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Pompeo’s visit

Updated September 07, 2018

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A second US secretary of state has visited Pakistan in less than a year, but Mike Pompeo’s visit has not yielded any immediate and outward sign of an improvement in ties.

After a dramatic aid cancellation to Pakistan by the US defence department just days ahead of Mr Pompeo’s visit, perhaps the best that could have been hoped for is a set of meetings devoid of public acrimony and rancour.

With Mr Pompeo scheduled to travel to India immediately after a short, hours-long stay in Islamabad, the possibility of the inaugural 2+2 ministerial meeting taking aim at Pakistan was also high. The joint statement following the meeting in New Delhi yesterday between the Indian foreign and defence ministers and their US counterparts delivers an explicit and harsh rebuke meant for Pakistan, likely delighting hawks in Delhi and Washington and further complicating Pakistan’s ties with the latter.

As ever, it remains unknown how a significant divergence in interests defined by the US and the Pakistani state can be reconciled.

Presumably, the strong US rhetoric against Pakistan in public is backed by specific demands behind closed doors. But it remains an odd approach for several reasons.

First, the US persistence in seeing Pakistan through a security lens and primarily in terms of the war in Afghanistan has prevented a rational discourse between the two countries. While the state here has historically erred in its approach to Afghanistan, there is a fundamental divergence between the interests of Pakistan and the US in Afghanistan.

Second, for many years it has been apparent that the war in Afghanistan will not be won militarily and can only be ended by a political settlement at the negotiating table. The US pressure on Pakistan to curb alleged Afghan Taliban and Haqqani network sanctuaries on its soil does little to help the ultimate goal of bringing the warring Afghan parties to the negotiating table. Indeed, Pakistan has often suggested that undue pressure on the Taliban could reduce the influence that it has over the network when it comes to nudging them towards talks.

Yet, where the US is wrongheaded in its approach, Pakistan would be mistaken to remain in denial about elements of its counter-militancy, counterterrorism and counter-extremism strategies. While significant gains are evident and anti-Pakistan networks have been vastly degraded, there is a militant and extremist infrastructure in the country that has remained largely untouched. The externally oriented networks ought to be dismantled for Pakistan’s own sake, there being no rational policy or security reasons for the continued existence of such groups.

The Pakistani state has suggested in recent years that it would like to gradually move against such groups, but whether through political mainstreaming or dismantlement, no coherent or reasonable policy has been put forward yet. Pakistan should be completely terror-free for its own sake.

Published in Dawn, September 7th, 2018