Pakistan has expectations from President Trump
Abdul Basit
US Acting Assistant Secretary of State for South Asia and Central Asia Alice Wells visited Pakistan last month and at a reception hosted in her honor by a former senator, Enver Baig, I had a good conversation with her on some important issues, including Pakistan-India relations, CPEC, and Afghanistan.
It seems the US has been trying to encourage both Pakistan and India to resume the dialogue process, avoiding in the meanwhile any step that ratchets up the tension and further vitiates the bilateral atmosphere. President Trump’s public offer of mediation between the two countries on Kashmir also appears to be part of the US strategy to push India toward dialogue while also ensuring Pakistan’s continuing support in Afghanistan.
I told Wells that I could not foresee Pakistan resuming talks with India in prevailing circumstances.
Prime Minister Imran Khan has taken a principled position on Kashmir. It will not be possible for Islamabad to accept India’s unilateral decision of Aug. 5 last year, stripping Jammu and Kashmir of its special legal status and splitting it into two union territories. I underlined that from Islamabad’s viewpoint, there was no point in talking to New Delhi if there was no serious hope of tangible results.
By engaging with India in sterile dialogue, or for that matter hold backchannel talks, Pakistan will only legitimize New Delhi’s unconstitutional actions.
International mediation on Kashmir is now inevitable, and the United Nations is best placed for the task, provided its Secretary-General can be suitably mandated by the UN Security Council.
Alternatively, the US, Saudi Arabia or UAE can mediate behind the scenes as mediation in the public domain might stumble into stalemates. Even countries like Norway, those with some mediation experience, could be helpful. However, it is important to keep the entire process confidential until it reaches its logical conclusion.
As for Afghanistan, as the peace deal seems to inch closer, the US will prefer not to leave the country and its rich natural resources to China and Russia. Leaving Afghanistan sans a sustainable modus vivendi is also not a plausible option. The Kabul regime and India are particularly averse to the idea. In fact, some actors (both internal and external) may prefer the instability to continue in Afghanistan as the present situation serves their immediate to long-term interests.
Pakistan has its own limitations and the US needs to understand this. The former may have some influence over Afghanistan but it is not in a position to force the Taliban into accepting conditions that could result in playing second fiddle to the Kabul regime.
On China-Pakistan relations, the US is visibly uncomfortable, especially when it comes to the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). CPEC is indispensable for the success of the BRI and the latter, as envisioned by President Xi Jingping, is considered as the sine qua non for China’s supremacy in the years to come. It is, therefore, understandable why the US continues taking public potshots at CPEC, projecting it as contrary to Pakistan’s long-term economic interests. Pakistan is advised to be careful lest it ends up like Sri Lanka which, left with no option, had to make uneasy compromises on its Hambantota port.
It goes without saying that Pakistan considers CPEC a “game-changer” for an economic turnaround, making Pakistan a regional economic hub and pivot to China’s drive toward realizing its global economic potential. Moreover, China, unlike the US, is seen as a reliable strategic partner standing by Pakistan in difficult circumstances.
Given the regional and global geo-strategic and geo-economic realities, there is no way Pakistan can ever be a strategic partner of the US. However, this does not mean that the two countries cannot build a mutually beneficial relationship wherever their interests converge. Pakistan does not have an either/or option. It needs both China and the US.
But as India prepares to receive President Trump for the first time, people in Pakistan will be watching very closely to see what he says regarding Kashmir. The US must show an understanding of the challenges Pakistan faces and needs to revisit some of its policies in the region.
Will Trump, while in New Delhi, urges Modi to de-militarize the region and agree to mediation for working out a just solution in accordance with the aspirations of the people of Jammu and Kashmir? We will soon know.