Pak-US relations are ripe for a strategic reset

The US $300 million of the Coalition Support Fund (CSF) is money owed to Pakistan, given her commendable sacrifices in the war on terror, due to which the country lost an estimated 90,000 precious lives. Cancelling this fund implies that the U.S is looking to renegotiate a new deal with their already aggrieved ally

By refusing to reimburse Pakistan with the $300 million Coalition Support Fund (CSF) (“aid” being a misnomer), many believe that Washington DC has unwisely given up on its strategic leverage over Islamabad; a necessary leverage required to gain access to the land-locked, strategically quintessential, Afghanistan.

This is money that is owed to Pakistan, given her commendable sacrifices in the war on terror, due to which Pakistan lost an estimated 90,000 precious lives. Cancelling this fund implies that the US can renegotiate a fresh, albeit strained, alliance with Islamabad on entirely new terms. They do not realise that this will be akin to reinventing the wheel, and will be a time consuming process, although one that might be necessary in the current global climate. In the end, clear communication will be key to the success or failure of this endeavour.

Resorting to the “hard tactics” that are currently being pursued by the Trump administration, such as the FATF grey-listing, the CSF, NSG, IMET military training cuts might in fact prove inconsequential in the long run. The problem with such “hard tactics”, is that they rapidly erode bilateral political capital and social goodwill in a region that already pivots eastwards. “Soft diplomacy” in this case would have been a strategically wiser option for the US.

Pakistan made it patently clear, that it will not be obliged to “do more” and has taken diplomatic counter-measures and a geo-strategic reset eastwards. Concrete examples include the accession to the Shanghai Co-Operation Organisation (SCO), reaping the fruits of the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), backing Iran under the auspices of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), an outright refusal to fight in Yemen, diplomatic rapprochement with Moscow, a campaign to “buy Turkish products” (after the US-Turkey kerfuffle caused the Lira to plummet in value), hosting the Economic Cooperation Organisation (ECO), negotiating anew the Turkmenistan Afghanistan Pakistan India (TAPI) pipeline, the Central Asia-South Asia (CASA) power project, as well as a broader emphasis on Afghanistan under the auspices of common interests like eradicating extremism from their shared border.

New Delhi`s consistent lobbying in D.C., the visit of PM Imran Khan to GHQ, and the visit of Iran`s FM Javad Zarif, are timely signals that prove to Washington that the Pakistani foreign policy is going through a “reset”, and is being realigned away from US interests

Pakistan`s current PTI-led government is trying to underscore to Washington that under the right and mutually beneficial circumstances, it seeks cooperation with the US. Pakistan was vital in brokering the Ramadan ceasefire in volatile Afghanistan, facilitating peace negotiations with a highly unpredictable Taliban and by not exiting the War on Terror.

Given the aforementioned geo-political architecture, coupled with New Delhi`s consistent lobbying in the power corridors of DC, the visit of Prime Minister Imran Khan to GHQ and the visit of Iran`s Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, are timely signals that prove to Washington that the Pakistani foreign policy is going through a “reset” and is being realigned away from US interests. The strategic timing of these moves becomes even more significant, considering the impending arrival of Dunford and Pompeo to Pakistani shores.

Given the Trump administration`s “hardline” stance and the aforementioned geopolitical strategy and countermeasures, Pakistan finds itself in a unique historic position to renegotiate the Pak-US alliance itself. The perception of a transactional, client state status is increasingly unpalatable to the average Pakistani, who aspires for a new, more equitable, mutually beneficial relationship with Washington DC that is based on parity and goodwill.

The writer is a Senior Development Consultant, Rights Activist and Strategic Advisor. He can be contacted at ozzerkhalid@gmail.com and tweets @OzerKhalid

Published in Daily Times, September 11th 2018.