Trump-Khan Rendezvous Editorial (August 2019)

Trump-Khan Rendezvous

A Reset in Pak-US Relations

“There is some self interest behind every friendship. There is no friendship without self interests. This is a bitter Truth.”  ― Chanakya

The first year of the present government of Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf has been a mixture of successes and some failures, with foreign policy, indubitably, a success story and economic policy a damp squib as it led to massive price hike in the country. Pakistan has encountered some serious problems, such as stagflation, sharp devaluation of currency, and high inflation rate. The direct result of stagflation is a sharp decline in people’s income and a sharp increase in unemployment, as well as major problems in social stability. However, the government seems justified in its rationale that the problems piled up during the past 30-35 years cannot be solved overnight. Although it will take time, yet reports by international financial institutions as well as the State Bank of Pakistan, and critical analyses by noted finance gurus suggest that with stringent economic measures coupled with the help of brotherly countries like Saudi Arabia, UAE and Qatar and an IMF bailout package, the economy is out of the ICU now and is on a road to recovery. It can be fairly expected that it will soon be stable again.

On the other side, the government made great headways on the foreign policy front. Cancellation of a cartoon contest by an Islamophobe Dutch MP Geert Wilders, instrumental role in bringing the Taliban to the negotiating table, release of captured Indian pilot, Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman, as a goodwill gesture, bold stance on Kashmir issues, persuading Malaysia and Turkey to build a tripartite alliance to give an effective voice to the Muslim World, turning a new tide in relations with Iran, Saudi Arabia, and other Muslims countries as well as with China speak volumes about the agility and astuteness of the Foreign office team led by Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi and the vision Prime Minister Imran Khan has for his ‘Naya Pakistan’.

Another feather to the cap of the PTI government is the successful visit of PM Khan to the United States. President Donald Trump accorded a warm welcome to the Pakistani premier. It was especially noteworthy because it was the same Trump who only a year and a half ago had blamed Pakistan of giving “safe haven to the terrorists [United States] hunt in Afghanistan, with little help.” And, proving true to his words he suspended $1.66 billion in security assistance to Pakistan in November last year. But, the time has changed now and the same Trump has received the Pakistani premier with the words: “It’s my great honor to have the very popular and, by the way, great athlete — one of the greatest — but very popular Prime Minister of Pakistan.” He not only praised Pakistan and hinted at exploring new avenues of cooperation between the two countries but also offered to mediate the Kashmir issue – a bombshell for the Indians as Mr Trump said that Indian premier Narendra Modi has requested him for that. He said, “[Kashmir issue] should be resolved. … So maybe we’ll speak to him (Modi) or I’ll speak to him, and we’ll see if we can do something because I’ve heard so much about Kashmir. Such a beautiful name. It’s supposed to be such a beautiful part of the world. But right now, there’s just bombs all over the place. They say everywhere you go, you have bombs and it’s a terrible situation. Been going on for many years. If I can do anything to help that, let me know.”

Khan-Trump rendezvous has been very fruitful for Pakistan for two things: First, the issue of Kashmir has been internationalized again and it seems that there is a growing concern in the United States and the West on growing violations of human rights that continue unabated in Kashmir at the hands of Indian forces. Second, President Trump has hinted at improving Pak-US ties in the fields of trade by saying: “We’ve got the best economy we’ve ever had. And I think we can shift some of that over to Pakistan. We should be doing tremendous business together.”

In all, bilateral relations between Pakistan and the United States have been reset after Prime Minister Imran Khan’s successful visit and the two leaders have agreed to strengthen their partnership to bring peace and economic stability in South Asia. The visit signifies cogent reasons for the nation to be hopeful for repair and transformation of this frayed bilateral relationship into a new mutually advantageous partnership based on shared political, economic and strategic interests. Given the topsy-turvy nature of Pak-US relations especially during the recent years, the meeting with the President as well as those on the sidelines was a much-needed breather. PM Khan’s demeanour throughout the trip, particularly during his meeting with President Trump, was quite positive and relaxed which did give out the right message.

However, our foreign policy makers must not be show laxity in pursuing Pakistan’s national interest in this newly-emerged situation. It must be remembered that this paradigm shift in President Trump’s behaviour has been only due to his growing frustration on the Afghanistan issue which he himself pointed when he said: “I have plans on Afghanistan that, if I wanted to win that war, Afghanistan would be wiped off the face of the Earth. It would be gone. It would be over in — literally, in 10 days. And I don’t want to do — I don’t want to go that route. So we’re working with Pakistan and others to extricate ourselves.”

The history of Pak-US relations has been of short-term strategic impulses and the known inconsistency on the part of the United States in its foreign policy undertakings. This means that we have to temper with a pragmatic approach in dealing with the triumphalism that has permeated the corridors of power in Islamabad. The policymakers must keep supreme the slogan “Pakistan First” in their endeavours as well as during engagements with the Americans.

One can only hope that the fresh start be in the best interests of the country.

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