WASHINGTON: The US budget for 2023 has two small but significant provisions for Pakistan, including $15 million for improving security along the Afghan border and an unspecified amount of funds to promote gender equality in the country.

The first pledge underlines Washington’s desire to help Islamabad curb terrorist attacks from Afghanistan that have become a major threat for Pakistan.

The second, an unspecified amount from a $200m fund set aside to promote gender equality, indicates the possibility of further US engagement in social developments.

As 2022 ends, one thing is obvious: neither the United States nor Pakistan are seeking the revival of an all-embracing relationship that existed during the Cold War, the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan and in the war against terror. Instead, both are looking for a stable relationship based on “shared concerns” and interests, as the US State Department said at a recent news briefing.

“The government of Pakistan is a partner when it comes to these shared concerns, including the challenge of terrorist groups inside Afghanistan… terrorist groups along the Afghan-Pakistan border… we stand ready to assist, whether with this unfolding situation or other situations,” the department’s spokesperson Ned Price had said.

During a visit to the US Congress earlier this month, Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari told Dawn that senior US lawmakers had also expressed their desire to “help Pakistan enhance border security to prevent cross-border attacks from Afghanistan”.

This underlines a growing consensus between the US and Pakistan on discouraging terrorism, but there are areas where their interests do not align, particularly on India and China.

At several briefings during 2022, US officials hailed India as a “global partner” while acknowledging that Pakistan too was a key partner in a sensitive region.

In doing so, US officials made it clear that this was “not a zero sum” game, which would have required Washington to have a relationship with either India or Pakistan. Instead, they insisted that Washington would like to continue its ties with both.

The Americans, however, also realise the limitations of their influence on India, stating that they cannot use this influence to persuade New Delhi to do something it does not want to do. They made it obvious that they cannot force Delhi to change its position on India-held Kashmir.

Another major issue on which the US and Pakistan disagree with each other is that of China.

In 2022, the Biden administration issued its national security strategy, which identified China as the “biggest geopolitical challenge” for the US and sought global support for reversing China’s growing influence.

In his introductory note for the US National Defence Strategy 2022, Defence Secretary Lloyd J. Austin said that Washington was seeking a major defence partnership with India to enhance its ability to deter China’s “aggression” and ensure free and open access to the Indian Ocean region.

But other US officials acknowledged Pakistan’s strong ties with China, adding that they do not expect Islamabad to abandon Beijing for improving its ties with Washington. So, they said, the US was comfortable with Pakistan having ties with both Beijing and Washington.

Published in Dawn, january 2th, 2023

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