THE posting of a new American ambassador in Islamabad after a gap of nearly four years presents a fresh opportunity for the resetting of Pakistan-US ties after a period of considerable turbulence. Bilateral relations throughout the former PTI government’s tenure were colder than usual, while Imran Khan’s claims that his administration was ousted by a US-backed ‘conspiracy’ — later clarified by the National Security Committee — marked a nadir in ties. However, as Ambassador David Blome told this paper, Washington wants to move on and “keep engaging across all levels of Pakistani society”. Of course, resetting ties will not be easy, but as long as there is an intention on both sides to improve relations in a spirit of mutual respect, progress can be made.
There were already signs that Washington wanted to improve ties with Islamabad after the departure of the PTI government. In this regard, Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari’s meeting with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken in New York last month was seen as a major ice-breaker. Moving forward, relations need to be mutually beneficial, and not merely transactional as has been the case over the last several decades. For example, while Mr Blome told this paper that the US seeks a “sustained” partnership with Pakistan on “counterterrorism”; this should not translate to simply using Pakistan as an over-the-horizon staging post to manage Afghanistan. It is in Pakistan’s own interest to fight terrorism and ensure Afghanistan does not become a base for global militancy, but the Pakistan-US relationship needs to be developed along deeper lines. Ideally, ties should prioritise economic, trade, development and people-to-people linkages. Moreover, the world is once more becoming a very polarised place, and developing states like Pakistan are again being asked if they are ‘with us or against us’. Simply put, Pakistan cannot afford to take part in bloc politics, and should pursue a progressive foreign policy of neutrality and friendship with all like-minded states. The Pakistan-US relationship must indeed be rebuilt and deep linkages can be forged in multiple sectors. But the US should not expect Pakistan to follow its orders where maintaining or breaking relations with America’s foes — China, Iran, Russia etc — are concerned. There is much potential in bilateral ties between Islamabad and Washington, as long as Pakistan’s sovereignty is respected, and this country does not receive dictation about who it can and cannot befriend in the international arena.
Published in Dawn, June 15th, 2022