Pakistan Army officials with Pakistan’s Chief of Army Staff, General Qamar Bajwa
Pakistan Army officials with Pakistan’s Chief of Army Staff, General Qamar Bajwa | @OfficialDGISPR/Twitter
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Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan, who once accused the US of ‘destroying Pakistan’ and blamed his country’s politicians for fighting American wars for money, will soon be in Washington DC. His objective will be to rekindle the warmth in the bilateral relationship that seems to have died since Donald Trump took oath as President of the US in 2016.

While opening channels of American money to Pakistan is a goal, it is certainly not the only business that the visitors hope to do. In any case, the real talking would begin after Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan leaves.


Also read: New ISI chief Faiz Hameed a manipulator picked by army chief Bajwa to be his master’s voice


Satisfying the domestic audience

In his three-day visit beginning 21 July, Imran Khan will be accompanied by foreign minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi, trade and investment adviser Razzak Dawood, finance adviser Hafeez Pasha and a few others from his government. However, the most important members of the entourage will be Pakistan Army Chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa and the two men close to him – the ISI Chief, Lt. General Faiz Hameed, and the head of the ISPR, Major General Asif Ghafoor, say sources.

The Prime Minister’s presence in the visiting team would primarily serve the purpose of satisfying the domestic audience. In his address to the diaspora on the first day of his visit, Imran Khan will repeat his promise to end corruption in Pakistan and hope to engage the affluent diaspora by projecting a new Pakistan that is in line with the military’s imagination. Khan has already started his political gimmickry by suggesting that he would stay at an inexpensive hotel paid for by his government or at the ambassador’s residence.

Notwithstanding the fact that his stay would be paid for by the host state – the US – and so Khan needn’t bother with the expenses, such positions would naturally please his constituency at home or the diaspora.

There is nothing noticeable in Imran Khan’s programme, except his meeting with the US President. Given how both Trump and Khan have similar egos and their brains work the same way, one expects the meeting to be uneventful.


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Afghanistan is priority

Sources suggest that the military contingent and a couple of ministers will stay behind for more conversations.

Obviously, Afghanistan will be on top of the agenda. Pakistan received a pat from the US, China and Russia on 12 July for assisting in the Afghan peace process. The three major powers, which seem to have a consensus on peace in Afghanistan even at the cost of including the Taliban in the future political set-up in Kabul, welcomed Pakistan to the trilateral consultation that took place in Beijing on 10-11 July regarding the Afghan peace process.

Islamabad has all along argued in favour of including the Taliban in Afghanistan’s governance. The current situation is the closest Pakistan would get to its original idea of a favourable government in Kabul for which it had struggled since the days of General Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq. The ISI had initially invested in Gulbadin Hikmatyar, but later switched in the 1990s to a more cohesive group, the Taliban, headed then by the one-eyed Mullah Omar. The Taliban were largely trained in Pakistani religious seminaries and their different factions continue to use Pakistan’s territory.

Pakistan’s visiting team, with Bajwa in attendance, understands it would have to cooperate with Washington to ensure an uneventful withdrawal of American troops from Afghanistan – team Trump needs to keep its promise for any chance at the next presidential elections due in 2020. This is certainly the basic necessity to get the Americans to restart the foreign military funding for Pakistan. It would certainly not help repeating what Bajwa said during his visit to London in June this year – that the Quetta Shura does not exist in Pakistan and it’s only their families that live there.


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CPEC and Pakistan’s offer for US

However, from Pakistan’s perspective, the upcoming US visit is far more significant than meets the eye. While progress in Afghanistan may be the excuse to restart the conversation, the fact is that this would be Qamar Bajwa and Imran Khan’s first visit to the US since taking over their respective roles.

The situation is very different from perhaps a year ago when relations between the two countries were very poor, with Donald Trump tweeting against Pakistan. It almost seemed that Washington was India’s to keep. The strategic circles in Pakistan were all too excited about its new partnership with China and Russia versus an Afghanistan-India-US strategic partnership.

Although the impression is that the financial squeeze brought Pakistan to its knees, a growing disenchantment with the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) may also be behind the General’s eagerness to visit Washington. Some circles in Pakistan even believe that CPEC is on the verge of dying. Not that Rawalpindi is about to break its ‘deeper than the Arabian Sea and higher than the Himalayas’ relationship with Beijing, but it seems ready to put the prime real estate of Gwadar back on the market.

The army chief would want to capitalise on the tense Iran-US relations that make Chabahar a less likely option as a strategic link between South and Central Asia than Gwadar. Given that Bajwa has been signalling to the West for over six months that he has not closed his options regarding reworking his links with China versus the West, he could use the moment to offer Pakistan as a more reliable ally.


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Tactical ties

Bajwa and his men are on high alert to ensure they have not lost the US entirely to India. They are intently examining the economic disagreement between India and the US as a crucial opportunity to expand possibilities for Pakistan. If he stays back in the US capital after PM Imran Khan’s departure, General Bajwa would try to explore his options.

It will be foolhardy for anyone in Pakistan to imagine overtaking India in its relationship with the US. The Delhi-Washington bilateral linkage is at a different scale that has evolved over at least a couple of decades of intense intellectual investment from both sides. But then, Rawalpindi does not want to compete at that level. It can only make tactical choices. Right now, Pakistan doesn’t want to be out of the bilateral relations game with the US. It will continue to talk to China and Russia, but preferably being in the American circle. Pakistani military is aware that Washington will need to talk to it in the future – especially if the Iran front heats up.

The US nominee to the position of the Chairman of Joint Chiefs General Mark Milley recently said: “While we have suspended security assistance and paused major defence dialogues [to Pakistan], we need to maintain strong military-to-military ties based on our shared interests… .” This indicates an American readiness to re-engage with Pakistan, for which the terms will have to be drawn after the formal visit. The Trump administration is not likely to undertake major revision of its recently announced strategy on South Asia, in which Pakistan’s status was downgraded from an ally to a source of instability in the region.

However, successful talks could bring Pakistan back to a position where it can reopen the communication channels with the US military and benefit from training programmes. The possibility would be welcomed by Pakistan’s generals, who are happier sending their boys to the West instead of China, which has never attracted Pakistan’s ruling elite.


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The costs involved

Getting back into the bilateral relationship game will have its costs for Bajwa, who may be asked to keep the jihadis on a tight leash. The generals will try to float the idea of strategic mainstreaming of the jihadis and not eliminating them entirely, which will probably be marketed to the US from the perspective of the latter’s future needs in the region. Bajwa would like to keep any action on India-targeting jihadis tied to the future of talks with Delhi via Washington regarding which he doesn’t seem to be in a hurry. Whether the jihad policy is abandoned entirely will depend a lot on the US, which is about to host a bunch of very needy guests.

While the military would ultimately want to be able to get weapons from the US, it would also be in conversation for fulfillment of some of its very urgent and immediate needs. For instance, just having lost one of the biggest arbitration cases in history worth nearly US$ 6 billion to the copper mining consortium, Tethyan Copper Company, the visitors would want Washington to help ensure that its aircraft flying into America or other parts of the West are not impounded, or face similar embarrassment, upon landing.

Moreover, the hosts will be asked to turn a blind eye to human rights issues and the gagging of media. Notwithstanding what will come out of it – hard cash or hardware – the US trip’s long-term implications for Pakistan’s domestic politics and regional stability cannot be discounted.

Author is research associate at the Centre for International Studies & Diplomacy (CISD) at SOAS, London and tweets as: @iamthedrifter. Views are personal.

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10 Comments Share Your Views

10 COMMENTS

  1. US needs Pakistan and this time Pakistan is not governed by their military or civilian stooge. US has lots at stake in Afghanistan, Middle east/Iran and China. Pakistan has the key. US can be dethroned or keep its throne and Pakistan has the leverage to shift the balance. Bajwa and company will not even meet with Trump, it will be only Khan and Trump one on one and we trust Khan will not bend nor break.

  2. Dr. Aaisha Siddiqa is a learned analyst and research scholar. She is the first researcher who unearthed the huge millitary industrial complex in Pakistan that affects the political culture of Pakistan and that how establishment muddles the political atmosphere in Pakistan. Its evident from the imposition of undeclared censorship on print & electronic media suppressing the unsaid voices. PFUJ being an elected body of journalist across pakistan is decrying the atmosphere of self censorship caused by anonymous calls from powerful quarters. It is to b noted that PFUJ have in its fold Nasir Zaidi type iconic journalist who underwent the brunt of lashing imrisonment during Zia era dictatorship era. Dr. Aaisha has successfully talked of reignited US-Pak ties on the mutual agreement regarding Pak- Taliban nexus and how it could be beneficial to US in pulling out its megalith millitary forces. She has pointed out how our millitary establishment is playing diplomatic cards to convince Americans of their vital role in stabizating Afghanistan. The dying out flame of CPEC is worrisome as it would deprive gold-copper, coal, natural gas, strategically lifeline coastal belt . . . . . Baluchistan of its long pending deprivations.
    . . . . . . . I think we should slide off from the perspective of Pakistani establishment point of view and stop labelling anti pakistan whoever differs with the Pakistani state narrative which has landed our dear country into unwanted proxy wars that has siphoned off our resources and intellectual SAP.

  3. It is absurd how the author talks about gimmickry and the article ends up on an Indian news website. India has done nothing but gimmickry since Modi has come to power; a man who lacks intellect and decides matters based on the weather and time of the day (yeah, you got it). This rant about “isolating” Pakistan sounded quite nice a few years ago when Modi and Nawaz were on the same page for a lot of things going on, most of them going south, for Pakistan. Since then, the world, notably European, Russian and Chinese leadership has not only grown tired but frustrated of India’s attempts to sabotage global platforms to defame Pakistan. Did Pakistan do some mistakes in history and along the way? Absolutely, but that does not absolve India, a country that ultimately got caught up in it’s own lies – from fake surgical strikes to air attacks that did nothing more than aid public consumption and national ego, while one can visibly see how Pakistan has suddenly disappeared from political point scoring right after the elections. The Kulbhushan case at ICJ, India’s relentless rants at FATF and UN, it’s larger-than-life investments in Iran and Afghanistan – it’s all coming back to haunt a state that could never digest the concept of a separate Pakistan. Silently, a new Pakistan seems to be on the charts locally, where Muslims are being targeted for their birthright to Nihari and Double Whoppers, singled out for population control, lynched by mobs, their women raped and their prayer places attacked. What’s more, India is nowhere to be seen in an Afghan endgame where US, Russia and China are now publicly praising Pakistan for it’s role in containing this war that has only brought shame and embarrassment to the US thus far. India is also nowhere to be seen when Pakistan embarks on a reset of ties with oil-rich Middle Eastern powers that understand well how CPEC and OBOR will be the latest avenues for connecting their markets to a new world order, which is China – shifting from the traditional supremacy of the West. Again, India is not even part of OBOR and instead chose to invest in the Chabahar port which is currently surrounded by Western forces and could be bombed anytime. Pakistanis know deep down that even if Army is controlling the reins of power locally, they are not bothered because an army cannot exist without a country. Imran Khan is not just a public figure in Pakistan or even a puppet of the army, he is seen as a man of change and that is because he has opened himself and his ministers to public accountability. So say what you will, but Pakistan will rise out of the ashes and will be respected again, regardless of what some tea-slinging old man thinks across the border.

  4. The author, infamous in Pakistan to write against Pakistan military has accepted that at least Pakistan political and military authorities are all working for the interests of Pakistan. this is good news for common Pakistanis. whether real talking is done by PM Imran Khan or Pakistan military; it is good enough as long as it is for the interests of Pakistan. PM Imran Khan has towering personality and people in uniform respect him. God willing everything will be resolved. PTI would emerge victorious. Pakistan should put in its best to bring peace in Afghanistan and hopefully the US has realized the importance and role of Taliban. Pakistan should help Afghanistan and the US to have peaceful withdrawal of US troops and establish good relations with each other. That is the best strategy for the region and Pakistan.

  5. The author is just trying to remain relevant…………after attacking Pakistan military for last 15 years ………..the Lady author did not have courage to openly admit that Pakistan military has won this Afghan war…………too !!!!

  6. Muslim enemies R lucky they’ve got stupid Muslim Leaders, who act passionately according to their whims & not according to Allah’s Revelations or their national interests. Delhi & Washington are centuries old Islam’s adversaries Bajwa should not let his guards down or trust USA & Modi, they always side step their promises. Pakistan could have extracted billions of dollars from India as an upfront guarantee against any further military aggression from Indian side. But ever since 1947 Pakistan has been let. No doubt if Allah’s anger is proven than Lord Almighty God will send Mongols again & butcher these hypocrates & have them drag behind enemy tanks in the Islamabad streets as happened in Baghdad in 1258 & mor recently Ghaznavi dragged hypocrite Hindus behind his galloping horses in India streets.

  7. If there is consensus between the US, China and Russia on the future of Afghanistan, that is good for the people of that country and stability in the region. From India’s point of view, Pakistan repairing its relationship with the US is also a welcome development.. It makes it more amenable to good advice and restraint, with Pulwama highlighting how swiftly a crisis can develop. There is need to reconsider the policy of seeking to isolate Pakistan and refusing to talk to it.

    • ASHOK clearly lacks strategic sense and intellectualism . I will just put US demands to PAK and then PAK demands to US –
      US demands:(in the order of weight given by pentagon)
      1. Respectful political settlement on US terms in AFG. Nothing less will be accepted by trump.
      2. PAK must remove all UN designated terror groups.
      3. PAK cannot use IMF funds for Chinese projects
      PAK demands 🙁 in order of weight given by ISI)
      1. Lowering financial pressure.
      2. Asking INDIA for talks on KASHMIR
      3. INDIA must not be given any role in AFGH
      4. Save PAK in FATF
      5. Resume Millatarr Assistance AAANNDDD many more …….
      so clearly PAK needs US more than US needs PAK however TRUMP is known for deals and the DEAL as we all know is IF pak delivers US on AFG and TALIBAN they will live to fight for another day OR they are dead.

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