Golden opportunity

  • The PM needs to exert himself


Different cultures, ideologies, people and continents. Yet, Pakistan has always been at the centre of US foreign policy due to a single constant: Afghanistan. Since the Soviet-Afghan war, a pattern of convergence and divergence can be observed between our relationship with the superpower depending on its need of assistance in the Afghan war theatre. With the final scene of this drama swiftly approaching, Prime Minister Imran Khan has been placed at a pivotal point in history; and if he plays his cards right, he may end up being the messiah he desperately wants to be.

Relations between the two countries were at their all-time low when President Trump discontinued military aid in the shape of the Coalition Support Fund (CSF) last year, which was previously agreed compensation for Pakistan’s sacrifices during the Global War on Terror (GWT). This triggered the ever-famous twitter war of November 2018 between the two populist leaders who bumped heads over the odd alliance and whether Pakistan had played a sufficient role in the GWT. It is fair to hope, that the upcoming Khan-Trump summit will be on a different plane altogether.

Although pressure tactics by the USA with Indian overtones suggested a seismic polar reorientation of regional politics, it has proved little more than a whimper as the USA has fully realised that it needs Pakistan more than the contrary, after it became impossible to make progress on bringing peace to Afghanistan without its behind-the-scenes assistance in encouraging the Taliban to re-enter into talks. In this respect, the Pentagon acknowledges the necessity to ‘maintain strong military-to-military ties based on shared interests.’

In fact, all three major powers (the USA, China and Russia) welcomed Pakistan to assist in the trilateral consultation that took place in Beijing on 10-11 July in the Afghan peace process. And, with the elections due in 2020, Donald Trump is on the clock to finish in 16 months what was started 18 years ago. So much so that he has agreed to include the Taliban in the imminent governmental set-up; which has been Pakistan’s stance since the beginning.

It is obvious that Trump’s invitation is due to the situation in Afghanistan, and the current set of circumstances provide Khan with enormous amounts of diplomatic manoeuvrability. Signs of flexibility are already showing as the US has designated the Balochistan Liberation Army (BLA) as a terrorist organisation which is an indicator for further diplomatic concessions. Hence, the Prime Minister has been given, as always, a head start.

The Indian-US nexus is a direct threat to the peace of not only Pakistan, but to the entire South Asian region. To be fair, Imran Khan cannot undo years of agreements, treaties and diplomatic history with one visit; the Delhi-Washington link runs deep. But the Kashmir issue cannot be ignored and needs to be discussed in the realm of realism. India has equated the freedom struggle of the Kashmiri people with terrorism because the USA has been supporting India’s narrative for many years. The Prime Minister should highlight Kashmir as the humanitarian crisis it has become. This suggests an implied demand that the USA stop supporting India’s false narratives.

Since the fall of the Twin Towers, Pakistan is in a better position to negotiate with the USA than it ever was. All the pieces have fallen into place

Apart from our apparently perennial issue, Mr Khan can use this golden opportunity to fix, at least partially; what has become his biggest challenge: our broken economy.

First and foremost, even after all the hard decisions and genuine effort, Pakistan has been unable to get itself off the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) grey-list. Securing US support to avoid potential sanctions by the FATF ahead of the upcoming October deadline should be one of the top points in the agenda for Pakistan as the drop to the blacklist can be crippling to the already fractured economy.

Currently Pakistan is at the mercy of harsh policies and conditions of the International Monetary Fund (IMF). An organisation to which the USA is the largest contributor. A lot can change if Pakistan can convince the juggernaut to throw its weight around.

The China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) has become our greatest economic hope and the USA, yet again, supports India’s claim that it passes through disputed territory. The reason being the USA’s policy of containment of China through India. A wide array of opportunities can emerge if the USA drops this. With tensions at a peak between Tehran and Washington, it may very well be possible to convince President Trump to lift the sanctions waiver on Chabahar; depending on how much the two agree to cooperate in bringing peace to Afghanistan.

The USA is Pakistan’s largest export market. According to the office of the United States Trade Representative, last year’s annual import from Pakistan was $3.7 billion. The same report suggest that Pakistan was a ‘viable country for business for American companies. Imran Khan plans to visit private companies and the Pakistani diaspora in America for investment encouragement. It would help if the American government supported him.’

As much as one hates to say it, it seems like the strategy in Afghanistan has bore fruit. All that is left is to collect the diplomatic dividends. The Khan-Trump summit is due to start today. Let’s see you work your charm Prime Minister.


The writer is a lawyer and a columnist.