Pompeo claims to “reset” ties with Pakistan but makes India “strategic partner”

Pompeo claims to “reset” ties with Pakistan but makes India “strategic partner”

Salman Rafi Sheikh,
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Just few days before the arrival of the US Secretary of the State, Mike Pompeo, in Pakistan, the US officially cancelled US$300 million aid to Pakistan, signaling the acute low health of Pak-US ties. Then came Mike Pompeo, who stayed in Pakistan for a few hours, and went to India, claiming to have “reset” ties with Pakistan, implying as if deconstructing an old building (the military aid) was necessary to make a fresh start.

Despite the upbeat claims, the “reset” contains no details of what is to follow with regard either to Pak-US bi-lateral ties or Pakistan’s co-operation in Afghanistan to achieve a political settlement.

On the contrary, notwithstanding the cordial tones maintained by both sides during the visit, the post-talks statements from both sides show that an actual “reset” may not take place unless, as Pompeo said, “on the ground” action is taken that “begin to build confidence and trust.”

Accompanying Pompeo was General Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who said that the prospects of Pak-US bilateral relationship moving forward are “very much going to be informed by the degree of cooperation we see from Pakistan” in helping the US achieve its objectives, laid out in the Trump administration’s South Asia strategy.

This practically means that the claimed “reset” remains subject to Pakistan doing more to eliminate the Afghan Taliban, specifically the Haqqani network, a US demand Pakistan has long refused to fulfill, and remains adamant in not fulfilling as Pakistan’s foreign minister clarified in his post-talks press-briefing that Pakistan will not be “doing more” anything militarily for the US. This takes Pak-Us back to the square one.

The Taliban, as it stands, don’t visit just Pakistan alone. They have been meeting with the Chinese, the Russians and even the Uzbeks, as of recently, indicating the way they have been working on increasing their own regional profile as a means to gain international recognition and force the US to accept their core demands, including the crucial one of withdrawing foreign troops, a demand that resonates well with the demand the Russians, the Chinese, the Iranians and the Pakistanis have been making.

What this means for a thorough reset between Pakistan and the US is that basic antagonism remains very much intact and that Pakistan’s cooperation with the US in Afghanistan is unlikely to go beyond the imperative of achieving a political settlement, which the FM Qureshi said, is something the US itself wants now.

But the key question is: how will this cooperation actually come about when the basic antagonism between the two countries remains alive?

On the contrary, Pompeo’s short visit to Pakistan on his way to India seems to have increased the antagonism because of the heavy tilt the US continues to maintain towards India in the region.

While Pompeo claimed a “reset” with Pakistan, the actual reset seems to have taken place in India through the signing of 2+2 defence pact, leading Pompeo to call India a “true strategic partner” since the pact, called The Communications, Compatibility, Security Agreement (Comcasa) would take US-India military relations to a new level of co-operation, also bringing India an opportunity to buy hi-tech military technology.

How India factors in the Pak-US became evident when in the post-talks press conference, India’s foreign minister Swaraj said that India supports Trump’s South Asia policy and that “his call for Pakistan to stop its policy of supporting cross-border terrorism finds resonance with us.”

Obviously, Swaraj, aware as she must be of the underlying antagonism between Pakistan and the US, could not hesitate in referring to that antagonism as a potential point of cooperation between India and the US.

To this was also added a line about their mutual cooperation in bringing about peace in Afghanistan, something that Pakistan, not a “true strategic ally of the US”, has been objecting ever since the US started cultivating India in Afghanistan as a means to counter-balance Pakistani influence.

However, as Afghanistan’s ground realities indicate, Pakistan, contrary to what the US seems to believe, doesn’t seem to have that much influence on the Taliban.

The Taliban, as it stands, don’t visit just Pakistan alone. They have been meeting with the Chinese, the Russians and even the Uzbeks, as of recently, indicating the way they have been working on increasing their own regional profile as a means to gain international recognition and force the US to accept their core demands, including the crucial one of withdrawing foreign troops, a demand that resonates well with the demand the Russians, the Chinese, the Iranians and the Pakistanis have been making.

In addition to it, with Kabul repeatedly failing to hold the Taliban advances, and instead finding solace in accusing Pakistan for every big and small incident, prospects of Pakistan playing a robust role on its own in Afghanistan become even weaker.

On top if it is the appointment of the Afghanistan born Zalmay Khalilzad as US special envoy to Afghanistan, who, with his well-known biases, will be doing all but playing a constructive role in bridging gaps between Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Given the underlying antagonism, the India-US convergence on Pakistan’s perceived negative role in Afghanistan and the fact that Pakistan continues to stay firm on not playing a second fiddle to the US, what becomes evident is that Pompeo’s South Asia visit practically failed in force either Pakistan or even the US out of their previously entrenched positions vis-à-vis the Taliban and Afghanistan.

Importantly enough, Pakistan didn’t raise with Pompeo the issue of the cancellation of the coalition support fund, indicating, yet again, its intention of not partaking any longer in the US ‘war on terror.’ Since Pakistan doesn’t wish, as Pakistan’s PM recently pointed out, to remain an “ally in war”, there is no point of raising the issue of military aid and fund.

And since Pakistan doesn’t wish to serve US interests, there is little need for the US to actually “reset” ties with Pakistan. But the US, given the regional geo-politics, does need an ally in the region, a one “true strategic ally”, and, as Pompeo confirmed, it is India, not Pakistan.

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