Nawaz Sharif may be busy plotting his political comeback, it seems as if his party is doing rather well on its own. Since Nawaz’s exit, the ruling PMLN has seemingly come along in leaps and bounds in resetting the Pak-US bilateral relationship.
Foreign Minister Khawaja Asif is in Washington currently, set to meet top White House officials to have a frank dialogue. The powwows were reportedly scheduled on the sidelines of the General Assembly moot, as PM Abbasi stole the UN spotlight from India. And even as Mr Asif was preparing to touch down in Washington — the US Defence Secretary was already declaring that his country was willing to give Pakistan one last chance to come good on breaking off support for those militants that threaten America’s exiting of the Afghan quagmire of its own making. A hard lesson for a deposed PM who thought Pakistan a country not in need of a Foreign Minister.
It is likely that the Trump administration liked what they saw in the straight-talking Mr Asif, a man who has publicly admitted that Islamabad’s support of such groups as the Haqqani network and Lashkar-e-Taiba have come back to bite Pakistan where the sun is said not to shine. But not only that, he also likely hit a nerve when he rightly called out previous US administrations for having actively courted these outfits in the past.
So what are we to expect from the Foreign Minister’s three-day trip to Trump town?
Well, for the sake of appearances US Secretary of State Tillerson has once again repeated the threat of an expanded drone programme to push Pakistan into playing ball. Yet what exactly would this mean in real terms? From Musharraf to Zardari to Nawaz — the state apparatus has given its consent to this remotely-controlled warfare. So would upping the ante on this front translate into increasing the number of strikes here? Or drones covering urban skies? After all, Obama had twice moved to have bombs dropped on Quetta, home to a dense urban population. Moves by the provincial assembly protesting this were said to be the main factor thwarting his designs. The US would do well to understand that the hawkish dove enjoyed a certain amount of Pakistani goodwill, however misplaced that ultimately turned out to be. By contrast, this is a currency that leaves Trump very much out of pocket.
Political pundits still peddle the line that the US has the upper hand. Yet this will ultimately depend on Islamabad. For now, Washington is likely unwillingly to concede regional advantage to players such as China and Russia not to mention Iran and Turkey. And while elite circles in Washington might like to say that the US no longer sees Pakistan as a regional priority — this week saw both our Army and ISI chiefs in Kabul with both sides pledging to effectively wipe the slate clean. Thereby underscoring that any possible moves to sideline Pakistan are not America’s to make; for this is the AF-Pak neighbourhood.
To our Foreign Minister, we say: good luck. To the Trump White House we say this: try and isolate Pakistan and see how long it takes you to exit Kabul. Already, your new strategic vision is said to be placing an additional $1.1 billion to the yearly $12.5 billion squandered next door.Is this really a price you can afford?
Daily Times, October 5, 2017