Prime Minister Imran Khan’s visit to the United States cannot but be noted as a watershed event in regional politics, according to a senior Indian expert on foreign affairs.

The announcement, made by Washington earlier this week, coincides with the news coming out of Beijing that Pakistan has joined the US, Russia and China in a call on the Taliban to agree to a ceasefire and negotiations with Kabul.

The four countries “encouraged all parties to take steps to reduce violence leading to a comprehensive and permanent ceasefire that starts with intra-Afghan negotiations,” said a joint statement issued by the United States on Friday.

Pakistan joins US-led call for Afghan ceasefire, talks

MK Bhadrakumar, in his latest column, wrote: “Make no mistake, the leitmotif of US-Pakistani rapprochement is that a new regional security paradigm is taking shape.

“Clearly, Beijing played a key role in the peace talks and the visit of Taliban leader Mullah Baradar to Beijing last month probably became the turning point in the negotiations in Doha. This underscores once again the growing complexity of the US-China ‘rivalry’, which we in India blithely tend to overlook at times.”

Bhadrakumar noted that President Trump’s invitation to Prime Minister Imran goes way beyond a show of token gratitude for Pakistan’s cooperation in making the peace agreement with Taliban. “Actually, Pakistan has not made any major concessions on its Afghan agenda. It simply facilitated the peace talks by leveraging its influence on the Taliban. The Pakistani objective of restoring the Taliban to mainstream Afghan politics — highly likely with a lead role — and creating ‘strategic depth’ vis-a-vis India is very much intact.”

According to the Indian expert, Pakistan is being assigned a pivotal role to ensure that Afghanistan will never again be a ‘lab of terrorists’ (to use Trump’s words) threatening the western world. “Pakistan is hugely experienced in handling its relations with the US and it will of course make sure that the US reciprocates — politically, financially, militarily.

White House confirms Imran-Trump meeting on July 22

“If Trump had praised India as the ‘critical part’ of his unfolding Afghan strategy in August 2017, he is now replacing India with Pakistan in a most curious reversal of roles in South Asia’s regional security paradigm. The White House announcement says explicitly that Imran Khan’s visit will focus on strengthening cooperation between the United States and Pakistan to bring peace, stability, and economic prosperity to a region that has seen far too much conflict.”

He said the US is meeting Pakistan’s longstanding demand for a wide-ranging, full-bodied relationship on par with US-Indian relations, ‘including counterterrorism, defense, energy, and trade.’ More importantly, in what can only be regarded as a veiled reference to the Kashmir issue and India-Pakistan tensions, the White House says that the US will keep in sight ‘the goal of creating the conditions for a peaceful South Asia and an enduring partnership between our two countries.’

“From the Indian perspective, therefore, Trump’s invitation to Imran Khan to visit the White House is a bitter pill to swallow. At best, it can put a brave face on the colossal setback to its regional policies during the past five years, which stubbornly refused to engage Pakistan in dialogue, strove to ‘isolate’ Pakistan as a state sponsoring terrorism, regarded Afghanistan primarily as a proxy war with Pakistan, refused to regard Taliban as an Afghan entity and fantasised an Indian-American convergence over regional security in regard of Afghanistan.

“Clearly, when it comes to Afghanistan, Pakistan is Washington’s preferred partner, while India’s assigned role will be to serve as a doormat for the US’ containment policies against China, bandied about as its ‘Indo-Pacific strategy’. The Indian foreign policy elites owe an explanation as to how this bizarre situation came about. The entrenched Sinophobia in the Indian mindset has clouded rational thinking.

“The emerging regional security scenario thoroughly exposes the myths shrouding India’s ‘defining partnership’ with the US and scatters the delusional thinking that what is quintessentially a transactional relationship rests on the bedrock of ‘shared values’ and ‘common concerns’ between the two countries. It was never really an equal relationship based on respect and trust or transparency — leave alone strategic convergence.”