Tell me how this ends

Realistically speaking, one cannot be too optimistic about the future of Pak-US relations

Last week’s visit to Islamabad by an American delegation led by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Secretary of Defence Jim Mattis was aimed at improving US-Pakistan relations. Given that bilateral ties between the two countries are at a low point — and that is saying something — unfortunately not much will be achieved in the short term. Furthermore, realistically speaking, one cannot be too optimistic about the future either.

The United States has suspended nearly a billion dollars in funding for Pakistan. Building on the policy followed by the Obama administration, the Trump administration is strengthening ties with India. Pompeo has also threatened to restrict World Bank funding if Pakistan does not do more against radical terrorist organisations, including the Haqqani network. None of this is good for Pakistan.

General Mattis had a good relationship with Pakistan and the Army when he commanded Central Command. I recall sitting at Army Headquarters in Rawalpindi with then Chief of Army Staff (COAS) General Ashfaq Pervez Kayani. The general proudly should me a letter from General Mattis, commending him for a “superb presentation” to NATO in Brussels earlier that year. That was overtaken when in sheer frustration, in testimony to the Senate in 2011, then Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Admiral Mike Mullen accused the Haqqani network of being “a veritable arm of the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency”.

Much of the Pakistani media accuses Prime Minister (PM) Imran Khan of deferring to the Army — which in large measure — facilitated his election. Khan has also been labelled very Taliban-friendly. While it is clear that in Afghanistan, only a political solution is viable, no one has a plan or means to reconcile the many competing groups present in the country, including a very divided government.

Meanwhile, the White House is preoccupied with confronting a hostile press. Apart from that, Special Counsel Robert Mueller must be closing in on the president as well. Mr Trump’s conviction, or at least his organisation’s multi-million dollar fines for money laundering (which are as recent as 2015) over the Taj Mahal casino in New Jersey, are suggestive of where Mr Mueller is hunting vis a vis the Russians along with obstruction of justice and possible income tax evasion. Bob Woodward’s book, ‘Fear: Trump in the Whitehouse’, and the anonymous New York Times op-ed that paints the administration and President as operating in “crazy town,” are by no means the last attempts to demonstrate chaos at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

India is a far more attractive market for US goods and services than Pakistan, and can also be used as a counterweight to China

If the Democrats win the House of Representatives in November, impeachment proceedings are almost inevitable. And no matter who wins the Senate, obtaining 67 votes needed for conviction seems a bridge way too far. However, the political weather forecast must be for extreme storms and hazardous conditions. None of this is helpful to improving Pakistani-American relations.

One of the flaws that has always impeded these relations is that Pakistan always believed the US needed it far more than Pakistan needed America. During the Cold War, Pakistan was a base for containing Russia and for U-2 bases to conduct reconnaissance. During the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1980, Pakistan was a key ally. This reliance seeded the mistaken and arrogant belief of its dominance in the relationship in the Pakistani psyche.

Of course, Pakistan’s acquisition of nuclear weapons and AQ Khan’s dealings with North Korea caused US reprisals. Every Pakistani of a certain age vividly remembers the Pressler amendment of 1985 that required the president to certify every year that Pakistan did not have nuclear weapons. The irony is that this amendment was a very watered down version of the so-called Glen amendment — named for former astronaut Senator John Glen — which was far more restrictive.

The prognosis for future relations between Islamabad and Washington is not good. India is a far more attractive market for US goods and services, and can also be used as a counterweight to China. Imran Khan is an unknown and thus far has not stated any particular actions regarding relations with the US. Foreign Secretary Shah Mahmoud Qureshi was summarily dismissed by then President Asif Ali Zardari and resigned or was fired from the PPP. Strangely, that may not be seen as a problem by Washington.

The possible crisis is this. No one knows how his relationship will become more positive. That is the problem and the potential crisis.

Dr Harlan Ullman is Chairman of two private companies; senior adviser at the Atlantic Council; and Distinguished Senior Fellow and Visiting Professor at the US Naval War College in Newport Rhode Island. He can be reached @harlankullman on Twitter

Published in Daily Times, September 12th 2018.