Pakistan Reader# 351, 19 May 2022
Abigail Miriam Fernandez
Since April 2022, there has been a positive and increased engagement between Pakistan and the United States. This renewed engagement came amid Imran Khan’s accusation that the Biden administration was behind the removal of his government through a no-confidence motion. Imran Khan based his allegation on a cable received from Pakistan’s ambassador in Washington in which State Department official Donald Lu had said that bilateral ties could suffer if Imran Khan survived the no-trust move. Additionally, during the PTI government’s rule, Pakistan and the US shared a cold relationship with both the Biden and Trump administration. While the Trump administration maintained a transactional approach to Pakistan, the relations with the Biden administration got off to a rocky start as the US denounced the Supreme Court acquitting Omar Saeed Sheikh, downplaying Pakistan’s efforts in Afghanistan and the controversy over the much-awaited phone call among other issues.
However, cut to the new government led by Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif, there have been several engagements at various levels between the two countries. It began with the US Congresswoman Ilhan Omar’s maiden visit to Pakistan during which she emphasis on expanding bilateral cooperation based on mutual respect, trust and equality. Similarly, the US State Department over the last two months has reiterated its interest in not only strengthening ties with Pakistan but also to expand and assist the Pakistan economy through trade and investments. Additionally, the State Department has made it clear that the US will not let "lies get in the way" of its bilateral ties with Pakistan. Meanwhile, Pakistan and US have also completed security level talks, as DG ISI Lt-Gen Nadeem Anjum spent three days in Washington meeting with senior security officials, including US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan and CIA Director William J. Burns. Further, the US has appointed a full-time Ambassador to Pakistan after nearly four years. The latest engagement comes as Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari attends a US-initiated UN meeting on food security in New York and his meeting with Secretary of State Antony Blinken. During the meeting, the two sides discussed bilateral relations, regional situations, and cooperation in various sectors between the two countries.
Deciphering the interactions
The new government led by PM Shehbaz Sharif has had more engagement with the US than Imran Khan’s government did in three years. However, this does not necessarily imply that relations between Pakistan and the US are going to witness any substantial change. The relations are likely to remain transactional for the following reasons.
First, the US covering up the allegations. The recent engagement comes amid allegations of US involvement in Pakistan’s internal politics. These allegations do not bode well for the Americans who are trying to remove the assumption that they meddle in the internal politics of other countries. Thus, the recent efforts could be a means to reiterate that they are not interested in the domestic politics of countries.
Second, the unlikely move beyond counterterrorism. Despite Pakistan’s desire to expand the ties beyond security and the US’s claims on the same, the relations between the two are still primarily focusing on counterterrorism and security cooperation concerning Afghanistan. This is the case because both Pakistan and the US have not taken efforts to engage with each other beyond security.
Third, the Russia-China factors. Given the close relations Pakistan shares with both China and Russia, engaging with the US might not be a priority. Although the US has clarified that Pakistan does not need to strain its relations with China to maintain ties with them, engagement will likely remain transactional rather than deepen like in the case of China and Russia.
In conclusion, the recent interactions between Pakistan and the US must be seen in the light of the larger developments both internally and external. These interactions are unlikely to result in substantial gains unless both sides formulate a strategy and take efforts to move beyond the security prism. However, at the same time, these engagements highlight Pakistan and the US’s desire to maintain ties, even if they remain transactional.
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