Pompeo’s visit, a panacea for depleting Pak-US relations or old wine in a new bottle?

Was Pompeo’s visit only meant to flex Washington’s diplomatic muscle? Or did the Trump administration actually intend to improve Pak-US relations?

The very basic and age-old concept of no permanent friends and foes in international politics seems to still be persistent taking into consideration the historical context of Pak-US relations. Since the start of formal bi-lateral relations between both countries back in the early years of Pakistan, Pakistani officials preferred the US over USSR. Hence they became a very close ally of the United States joining SEATO and CENTO during 50s and 60s. But mutual mistrust kept on escalating at the same time. The US, despite being a close ally of Pakistan did not support Pakistan in the wars of 1965, or 1971 against arch rival India.

Recently, the nuclear orientation of South Asia, India’s hegemonic designs, backed by the US, suspicions about Pakistan’s role in the War on Terror, US duality in dealings with Pakistan have all left irremovable footprints on the course of smooth bilateral relations.On September 5, Pompeo along with other crew members met with the Prime Minister Imran Khan, Foreign Minister and COAS of Pakistan to discuss the present state of bi-lateral relations, the peaceful settlement of Afghan issue, to strengthen military ties and discuss other matters of mutual interest.

The arrival of US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Joint Chiefs of Staff General Joseph Dunford, a day before Pakistan’s Defence Day is a very important step towards saving this relationship. However we cannot forget the US tendency to betray us in crucial situations; such as putting embargos on Pakistan after the 1965 war. Many lessons can be drawn from this long term ‘love-hate story’ of the two countries. Although, the current diplomatic US mission appeared with ‘good intentions’ of reviving relations, especially after the US announced to cut the Coalition Support Fund for Pakistani forces, fighting the war on terror, worth $300 million. But, it should also be kept in mind that the very next day, the same diplomatic delegation arrived in India with firm affirmation regarding an indispensable US-Indo relationship — which covers bilateral, regional and international issues.

However, the US is conveying a positive message post their meetings with the newly elected Pakistani officials. Similarly, on behalf of Pakistan, Foreign Ministers Shah Mehmood Qureshi has also given hope regarding the revival of cordial bilateral relations.

However, while intentions may seem good, skepticism still prevails in light of US’ historical treatment of Pakistan. There are many speculations that this visit was merely to remind Pakistan of its US-centric responsibilities, such as eradicating terrorist safe havens, facilitating the Afghani peace process, harmonising the bi-lateral and regional agenda.

The nuclear orientation of South Asia, India’s hegemonic designs, suspicions about Pakistan’s role in the War on Terror and US duality in dealings with Pakistan have all left irremovable footprints on the course of smooth bilateral relations

However, all depends on how both states pursue their interests after this encounter. Will it be amere diplomatic showoff? desperatelonging?,or a thoughtfully devised practical strategy? Whatever it may be, sincere efforts based on realistic approach are pre-requisite for any kind of advantageous output.

Nothing works in international politics if there is absolute gain for one state and absolute failure for the other. For any diplomatic process to achieve its goals, all concerned stake holders need to have their interests. The US team showed satisfactory intentions, similarly Pakistan has given them full confidence for cooperating in all pertaining issues; including talks with the Taliban, gearing up for the Afghan peace process, terrorism combating efforts and economic reservations.

The real test will be to see to see how well the US will be able to maintain ties with both Pakistan and India. As Indo-US relations continue to strengthen, Pakistan has much to think about regarding the geo-political and geo-strategic climate of South Asia. Just now, Pakistan celebrated September 6, remembering the historic defence of its territories against Indian aggression, therefore any kind of regional development regarding India will inadvertently affect our geo-strategic muscles simultaneously.

For Pakistan, being aligned with the US has always been a double edged sword, on one hand there are some economic and military advantages in getting along with them. At the same time, when this relationship deteriorates, it brings forth suffering and hardships for Pakistan. The aim for Pakistan is to prosper on its own prescribed terms and conditions. The real dispute has always been ignited with the US trying to balance Pakistan alongside, its relationship with India and the situation in Afghanistan.

However the visit of US officials is appreciable in breaking the ice, equally commendable is Pakistan’s civil-military unity, showing great responsibility towards preserving national interests. As the days pass, it will be imperative to see if the CSF will be revived and if the US will remove Pakistan from the FATF list. Otherwise, the outcome of this tour will merely be old wine in a new bottle, rather than a panacea for depleting bilateral relations.

The writer is a Research Associate at Strategic Vision Institute Islamabad and MPhil IR Quaid e Azam University Islamabad

Published in Daily Times, September 10th 2018.