Friday, September 24, 2021

As Biden Continues To Snub Imran Khan, Pakistan Makes Fresh Bid To Reset Ties With The US

US President Joe Biden has not spoken to Pakistan PM Imran Khan even once ever since his inauguration in January, leaving Islamabad completely flummoxed.

Now, Pakistan Army chief Gen. Qamar Javed Bajwa is making a fresh attempt to reset ties with Washington.

According to The Express Tribune, Bajwa met US Charge d’ Affairs Angela Aggeler on May 12 to discuss the Afghan peace process among other issues. The Pakistan Army chief used this opportunity to seek “greater cooperation” between Islamabad and Washington in “all domains”, something that goes beyond Afghanistan.

This is not the first time that Imran Khan has involved his Army chief in a dialogue with the US. Last month, he had spoken with US Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken and the two discussed matters of mutual interest, regional security situation, including the Afghan peace process, and bilateral cooperation in various fields, The News International reported.

Pakistan’s Desperation

During Tuesday’s meeting, Bajwa and the US diplomat discussed matters of regional security, bilateral cooperation in various fields, fight against Covid-19 besides Afghanistan, the Inter-Service Public Relations (ISPR) said in a statement.

Bajwa stressed that Islamabad had sincerely supported the peace process and a prosperous, stable and peaceful Afghanistan was in the best interest of the region in general and Pakistan in particular.

Angela Aggeler reportedly appreciated Islamabad’s continuous support for peace and stability in the region and promised to enhance bilateral relations between the US and Pakistan.

Pakistan’s desperation can be understood given that President Biden continues to snub Imran Khan. He has not yet spoken to the Pakistani leader, sparking doubts about the US’ policy vis-a-via Islamabad, which has in the past faced global scrutiny over its overt and covert support to terror elements. The FATF grey-listing is one of such measures. 

The latest move may be a desperate attempt to please the US, but the new administration under Biden could take such a gesture with a pinch of salt. After all, it was Democrat Barak Obama whose administration had ordered the elimination of Osama bin Laden hiding deep inside Pakistan’s territory, this author wrote in an earlier piece.

The Imran Khan government wants to steer clear of the unpredictability that marked the Trump administration’s policy towards Pakistan. At the same time, it is in a dilemma over whether Biden, who served as Vice President under Obama, would carry forward his former boss’ legacy of looking at Pakistan, i.e. it is untrustworthy (due to its unholy alliance with terror networks). 

Multi-Domain Cooperation

Pakistan wants multi-domain cooperation with the US, which goes beyond the Afghanistan issue. And the country is making concerted attempts to underplay its economic dependence on China, something which may have soured its ties with the West. 

For instance, Bajwa had last month said, “While CPEC remains central to our vision, only seeing Pakistan through CPEC prism is also misleading. Our immensely vital geostrategic location and a transformed vision make us a country of immense and diverse potential.”

The latest attempt to reach out to the Biden administration also assumes significance given that Pakistan is deeply worried about the potential fallout of the US troop withdrawal from Afghanistan.

Nevertheless, analysts believe, to reet their ties, the two countries “will have to do more to meet each other somewhere in the middle”. 

“The Biden team needs to keep an open mind and look at Pakistan with a broader lens. And if Pakistan doesn’t want strategic concerns to dominate its relationship with the U.S., it needs to offer up something more than words: real economic incentives,” writes Madiha Afzal, a fellow at Brookings Institution.

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