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Rebuilding ties
Posted:Sep 1, 2017
 
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ALL things considered, it appears to have been a cordial meeting focused on constructive diplomacy rather than mindless sabre-rattling. National Security Adviser Nasser Janjua and US ambassador to Pakistan David Hale were unlikely to achieve any major breakthrough in their meeting on Thursday, but the Pakistani side did take the opportunity to send a positive message: the state remains willing to engage with the US for the purposes of peace and stability in Afghanistan. The meeting came as the US State Department notified that it is withholding a further $255m in security assistance to Pakistan in a highly unusual manner. American officials may have hoped to signal to Pakistan that they are not yet looking to cut Pakistan off entirely, but dangling the $255m as an apparent reward for further cooperation by Pakistan will likely have angered and embarrassed officials here.
 
The US continues to remain tone deaf to Pakistani sentiment, and while that may be inadvertent or deliberate, the result is the same: further complicating an already fiendishly difficult relationship. There is a further problem, unique to the administration of President Donald Trump: it is not clear if the US leader is on the same page as his secretary of state and secretary of defence. With different centres of power speaking in different tones on the same issue, the real locus of US strategy on Pakistan, Afghanistan and the region generally is unknowable. Furthermore, the turmoil in the State Department makes it more difficult to stabilise the Pakistan-US relationship, with the job security of everyone involved in the Af-Pak policymaking chain from the secretary downwards in doubt. Given the uncertainty, perhaps the best course of action for Pakistan is to engage the US across the diplomatic, military and national security spectrums for an urgent explanation of Pakistan’s position on Afghanistan and its preferred path to peace and stability in the region.
 
What Pakistan must avoid is the temptation to pay the US back in its own coin, reacting petulantly to what is a manifestly frustrating approach. Particularly worrying are the signs that Pakistani public opinion is being mobilised against the US once again — a tactic that has only the most fleeting of benefits and that quickly grows in potential to hold the state itself hostage. Like the US has erred by viewing Pakistan through the prism of its flawed Afghan policy, Pakistan will err if it sees Afghanistan through the prism of a flawed American policy. Much as Pakistan has legitimate security concerns about encroachment in Afghanistan by other regional powers, especially but not limited to India, the greater threat to Pakistani security is an Afghanistan in a state of perpetual turmoil. If the Quadrilateral Coordination Group or Six-Plus-One process is revitalised, it should be possible to put diplomacy back at the centre of an eventual Afghan solution.
 
Dawn News, September 2, 2017
 
 
 
 
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