The Prime Minister of Pakistan Imran Khan went all the way to meet Donald Trump, the president of the world’s most powerful country. While the high profile visit to the US could be seen as a Confidence Building Measure (CBM) in view of Pakistan’s soured ties with the US, its bright side is a visible change in the attitude and national policies of the two countries.
Since Islamabad is the most significant capital in South Asia for Washington in view of its strategic location and importance in connection with Afghan crisis, America sees Pakistan as a key in resolving the long-standing and rampant war in Afghanistan. Therefore, Donald Trump believes that instead of using the muscular approach to gain Pakistan’s support, compromise and conciliation is the easy option to take it into confidence. Thus Trump not only invited Khan to the US but has treated him with warmth and regard during the visit, leaving the talks successful. To further win Pakistan’s support, Trump administration is approving assistance to Pakistan.
Interestingly, PM Khan’s visit has ended up on a positive note as can be perceived from the post-visit statements from both sides. Khan after returning from the visit said, “seemed as if I have won the world cup“ while the US has sent out positive signals as well about the visit and expects to build on it. Moreover, the developments (during the visit), which made it to the media, were both surprising and shocking. Surprising because they were not expected and shocking because they have created a dramatic suspense about the future course of action.
The most surprising and shocking was Mr. Trump’s bombshell that the Indian premier Narendra Modi had asked him during the recent G-20 summit to “mediate” on Kashmir. The world, especially India was shocked to learn about this. There was an uproar in the Indian parliament with the opposition party, the Indian National Congress, demanding a statement from PM Modi. Meanwhile, the conflict-ridden Kashmir and Pakistan were surprised because India has always rejected the third party role in Kashmir issue, calling it “bilateral” between India and Pakistan. The line was reiterated after the Trump statement.
On his part, PM Khan made a shocking revelation when he confirmed the presence of thousands of armed groups, the militia, in his home country. Islamabad had never accepted the presence of these elements on its soil and even Khan admitted that the previous Islamabad governments had not told truth to the US. A question: what made the Pakistan PM admit something which no PM before him had ever admitted?
Speaking dispassionately, the surprising admission by PM Khan has constraints and a context behind it. Ever since Khan took over in Pakistan, the level of expectation of the people of Pakistan was raised that this man could shepherd them out of the pit of poverty and the vicious circle in which the country is caught. Though Pakistan’s foreign policy emphasizes good relations with neighbors, the country is in bad terms with neighboring countries- Afghanistan, India and Iran. Worse, his PTI government was welcome with a depleted national treasure coupled with a huge foreign debt, a corrupt bureaucracy and corrupt leadership in political, social and economic walks of life. Khan’s anti-corruption campaign in Pakistan has seen two former prime ministers behind the bars, a strong proof of deep-seated corruption in the state. Last but not the least, the strained relations with America is a burden, not benefit for Islamabad.
The whole scenario left Khan and his government helpless though not hopeless. His reputation as a sympathetic leader and the peoples’ hope of peace and his ability to tide over the crisis – all was at stake. However, they have risen to the occasion and they seem well set to rebuild the country’s name and fame.
So far Khan appears to have hit the nail on the head. He has begun well by coming closer to America which needs its support in resolving Afghan crisis. Resolving the crisis is a point of prestige for the US and Trump is bent on having a negotiated end to the issue. PM Khan has, from Pakistan’s perspective, done well to help in persuading the Afghan Taliban to hold talks with Kabul. Fortunately, the Taliban has shown willingness to visit Islamabad to meet Khan after his return from America.
If Khan manages to help resolve the Afghan crisis to the satisfaction of all the contenders for Kabul, he would be able to rebuild Pakistan’s image and improve its ties with Washington. Besides, if he manages to take his country’s deep state in confidence, he would be remembered in history as a statesman who took Pakistan out of the worsening and threatening situation. Khan understands that Pakistan cannot afford suicidal policies and continue to live under perpetual fear in the hostile neighborhood.
The PM well knows that at this juncture peace and stability are a pressing need of Pakistan. Only in such an environment, all the spheres and sectors of life in the country can flourish and sow the seeds of progress and prosperity.
Additionally, Mr. Khan will have to live up to the expectations of the international community where the scenario is totally going in favor of peace and stability. The new normal is being led by America which seems to have realized that its foreign wars have done more harm than good to the country. Take the case of North Korea whose aggressive and assertive policies created a war like situation with America in 2017 but Trump preferred negotiations, pressurized the Kim Jong-un regime and held talks with it to avoid war. To resolve the Afghan crisis, America has held several rounds of negotiations with the Taliban with its Afghan peace envoy Zalmay Khalilzad busy in finding a negotiated end.
Pertinently, Islamabad has begun by softening its position towards America and accomdating some of its demands- helping in establishing channels between the Afghan government and the Afghan Taliban. Washington also has shown some flexibility towards Pakistan. Both the countries have shown interest in good relations and peace while expecting to build on the positive talks between the two leaders. The paradigm shift must carry on. If not, both Khan and Trump will lose the opportunity of winning the hearts and minds at home and abroad by showing themselves as weak, not strong leaders.
Image credit: This file is a work of an employee of the Executive Office of the President of the United States. As a work of the U.S. federal government, it is in the public domain.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of The Geopolitics.
Sheikh Shabir Kulgami is a Kashmiri (Indian) political commentator, analyst and columnist. He writes extensively on South Asia.