Meeting of PM Imran Khan and Donald Trump can bolster Pakistan-US relations

By Nejat İsmayilov

Writer of this article Nejat İsmayilov is a political expert and journalist working in Eastern Europe. He got degree in Politology from Sumqayit State University Azerbaijan.

US President Donald Trump will hold a meeting with Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan on July 22, 2019.

This meeting has particular importance for determination of relations between the two states, more precisely defining the expectations of the parties on each other, and developing the cooperation of the parties in regional security issues.

Another interesting moment of the meeting is that it is the first meeting between two leaders.

Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan is visiting Washington along with military leadership including Chief of Pakistan Army Gen Qamar Bajwa and Chief of Pakistan’s prime intelligence agency — Inter-Service Intelligence (ISI) Lt. Gen. Faiz Hameed.

History and the current state of Pakistan-US relations

It is crucial to look into the recent history of relations between the two states to make a clear analysis of relations between the United States and Pakistan.

The United States is one of the first states to recognize Pakistan’s independence proclaimed in 1947. US has played a special role in strengthening Pakistan’s independence and ensuring its security.

But the relations between two states have never been stable. Therefore, when we examine the history of US-Pakistan relations, we could observe wavy dynamics.

From this perspective, it is possible to divide Pakistan-US relations into 4 historical periods:

Gaining independence and a “period of warm relations” between the two countries. During this period, the Cold War made it necessary for the formation of allied relations between the parties.

At that time, Pakistan was the sole ally of the United States in South Asia, which was fighting against communism. The US was in need of Pakistan to balance growing power of India which was cooperating with the then USSR and didn’t hold close relations with US even though India didn’t join any bloc.

Therefore, Pakistan and US had improving relations during that time. During the period between 1950s and 1965s, the United States launched its annual financial aid to Pakistan starting from $ 500 million then reached to $ 2.5 billion.

Period of break in “Warm relationships”. The 2nd Pakistan-Indian War, which took place in 1965, resulted with negative impact on US-Pakistan relations. After achieving cease-fire, US left its ally alone and then imposed sanctions on both countries. The US position in this war was the first serious negative moment and led the decline in the relations.

Afghanistan’s occupation by former USSR. During this stage, the USSR intervention to Afghanistan made a vacuum in the region. When US decided to fill the vacuum, it felt need of Pakistan’s support. US increased financial and military assistance to Pakistan.

The rock bottom of the relations. After the collapse of the former USSR, close cooperation in the US-Pakistan relations came to an end. After the USSR’s withdrawal from Afghanistan, the United States left the region and its ally Pakistan with troubles. The tension between US and Pakistan continued until September 11, 2001.

When we look into these historical periods we can notice that US treats Pakistan as a geopolitically important partner when it is needed.

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During the period of regional threats, US mitigated its ties with Pakistan and expanded its cooperation with Pakistan. But when the danger was over for US, Pakistan was becoming a South Asian country with criticism and pressure.

In the modern era, relations between Pakistan and the United States are unstable and complicated. It is linked to the existing crises between these states. The main disputes between the US and Pakistan are as follows:

US and its allies concerned about Pakistan’s Nuclear Power

Pakistan is currently the only Muslim state with nuclear weapons. Apart from the nuclear weapon, Pakistan has the rocket systems with “2nd strike ability” that can carry nukes. Pakistan’s nuclear energy is not only a concern for the United States but also of some US allies in the West.

Pakistan’s expanding cooperation with China, another nuclear power in the region, could lead to the fall of India’s nuclear arsenal, which has become a strategic ally of US in recent years. It is contrary to the interests of the United States, which is a party to the balance of powers in the region.

The US-India strategic alliance poses a threat to Pakistan’s national interests and national security

As written above, after the collapse of the USSR, the United States began to hold closer cooperation with India in the region more than Pakistan.

It was very advantageous to cooperate with the superpower, which set up a new world order for India. For the United States, cooperation with India was crucial to prevent China from further expanding the region.

But Pakistan considers the alliance and regional cooperation between India and the US threat to its own security and national interests. The reason for this is Kashmir problem between India and Pakistan and Afghanistan as new theatre where India tries to play with active support of United States without sacrificing anything while Pakistan believes that it sacrificed its entire social fabric by hosting over four million Afghan refugees for over four decades.

The issue of Afghanistan has become the most complicated issue among the parties

The US did not keep its promise to Pakistan after the collapse of USSR. The Mujahideen who fought against USSR with Pakistan’s support failed to cooperate with Pakistan at the desired level after the overthrow of the Najibullah. Taliban’s presence in Afghanistan could have been a chance for Pakistan.

However, after the 2001 terrorist attacks in US, the US military intervened in Afghanistan and began a war against the Taliban. The US military presence in Afghanistan and the establishment of nine military bases made a difficult problem between US and Pakistan. Because US involvement in Afghanistan might lead to the activation of anti-Pakistani forces in Afghanistan and India’s further strengthening in the region.

In addition, the Pashtunistan issue, which has been ongoing since Pakistan’s history saw Indian involvement. In order to avoid all of this, Pakistan gives a great importance not to lose control over the region. But the United States describes Pakistan’s policy in Afghanistan as “playing a double game.” This case has become the most difficult problem for the two states.

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US concerns about Pakistan-China relations

Relations between Pakistan and China were always good. But after the collapse of the USSR, the United States expanded its ties with India made Pakistan tends to China, a rising power.

The challenge here is the US-China rapprochement and the trade war that is trampled by the Trump era.  US sees China reaching global power and US wants to blockade China with enhancing relation with India. But China obtains entrance to Indian Ocean by Gwadar Port within China–Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC).

The US is very concerned about the CPEC issue. Because this project increases the impact of China on the international arena and, with its $ 60 billion budget, makes Pakistan’s chance to turn into an economic power in the region.

Influence of Imran Khan and Trump’s coming to power on relations: An important point

Decline in recent years between the United States and Pakistan and the strengthening of regional competitiveness between China-Pakistan and US-Indian allies have had a negative impact on relations. Trump’s coming to power and harsh statements to Pakistan in foreign policy have further aggravated the relations between the two countries.

The US president accused Pakistan of supporting terrorists on August 21, 2017 and called it a safe haven for terrorists. By doing so, Trump tried to lay failure in 17-year-old Afghans war at Pakistan’s door.

Later, Trump made statements that harshly criticized Pakistan in January 2018. “The United States has foolishly given Pakistan more than 33 billion dollars in aid over the last 15 years, and they have given us nothing but lies & deceit, thinking of our leaders as fools,” Trump posted on Twitter. Following the statement, Trump announced that they had halted $ 300 million annual military assistance to Pakistan in September 2018.

Strategic Moves of PM Khan

When Imran Khan came to power, he formed new US strategy. While responding the questions of journalists, Imran Khan answered “our primary goal is to eliminate the mistrust and continue the relationship based on mutual interests.” He made a first step in order to break ices in relations.

After Trump’s decision of halting aid, Mike Pompeo paid an official visit to Islamabad and met with Imran Khan, by doing so, he received positive impressions.

Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan does not repeat his predecessors and does not pursue a unipolar foreign policy. As we see in the first year of his rule, the prime minister is following multilateral political course according to multilateral world order.

Imran Khan is striving to further strengthen economic ties with China, while trying to co-operate with the United States on security issues. Following a balanced political course, Imran Khan also works closely with Russia, Turkey, Iran and Saudi Arabia apart from Washington and Beijing.

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The announcement of Joseph Votel, Commander of United States Central Command on February 8 is actually an important detail for determining geopolitical code of Pakistan for the US.  Votel describes Pakistan as an essential country for US and he stated that there is always need to cooperate with Pakistan.

Trump, who has harshly criticized Pakistan months ago, told reporters on March 20, 2019 that “our relations with Pakistan are very good.”

On June 2, 2019, the United States recognized the Balochistan Liberation Army, a separatist organization in Pakistan, as a terrorist organization.

Meanwhile, on June 29, US-Taliban peace talks started in the capital of Qatar by Pakistan’s efforts.

If we consider all these political developments consistently, we can see that Trump is responding positively to Imran Khan’s reconciliation diplomacy and trying to turn Pakistan into a regional alliance.

This month, the meeting of two leaders in Washington by the invitation of Trump vows improvement on the relations.

The main issue to be discussed at the table is the issue of Afghanistan. President Trump has a concrete two demands: paying the attention on US interests in relations with China and Russia, and preventing the strengthening of Haqqani organization in Afghanistan (possibly fighting against this organization). Trump will deal with Pakistan to prevent the Taliban from further strengthening and accept a deal with United States.

One of the key issues of the Washington meeting will be the Kashmir case. In February of this year, striking Indian fighter jets those violated Pakistan’s airspace in Jammu Kashmir region led the actualization of the problem.

The US administration accused Pakistan of violating ceasefire while Pakistan says Indian Air Force violated air space on February 26, 2019 and again on February 27 and then Pakistan responded furiously and got air victory over India by striking two Indian fighter jets and arresting one Indian Air Force pilot which Pakistan handed back to India as a good will gesture.

Imran Khan actually goes to the meeting with having advantage on the case. Because he is aware that it is impossible to ensure stability in Afghanistan without his country and the Trump’s army does not want to remain in Afghanistan anymore.

There is no doubt the United States needs Pakistan’s support for stability in Afghanistan. Based on all these factors, this meeting will have a positive impact on the development of bilateral relations, and Imran Khan’s visit to Washington will open up a new dimension in bilateral relations between Islamabad and Washington DC.

Disclaimer:

The views and opinions expressed in this article/Opinion/Comment are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Dispatch News Desk (DND). Assumptions made within the analysis are not reflective of the position of Dispatch News Desk.