from emerging as a threat to its superiority in South Asia by using India as a regional ally, which is resulting in growing Pakistan’s security concerns with India. The Trump administration has declared China as a strategic competitor and opposes China’s One Belt One Road (OBOR) Initiative including its flagship program, The China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). The Chinese investment and the building of infrastructure in the CPEC can bring stability and sustainability to the entire South Asian region and China has even invited India to be a part of CPEC but rather than supporting CPEC to bring stability to the region, the US is backing India, which in trying to sabotage the CPEC and destabilize Pakistan internally. The Trump administration has to revise this policy and show support to the CPEC which is very important for the progress and stability of Pakistan and act more neutrally regarding Pakistan, India and China which will result in easing the ongoing tensions between Islamabad and Washington.
The recent Indo-Pak skirmishes after Pulwama attack in February 2019 and the role of Washington in the crisis is the clear indication that the Trump administration is more tilted towards India which is damaging its relations with Pakistan. Islamabad has to convince Washington that New Delhi is using its border clashes, the Kashmir Issue and its aggressive behaviour towards Islamabad for the sake of political gains. But Washington is ignoring all these facts because emerging China in the region is its biggest concern. This policy of confrontation of the US has to be amended in order to sustain the security and stability in South Asia.
There are two main plan of actions on which both the US and Pakistan has to work in order to strengthen their ties in the near future. First, it is in the interest of both Washington and Islamabad to maintain neutral stances. Washington should remain neutral with reference to New Delhi and Islamabad, so that the balance of power in the region is not disturbed. Islamabad should choose neutrality between Beijing and Washington to secure its regional and global “national interests”. Second and more importantly, the Trump administration has to increase its trust on Pakistan and revive its policy of blame game because it will only hurt the relationship which they have enjoyed in the past. In return, Islamabad has to aware the Trump administration about its regional security concerns regarding Afghanistan and India, the leaking terrorism across the borders and the role of New Delhi in creating mistrust between Islamabad and Washington.
The writer is an analyst, researcher and currently pursuing M.Phil. in International Relations at Quaid-i-Azam University, Islamabad