Rex Tillerson, the US Secretary of State, visited Pakistan on 24 October 2017, as a part of his South Asia tour, after visiting Afghanistan the previous day. The contours of his visit and any policy implication for the US will be seen subsequently, once he completes the tour.
Tillerson met the Prime Minister, Foreign Minister, Interior Minister, Defence Minister, Foreign Secretary and Chiefs of Military and the ISI. In Islamabad, Tillerson is reported to have stated, “Pakistan is important, regionally to the U.S. security relationships” and the Prime Minister, “We (Pakistan and the US) are strategic partners…”. Clearly, US sees Pakistan as “important” and the latter consider both as “strategic partners”. Whether there is something between the lines or not, what are the US options in Pakistan?
Many in Pakistan were expecting that he would deliver a tough message. Did he? But, what tougher message would Pakistan need, than the Trump’s statement in August? The US would issue such strong statements and dilute the same subsequently. Remember the Defence Secretary Matis’ statement, in early October of working with Pakistan for “one more time”.
The US needs Pakistan on two major counts. First, to take strong action against the Taliban that has safe havens within Pakistan; the US would need the latter and uses threats as a strategy to achieve them. Second, it needs Pakistan’s land corridor to send essential war materials American war machine in Afghanistan; especially with Trump closing down the Iran option.
Pakistan is aware of this. Islamabad is also confident that the US would engage in a few drone attacks across the Durand Line in the FATA region, but would not go beyond. Hence, for all the threats from Washington, the Pakistani belief is that the US would not do more (of military operations outside the FATA). Few drone attacks in the tribal areas perhaps are acceptable for Pakistan and can be addressed with a few rhetoric and even hoodwinking the media about the attacks taking place on the Pakistani side.
Pakistan will not “do more”, unless the US does. Tillerson’s visit will not make a difference to Pakistan’s long-term Afghan strategy post 9/11: if there is an American political pressure, yield a bit in the ground – take some military actions, but continue the larger game. For the US cannot do more, other than issuing threats, and crawling back to work with Pakistan for “one more time”.