Interpreting the latest US snub

It is possible we may be reading too much in Prime Minister Imran Khan not being invited to the climate summit by US

Talat Masood March 31, 2021
The writer is a retired lieutenant general of the Pakistan Army and a former federal secretary. He has also served as chairman of the Pakistan Ordnance Factories Board


It is possible we may be reading too much in Prime Minister Imran Khan not being invited to the climate summit by United States President Joe Biden. Nonetheless, it provides us an opportunity to assess our present state of relations with the US and where we stand in the comity of nations and the region. What is rather intriguing is that heads of 40 countries have received invitations including India, Bangladesh and Bhutan, while we did not. Should this be considered a snub by the US President and if so, what could be the reasons for it? Or is there a more benign explanation for our exclusion? Are we to believe India and Bangladesh are relatively more affected by frequent flooding and climate hazards as compared to Pakistan? And Bhutan, though a small country, acquires prominence due to its unique location in the context of providing a deeper understanding of climate behaviour to specialists. Or perhaps inviting these three countries of South Asia broadly represents the common grave challenges of climate change that the region faces. The fact that Pakistan’s pollution emission is insignificant in comparison with the total global emission could be an additional reason. But this is equally applicable to several of the invitee countries.

The common belief is that excluding Pakistan from the summit is a deliberate political snub from the new US administration. If this be so, it is unfortunate, as mixing politics with matters related to climate change, which pose a universal challenge spread over future generations, should have been avoided.

The irony is that the PTI government has been justifiably taking pride in treating climate threat seriously. It is pursuing a dedicated well-planned tree plantation programme as a part of PM Imran’s green policy. More than 10 million trees have already been planted and an ambitious programme of an additional one billion are planned for the future. Besides, Pakistan has been seriously involved in shaping a global climate discourse.

Expectations were that relations with the Biden administration would be relatively better than with its predecessor. Although it was clear and comes as no surprise that US interest in Pakistan would recede as it withdraws from Afghanistan. Recently speaking in a seminar in Islamabad, the former US ambassador to Pakistan, Cameron Munter, who has deep insight of the region, repeatedly mentioned that Pakistan is no more relevant to Washington. He added that its importance is only in the context of Afghanistan. It required swallowing one’s national pride to absorb this message, US expedient policies aside.

There are expectations that Washington would recognise the efforts Pakistan’s military has made in trying to move the Afghan peace process forward. It has worked assiduously to persuade the Taliban leadership to engage and work out a peace agreement based on sharing power with the Afghan government and other relevant parties. Surely, it can go only that far, because it is the two antagonists who have to find a solution to their differences.

In the past our nuclear programme was the focus of US attention, albeit for the wrong reasons, but with Pakistan having taken effective measures for safety and security it is no more an issue. In fact, its safety regime is considered better than its neighbour.

Pakistan’s economy though has a great potential but at present is too weak and would take a few years before it would attract the US market.

The chaotic internal politics and parallel centres of power do not reflect well on Pakistan’s overall image. Our democratic consolidation is taking far too long and there are no indications of improvement in the near future. For these overall economic and political weaknesses, we are paying a heavy price the burden of which is falling unfairly mostly on people of the lower income group.

The attitude of the US toward Pakistan is largely being influenced by its rivalry with China. Pakistan is considered too close to Beijing and any interaction that helps Pakistan is considered as strengthening its strategic ally also. Our leadership, past and present, has rightly maintained that the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) and its overall strategic ties with China is not a barrier for having productive relations with the US and the West. But how far the US accepts this premise is not certain.

There are strong anti-Pakistan and pro-Indian lobbies in the US Congress and think tanks that influence the US in shaping and determining policy. Moreover, there is a strong anti-Muslim and pro-Israel lobby in the US power structure that lends further bias against Pakistan.

But then the question arises: what is the motivation behind the latest Indian gestures of peace toward Pakistan? And how does it fit into the larger canvas of Indo-US axis? Or is it possible that the snub to Pakistan would embolden India to change tactics? In all likelihood, India’s peace initiatives are dictated by immediate compulsions as the country is facing an economic squeeze and the maltreatment of minorities is raising serious international concern. The forceful uprising in Kashmir is another major factor influencing its recent gestures of peace. Whatever be the reasons for India, it augurs well for Pakistan and the region if the two countries in their mutual interest move toward normalisation. Sustaining this effort, however, will only be possible if economics and stable relations with neighbours is considered a major component of national security by both India and Pakistan.

The human rights situation in Kashmir is intolerable and should improve to sustain the peace process and broaden areas of cooperation. Clearly, the conflict has a huge symbolic meaning in the region as well. Although resolution of conflict would not by itself lead to movement in other areas, it certainly would be a major break from the legacy of the past. And above all would relieve the agony of the Kashmiri Muslims.

For far too long the adverse relations with India have been an overriding phenomenon influencing several facets of state power. And the role of the US is critical. But would it pursue India to engage seriously with Pakistan on Kashmir and other major issues?

Published in The Express Tribune, March 31st, 2021.

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