Sanity seems to have gained ground in the Trump administration, as not only has the US State Department squashed all speculations that Washington could strike Pakistan off its list of major non-Nato allies, expand drone operations inside Pakistan and greatly reduce its economic and military assistance to this country. It also emphasized that the US wants to remain engaged with Pakistan at various levels. In other words, the US has conceded the indispensability of Pakistan’s role in efforts for a viable solution to the problem of Afghanistan. Or, to quote Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, “the US has a reliable partner in Pakistan.” The criticism of Pakistan that President Trump had unleashed in his address to the nation as commander-in-chief of the US armed forces was ultimately found to be unwarranted by his own team, because he had ignored the historical and current ground realities in relation to Afghanistan. Washington has ultimately begun to appreciate Islamabad’s stance on Afghanistan – that Pakistan supports and will continue to support an Afghan-led and Afghan-owned solution.
Given the strained US-Pakistan relationship since Donald Trump unveiled his policy on Afghanistan and South Asia – through which, among other things, he underscored the need for increased Indian space inside a war-ravaged Afghanistan – the outcome of the talks between Foreign Minister Khawaja Asif and his US counterpart threw up quite a few surprises. The biggest surprise, from Pakistan’s standpoint, was Secretary Tillerson’s remarks about the need for political stability in the country. No doubt, it was for the first time that any top US official had publicly made comments on the political conflict within Pakistan and openly supported the civilian government in Islamabad. For example, Tillerson is quoted as saying: “We’ve concerns about the future of Pakistan’s government too, in terms of them – we want their government to be stable. We want it to be peaceful. And many of the same issues they’re struggling with inside of Pakistan are our issues.”
His remarks emanated from an answer to a question that did not mention the political situation in Pakistan which has the potential to give rise to some wild speculations. There will be some legitimate questions as well: Does the US see any threat to present civilian dispensation? If it means Pakistan’s army mulling the possibility of toppling a corruption-tainted government in Islamabad, he is badly mistaken. The army under the incumbent chief, General Qamar Javed Bajwa, and before him under Raheel Sharif and General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani has not been acting or operating outside its own domain, as stipulated by the country’s constitution; nor is it behind the PML-N’s woes or the Supreme Court verdict that led to the removal of Nawaz Sharif from the Prime Minister’s House. Is there any political conflict in Pakistan after Nawaz Sharif’s replacement by his own party colleague, Shahid Khaqan Abbasi? Moreover, the National Assembly seat vacated by him in Lahore has been reclaimed by his wife and his own party. Did the Establishment do anything, albeit meekly or half-heartedly, to stop the government from effecting a highly controversial amendment in the law to pave the way for Nawaz Sharif heading his party once again? Those observing the situation, would like to ask Secretary Tillerson how he looks at Nawaz Sharif’s latest exit from Pakistan, despite the fact that he is facing a corruption trial in an accountability court in accordance with the Supreme Court’s July 28 verdict? Why is there such a sudden U-turn in US approach to Pakistan? Why is the Trump administration concerned about the future of the PML-N government?
The US cannot rebuild a stable relationship through half-truths. Tillerson needs to come clean on this score, to remove doubts about the United States’ perceived or real intervention in the internal affairs of Pakistan.