Prime Minister Imran Khan is all set to visit the US from July 21 to 23 on the invitation of President Donald Trump. The visit comes on the heels of the last round of talks at Doha, meant to push the Afghan peace process on a positive trajectory. This visit is taking place after a long wait as both sides calibrate their relations to find common grounds based on the changing dynamics of the region.
Before I discuss the trajectory of where the Pakistan-US relations can go, it may be important to view the regional situation. Starting from the neighbourhood, Afghanistan is still boiling with insurgency and ruthless power play where stakeholders are jockeying for more strategic, geographic and political space. Trump’s policy on Afghanistan has to be implemented before 2020 and an amicable solution found which preserves American interests and guarantees that Afghanistan does not become a base of terrorism directed against America and the West.
In the Gulf region, the fog of uncertainty looms as US sanctions against Iran suffocate its economic and diplomatic space and anxiety persists on chances of triggering a major conflict through miscalculation. Recent spate of attacks on tankers and shooting down of a high-tech American drone by IRGC indicate that the Gulf region is sitting on a powder keg. The 0Iranian diaspora under Maryam Rajavi and exiled Crown Prince Reza Pehlavi has been very active in demanding human rights, women’s rights and regime change in Iran.
In larger Eurasia, there is a visible wrangling for power between ideologues of Eurasian dream and the US-led coalition trying to build a barrier in the Indo-Pacific.
Prime Minister Imran Khan will have his plate full the time he will leave for Washington, and Pakistan has to meander through a matrix of challenges as well as opportunity. Without going into history of the Pakistan-US relations, it can be summarised that both sides have had some high and low points in the fluctuating trajectory, but the relations have never crossed a red line and by and large have remained positive. The Pakistan-US relations go beyond the conventional diplomatic, trade and military domains and have a major component of people-to-people contact and assimilation.
Our Prime Minister should go to the US with confidence as political stability and fiscal policy get reshaped in Pakistan. It is heartening to note that the US State Department and its Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs have updated their info portal on the relations with Pakistan, which as of June 21, 2019 stated, “The United States has been one of the largest sources of foreign direct investment in Pakistan and is Pakistan’s largest export market. Trade relations between the United States and Pakistan continue to grow and the US government supports this relationship by funding reverse trade delegations, business conferences, technical assistance, and business outreach. Pakistan remains an attractive market for US companies due to favourable demographics, English language skills, low labour costs, and natural resources.”
Imran Khan should be well prepared on regional dynamics and try to build upon common interests and assure the Trump administration that the Pakistan-US relations stand on their own merit and will continue to grow despite multi-alignment and hedging being done by all major and mid-level powers. Pakistan will help guard US interest in the region while maintaining its bilateral relations with neighbouring countries.
President Donald Trump and Prime Minister Imran Khan have some commonalities: both are populist and sincere to their cause but unorthodox; and their chemistry could iron out many crests and troughs in the Pakistan-US relationship. Imran Khan should know that spoilers and lobbies, who view the Pakistan-US relation with suspicion, would try their utmost to spoil the atmosphere of goodwill through trivia and controversies. So be very careful on tossing too many lose balls.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 13th, 2019.