Developments in Pakistan US Tie

Spearhead Analysis – 10.09.2018

By Hira A. Shafi
Senior Research Analyst, Spearhead Research

Utilizing economic leverage on Pakistan was an expected US stance– the US position became apparent in end July 2018 when Secretary of State expressed his views on a possible future IMF bailout package for Pakistan. In this period another integral pillar of Pakistan-US ties was dented when the decision to halt US military training programs for Pakistani military personnel took place. Alongside, the US also contemplated suspending the remaining reimbursements to Pakistan under the CSF.

Another controversy was stirred after the General Elections in Pakistan, when according to the US state department and US media, Secretary Pompeo spoke with Prime Minister Imran Khan and congratulated him. Reportedly, Secretary Pompeo expressed his willingness to work with the new government towards a productive bilateral relationship and raised the importance of Pakistan taking decisive action against all groups and its vital role in promoting the Afghan peace process. Pakistan on its part rejected the report that talks between PM khan and Pompeo included the Afghan issue and called on the US State Department to amend the statement. 

The State Department also addressed the issue in its proceeding press briefing – perhaps with the intent of damage control. An excerpt from the briefing is given below:

“QUESTION:  Pakistan is asking for an immediate correction to the readout …that it is factually incorrect that they discussed the terrorists operating in. So, is there a correction, or are they wrong?

MS NAUERT:  In the readout the Secretary notes that he spoke with the new prime minister and expressed his willingness to work with the new government toward a productive bilateral relationship. They had a good call. That may surprise some of you, but they had a good call. Pakistan is an important partner to the United States. We hope to forge a good, productive working relationship with the new civilian government. My understanding is that the beginning of the call or the call itself was a good call and a good discussion toward our working with the new government and the new administration.

QUESTION: So the U.S. Government continues to stand by the readout?

MS NAUERT: We stand by our readout.

QUESTION: Does the U.S. and the State Department and the Secretary still stand behind the comments the Secretary made earlier about an IMF bailout and there should not be one for Pakistan?

MS NAUERT: I don’t see that our position has changed in any way, but I’m not going to forecast anything that could happen in the future.

QUESTION:  —yesterday a general talking live from Afghanistan, he said that as far as terrorism in Afghanistan or peace in Afghanistan is concerned, Pakistan is not doing enough….and it’s now up to the State Department diplomatically what they have to do as far as the new government is concerned. My question is that Afghan Government and the people in Afghanistan are still blaming Pakistan?

MS NAUERT:  I think you’re referring to General Nicholson’s briefing that he provided, and there’s one part of that I’d like to highlight, and that he said, “Wars end with a political settlement.” There is not a military solution to this 17-year-long war in Afghanistan, and I think you see that reflected in his comments. There is a lot of work that is left to be done. “

However, soon after the briefing, the US reportedly, sent over a transcript of the telephonic conversation between Prime Minister Imran Khan and US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to Pakistan, stating that the State department’s release was not ‘incorrect’.  A few days later, The Pentagon also announced its decision to halt $300 million in CSF reimbursements to Pakistan. Pakistan’s foreign minister dispelled the misperception that this amount was military aid to Pakistan and clarified that the amount entails expenses incurred by Pakistan from its own resources for fighting regional terrorism in support of Washington’s counterterrorism efforts.

All this happened on the eve of Secretary Pompeo’s visit to Islamabad on the 5th of September. Reportedly, certain voices called for cancelling the event, but the Pakistani government decided not to take these issues further and create further misunderstandings and instead opted to go ahead with Pompeo’s visit.

Reportedly, during the 5th September visit Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi and Secretary Pompeo discussed the potential for the United States and Pakistan to work together to advance joint priorities, including regional peace and stability. 

An excerpt of the remarks issued by the state department is as follows: 

“SECRETARY POMPEO:  We talked about their new government, the opportunity to reset the relationship between our two countries across a broad spectrum – economic, business, and commercial, the work that we all know that we need to do to try and develop a peaceful resolution in Afghanistan, which benefits certainly Afghanistan but also the United States and Pakistan. And I’m hopeful that the foundation that we laid today will set the conditions for continued success as we start to move forward.

GENERAL DUNFORD: And my job was to help support the Secretary as he – as he sought to reset the relationship. When we talked to General Bajwa on the military-to-military level, we agreed that – we listened to the prime minister very carefully, we listened to the Secretary very carefully. Their objectives were very consistent between the Secretary and the prime minister, and General Bajwa and I agreed that we will leverage the military-to-military relationship to support the Secretary and the prime minister, and more importantly, President Trump’s South Asia strategy.

QUESTION: Did you get any firm commitments from the Pakistanis that would potentially merit the resumption of military security assistance? Do you think they are a reliable partner going forward?

SECRETARY POMPEO: So we’ve still got a long way to go, lots more discussion to be had, but the relationship military to military is one that has remained in a place where some of the other relationships haven’t, frankly. They’ve still continued to have relationships, worked on lots of projects that are important together, and I hope we can use that as one of the foundational elements as well.

QUESTION: Will the GLOCs continue to stay open?

GENERAL DUNFORD: We don’t have any reason to indicate that our cooperation in keeping the GLOCs open is going to change.

QUESTION: Was there any kind of U.S. warning of increased punitive action that financially sanctions against certain Pakistani individuals delivered during these talks that – if they don’t change their behavior, there’s next steps?

SECRETARY POMPEO: We made clear to them that – and they agreed – it’s time for us to begin to deliver on our joint commitments, right. So we’ve had lots of times where we’ve talked and made agreements, but we haven’t been able to actually execute those. And so there was broad agreement between myself and Foreign Minister Qureshi, as well as with the prime minister, that we need to begin to do things that will begin to actually, on the ground, deliver outcomes so that we can begin to build confidence and trust between the two countries. That was the focus of the gathering.”

FM Qureshi, while briefing the media on the visit stated that an impasse in Pakistan-US relations has been broken during talks with the top US diplomat.

Randall Schriver, the assistant defence secretary for the Department of Defence’s Asian and Pacific Security Affairs, also said that he had high hopes for the continuation of a respectful bilateral relationship beneficial to both countries.

There is a perception that the Trump administration has taken a shift towards resolving the Afghan conflict through a political solution and Washington hopes that Pakistan could help bring about such an outcome.  Some are of the view that US considers Pakistan to be vulnerable due to its economic challenges and this leverage may be used to encourage Pakistan in Afghan issue.

Some voices in Pakistan are of the view that the Us posture is addressing its China centric concerns via Pakistan. Whereas, in the case of the Afghan conflict- Pakistan has maintained its preference for an Afghan owned peace process which is supported by the shared responsibility of all key stakeholders. Pakistan has also often highlighted the SIGAR statistics of Taliban control within Afghanistan.

It needs to be seen how the agenda of a political solution for the Afghan conflict would evolve.