Following an earlier visit by an American delegation during mid-October, and an immediate Afghan Quadrilateral Contract Group meeting in Muscat, the proposed visit by Rex Tillerson, the US Secretary of State has raised expectations within Pakistan.
For Pakistan, the relationship with the US is suddenly looking on a high. After its venomous response to the US, following Trump’s tough talk a month earlier, Pakistan’s relationship with Washington hit a new low. The Prime Minister even made a statement that the days of Pakistan’s dependence on the US is over.
The recent public debate highlights another U-turn. This has been the nature of Pakistan-US relations, making it a roller coaster ride. The media – print and electronic have been emotional in responding to the US – either supporting or opposing the latter. The general belief in Pakstan today is – the release of Canadian-American couple and their children with Pakistan’s assistance, has started a new bonhomie with the US.
Pakistan’s expectations are at two levels – bilateral and regional. Bilaterally, Pakistan would want the US to continue the military support and economic aid. Without any political pressure from Washington to “do more”, and military pressure from across the Durand Line – through cross-border attacks and drones. Regionally, Pakistan would want the US not to oppose the CPEC and not invite India into Afghanistan; and would want Washington to pressurize New Delhi to “do more” on Indo-Pak relations, and even make a statement on J&K favouring Pakistan’s position. Pakistan would also want the US to act militarily against the TTP and its affiliates hiding in Afghanistan, but go-slow on the Afghan Taliban and its affiliates.
And what Pakistan has to offer in return? They would be willing to act as a bridge between the US and China (stems from the nostalgic Henry Kissinger visit decades earlier) and perhaps share intelligence on low-level al Qaeda and Taliban remnants. On China, the US has enough direct linkages and bridges. 2017 is not 1971, where Tillerson would have to fly to Beijing via Islamabad in a stealth mode.
For the US, the release of Canadian-American couple is not an epochal event, as it appears to be for Pakistan. Reports from Washington suggest, that the US gave hard intelligence and threatened Pakistan that either it takes action or face the ignominy of another raid, like that of Osama bin Laden. The US would want Pakistan to bring the Afghan Taliban and the Huqqani network – to either the political table or the military table. Can Pakistan offer the same?
The rollercoaster ride will continue.