After decades of political struggle with his apparently populist agenda the newly elected premier of Pakistan – Imran Khan – has finally taken over one of the most important protagonist states in the international war on terror. The Afghan conundrum will be the toughest account for the new premier. So far, PM Khan has shown a more down-to-earth approach towards the US than how he looked at things during his political struggle.
Handling the US chapter won’t be an easy ride for the premier. Washington remains clung to the policy of coercion. The consensus over the perceived betrayal of Pakistan remains unmoved in Washington. Presently, only Afghanistan is the key point in the US agenda in the bilateral relations with Islamabad. On the other hand, in his recent speech PM Imran Khan avowed that Pakistan will no longer – fight other’s war. The statement was uncharacteristically directed towards the US war in Afghanistan. However, the terms of this retreat might cost Pakistan heftily. Even if Pakistan doesn’t want to fight other’s war but she cannot simply avoid facing the fallout of this – other’s – war, as a matter of fact.
The status quo has not yet changed much so the corridor towards Pakistan’s economic and diplomatic revival still passes through the US. The US is the major creditor of the World Bank, IMF, and ADB – the institutions that finance Pakistan for its economic stability. Amid this quagmire, will – read can – Mr. Khan does anything different to move the indicator on the US partnership? There are five steps that the Islamabad government and Rawalpindi bigwigs can take to balance the equation with Washington.
Pakistan doesn’t want to fight other’s war but she cannot simply avoid facing the fallout of this – other’s – war.
One, and foremost, Pakistan should open an all-time active channel of communication with the US and Afghanistan both multilaterally and bilaterally. Mere sideline bilateral meetings, official visits and short, less than an hour long, talks cannot solve the problems. Apart from governmental involvement, it should also include both the military-to-military and intelligence-to-intelligence chapters of communication. For this to happen, Pakistan will have to construct an unequivocal narration – shared by both the civilian and military leadership – specifically over the Afghan Taliban.
Two, Pakistani government can form an ad hoc body – including security and government officials – under the foreign ministry to oversee the Afghan subject. Presently, the Afghan issue vis-à-vis US partnership is very crucial and not confined to geopolitical importance. In the foreseeable future, it would require both time and proper strategy. And this must be dealt with seriously. The body will hold meetings with the Afghan and US officials alternately on regular basis. Keep the communication line active and alive so that there exists no doubt or mistrust over the implementation of policies.
Three, persuade the US to make more specified demands. Because of these do-more and no-more theories, the mistrust between both the states has grown very deep. Pakistani side has always been unclear over the connotation of the do-more theory of the US. The new government in Islamabad can take a more down-to-earth step by not clinging to the vocal line of defiance and trying to persuade the US in a diplomatically candid manner to make more explicit demands. There should be no blurred line between the demands and the capacity of both the states.
Four, Pakistan should try to convince the US to recognize the limits of Pakistan’s leverage on the Afghan Taliban. The presumption in Washington that Pakistan has an unconditional leverage on the Afghan Taliban has not been corroborated by what the current indicators suggest. The vocal denial on Pakistani side has not, as well, reaped much. The new government can inject some diplomatic substance into this claim by engaging with the US and Afghan officials in a rational and systematic manner. Yet it is oddly abstruse that despite its epidemic presence in Afghanistan the US remains confined to verbal allegations without having any reliable matter over its professed avowals that Pakistan has been nurturing terrorists and having the strings of the Afghan Taliban.
Last but not least, there needs to be established a transparent verification mechanism. It lies with both the parties to form a systematic mechanism of verification of policy implementation. This will include – and not confined to – an agreement between Kabul and Islamabad on the Joint Border Posts in sensitive and volatile areas of the border. Formation of Joint Monitoring Teams which will include the US and Pakistani security personnel for monitoring the suspected areas in Pakistan and Afghanistan. It would not only strengthen Pakistan’s argument of denying Haqqani presence in the country but also break the barrier of mistrust between both the states.
Ironically, in this unending war, the US and Pakistan will be worse off without each other. The relationship between them is at its nadir. Neither side is going to gain anything from a stick-heavy approach. Fissures between Washington and Islamabad will only spoil the already deteriorated situation. At this juncture, it is more than necessary to act rationally for both the states. Policy thinking driven by cynical and self-centered conjectures would end up rendering the worst case scenario.
The writer is a senior editor of The Geopolitics. He is a candidate of International Relations and Journalism based in Pakistan