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Imran Khan’s Washington Challenge

Tax reforms, inflation, and the accountability of opposition leaders – since the moment Imran Khan took office as Prime Minister of Pakistan, the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf government has remained under enormous pressure by critics for undermining the political norms as well as the war against tax defaulters which has disrupted the economic process.

The Imran Khan government has operated from many fronts concurrently. The target to achieve a tax collection of 5.5 trillion rupees during the fiscal years 2019-20 is like a war with no end. The business industry of Pakistan is protesting against the 17 % General Sales Tax (GST) and the 10-11 % inflation rate imposed on the economic sector. The agitation of the public grew as newly imposed taxes came into effect and formed a uniting opposition; this internal pressure on the government is undermining its ability to compete at the foreign fronts.

On the foreign front, clouds of uncertainty are still prevailing over Indo – Pak relations. Both countries are still blaming each other for the Pulwama attack and ended up reaching the brink of war in February. Saudi Arabia and the Middle East have shown interest by investing in Pakistan’s economy which gave Pakistani economic policymakers some leverage to deal with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for the new package.

As far as Pak US relations are concerned, since his campaign, President Trump has been accusing Pakistan of deceiving the US and denounced them as an ally who didn’t deliver in return for aid, expressing their mistrust for the nation.  The White House administration also cut off the aid that was being given to Pakistan as collation support fund. On a number of occasions, President Trump has accused Pakistan of providing a safe haven to the Taliban.

After months of negotiations and back channelling, PM Khan’s tour to Washington was planned. PM Khan is to meet President Trump on the 22nd of July to discuss bilateral relations between both countries.

Historically, relations between both countries revolved around the war against terrorism and the fight against communism. The Obama administration’s inclination towards India and constant demand to halt the production of tactical nuclear weapons never allowed the diplomatic relation between US and Pakistan to strengthen as much as it did during the Bush administration.

However, now all of a sudden, Khan’s tour shows that the ice is being broken between the two nations. A number of factors should be considered to analyse the possible breakthrough in relations.

This includes a possible deal with the Afghan Taliban. Since the past several months, the US is negotiating with the Afghan Taliban in order to ensure a safe exit. Although, the negotiations were organized multiple times in the past, this time the deal seemed possible as the US has finally realized that in a Pashtun-dominant nation, the idea of imposing a rule through a puppet minority government is like living in a fool’s paradise.

The US demands that Pakistan put maximum pressure on the factions of the Taliban. They want the deal to be implemented in true letter and spirit while giving a role given to the northern alliance to ensure the safety of minorities. The inclusion of Pakistani Army Chief and Director General of Inter-Services Intelligences (ISI) in Imran’s US tour shows that US policymakers want to keep Pakistan’s establishment in the loop to ensure the objectives of this deal.

The resettlement and rehabilitation of Afghan refugees, on the other hand, is a hard nut to crack. Pakistan needs US coordination and inclusion in this process.

Apparently, the withdrawal of troops seems to be the ultimate goal which President Trump had promised; he needed to play this card in his upcoming campaign without losing its presence in long term US-South Asian strategy. Additionally, Chinese involvement in Afghanistan can be seen by its active participation in the peace accord with the Taliban.  Taking the China Pakistan Economic corridor (CPEC) to afghan borders would be a strategic nightmare for US allies. If the US allows this to happen, it will lose its hold in the South Asian region. This is why the US is including Pakistan in negotiations and trying to keep it under influence through plans of intelligence sharing or the releasing of military support fund.

The turmoil that faces Pakistan is how to deal with the way Trump has been approaching global affairs. His verbal spats, sudden decisions, and twitter use show that he deals with foreign matters as if they were business deals. Withdrawing US from the Paris Peace Accord and scrapping the Iran nuclear deal has given him a negative global reputation. Even foreign affairs experts in the US have accused him of bypassing diplomatic rules, with the Pentagon at its back, undermining the authority of the state department. But whatever his reputation maybe, or whatever the polls say – Pakistan has to deal with Trump to ensure its leverage as a plyer that can ensure peace after the deal with Afghan Taliban has occurred.

If Pakistan plays its cards well and negotiations end successfully- this will not only reduce the influence of India but also increase the chance of Pakistan to emerge as a player in the politics of South Asia.

The arrest of Hafiz Saeed, religious cleric and head of banned Jamaat ud Dawa, for gathering financial resources for his banned organization shows that Pakistan is ready to comply with US demands if the other sides ensure the Pakistani role in a post-deal Afghanistan.

Whatever tactics the hardliners use – the Policy makers in the Washington are cognizant that Afghan peace deal cannot be successful without Pakistan because of the country’s geo-strategic location and cultural Pashtun ties.

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