Saleem Qamar Butt
PM’s USA Visit: Need to be cautiously optimistic
Updated: Nov 11, 2020
In my article published on 7th July 2019 titled “Silver lining in Pakistan-US Relations”, I had analyzed the background leading to the visit of Pakistani Prime Minister along with a composite and meaningful delegation including COAS and DG ISI to USA on invitation from White House instead of through traditional State Department channel. As the visit concludes and PM is on his way back to Pakistan after three days hectic but quite successful visit from many angels, it is time to recover from euphoria and evaluate the subject visit and register its pros and cons.
First the bright side: The visit was preceded by declaration of Indian sponsored BLA as a terrorist organisation by USA followed by UN and other countries, besides ICJ ruling in favour of Pakistan on Indian spy cum terrorist serving Navy Commander Kulbashan Jadhev, thus exposing and acknowledging Indian state sponsored terrorism inside Pakistan using Afghan soil (earlier confessed publicly by former US Defence Secretary Ashton Carter in 2016) in connivance with incumbent Afghan Government and even use of Iranian soil for launching terrorist proxies in Balochistan province of Pakistan. On arrival at Washington DC, PM Khan was given very warm state welcome, tour of White House by POTUS himself followed by frank and meaningful discussion on Afghanistan imbroglio and prospects of easing Pak-India tension with Trump offering to act as facilitator cum mediator for resolution of lingering Kashmir dispute. Nevertheless, in the backdrop of four countries’ declaration (USA, China, Russia and Pakistan) for bringing peace and stability in the region through agreement on four points discussed by Special US representative Zalmay Khalilzad in 8 rounds of dialogue with Taliban duly facilitated by Pakistan remained the focal point of discussion between Pakistan and USA side including White House, State Department and Pentagon. The unprecedented display of warmth, loyalty and patriotism by swarm of Pakistani diaspora that rushed to Arena One to listen to PM Khan’s speech sent very positive vibes both home and abroad that must translate into maximum remittances sent back home and private investment made by diaspora in Pakistan to help shore up badly needed foreign reserve and generate more economic activities in the country. PM Khan’s address at USIP followed by detailed and frank discussion helped a great deal in removing many misperception spread in the last 18 years by hostile forces through sustained war of narratives especially with respect to the reasons for trust deficit between Pakistan and USA, counter terrorism efforts, OBL, Dr. Shakil Afridi, Dr. Afiya Siddique case and Indian negative role, besides projecting Pakistan’s successes in countering terrorism at the cost of more than 70000 human sacrifices and US $ 150 Billion economic losses during war against terror fought as a front line ally of USA, in response to Trump mentioning loss of 500 American troops in Afghanistan. The subject PM’ visit helped restore the national image and confidence both home and abroad through an upright and immaculate display of personality charisma by PM with best lines spoken as concluding remarks at USIP, “ I want relations with USA based on mutual trust, equality and respect. I am not here to get any aid but explore more trade opportunities”.
However, besides bilateral-ism, the said visit needs to be viewed in domestic, regional and global framework too. At the global level, it is underscore three competing global powers agreeing to give spaces to each other on Afghan issue with acceptance of long espoused Pakistan’s stance on Afghanistan as well as on regional peace and stability; thus finally Pakistan being entrusted with the lead role to make the peace process a success by convincing Taliban to renounce militancy and join the political course for final political dispensation in Afghanistan through intra-Afghan dialogue and election process, which is already overdue there. A real heavy lift for which Pakistan will need close support from all three big players in the arena in addition to cooperation from all regional counties. Nevertheless, to ensure cessation of spoilers’ activities by both India and incumbent Afghan Government that works hand in glove with India remains prime responsibility of USA and Russia to allow Pakistan to bring around the desired magic outcome that all other tried options in the last 18 years have not been able to attain. At the regional level, it is the defeat of Indo-Afghan nexus based erroneous narrative of projecting Pakistan as a part of greatest problem that now world acknowledges as a main part of final solution, which Pakistan had been trying to convince rest of the world for long. It is also Pakistan’s victory against Indian Chankya Kutalya strategy of using immediate neighbour’s neighbour to undercut, using Afghanistan soil for long for launching terror proxies inside Pakistan. Again, if India could face this moment of truth and stop being the regional hegemon; and instead follow a policy of reconciliation rather than a bully, it would bode well for resolution of bilateral disputes between Indian and Pakistan i.e. Indian Occupied Kashmir and violation of Indus Water treaty. However, the uproar in the Indian media and parliament against Trump’s offer of becoming a facilitator on request from Mr. Modi points towards extremely negative mindset that may contribute negatively towards finding peace in Afghanistan and allowing POTUS Trump to withdraw his military troops from Afghanistan despite differences with his own administration, with eyes set on again winning 2020 presidential elections in USA by fulfilling his greatest promise. At domestic as well as at international levels, this visit also defeated the nefarious narrative of civil-military divide that was given fillip through Memo-gate and Dawn Leaks.
After two visits to China, impressive participation in SCO Summit in Bishkek resulting in invitation to him by Russian president Putin to visit in September 2019, POTUS Trump agreeing to visit Pakistan, and Arab countries like KSA, Qatar and UAE in supportive role, the prime minister returns home politically and diplomatically much satisfied and emboldened that will give his government to go after the accused plunderers of national wealth and corrupt Mafia for quick recoveries for easing national internal and external debt scenario as well to bring relief to the public. However, as Pakistan has once again taken upon itself a gigantic responsibility that no one else could afford to do, Pakistan stands justified to ask USA to at least pay off 50% of its economic losses that is around US $ 75 billion to remove major external debt burden on Pakistan; after all USA will be getting rid of almost US $ 130 billion annual expenditure in Afghanistan. A toffee of 1.3 billion mentioned by Mr. Trump is meaningless for hardcore job assigned that US and all its allies have not been able to achieve despite spending almost a trillion dollars. Finally, delegations of technocrats accompanying PM should have laid the foundation for full spectrum and broad based bilateral relations with USA through proper MOUs and agreements for cooperation in the fields of trade, FDIs, Defence, education, energy, agriculture and technology. It is a watershed moment that must be capitalized comprehensively to avoid 90s like outcome leaving Pakistan high and dry soon after victory against erstwhile USSR. Pakistan must work in close cooperation with three big players and regional countries to make sure that as a result of enormous hurdles, which are likely to be encountered, that might make the desired outcome elusive, the burden and blame must not be exclusively shifted on Pakistan. As for peace in Afghanistan, there remains a slip between the cup and the lips.
24 July 2019