Geneva meeting

Published May 26, 2021

THE recent meeting in Geneva between the Pakistani and American national security advisers should give bilateral relations a boost, considering that it is the first face-to-face contact between high officials from both states since Joe Biden entered the White House. There has been a perception that ties are less than cordial between Pakistan and the new US administration as there has been no formal contact between Prime Minister Imran Khan and Mr Biden, while this country was not initially invited by Washington to a climate summit in which other regional states were participating. The foreign minister has been in touch with the US secretary of state, but hopefully the meeting between Moeed Yusuf and Jake Sullivan in Switzerland should help take relations forward. Along with improving bilateral relations, India, Afghanistan and economic cooperation were discussed in Geneva.

Clearly, the US-Pakistan relationship is a difficult one, marked by mistrust on both sides. America’s main concern at this juncture is to use Pakistan’s influence with the Afghan Taliban to ensure an orderly withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan. Pakistan, on the other hand, wants to be accorded the same standing as India where the American regional approach is concerned. The fact is that the Biden administration must apply a fresh approach to Pakistan to bring down the mutual mistrust. For the past over four decades, the bilateral relationship has been shaped by Afghanistan, and before that America’s Cold War exigencies. What is needed now is for the US to delink Pakistan from Afghanistan and deal with this country on its own merits. By all means Pakistan can and should help stabilise Afghanistan to all extent possible, but this country should not be used as a geostrategic tool to be abandoned when the mission is accomplished, as was done after the Soviet defeat in the Afghan ‘jihad’. Pakistan, on the other hand, is in a difficult position as it tries to balance its ties with China and Russia on one end, and the US on the other. Islamabad’s strategic, economic and political ties with Beijing are deep, while relations with Moscow are also improving. Moreover, relations with Washington are also a key pillar of Pakistani foreign policy, and cannot be taken for granted. Thus the challenge before Pakistan’s foreign policy establishment is to cultivate relations with these important capitals equally, and not be pressured by other countries in its choice of friends and allies.

Published in Dawn, May 26th, 2021

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