The US delegation visited their Pakistani counterparts yesterday in Islamabad in what appears to have been a brief but cordial meeting. We may be entering a new phase in US-Pakistan ties.
The relationship between the two wayward allies had reached new lows during the past few years, especially in the final year of the previous government’s tenure. US President Donald Trump accused Pakistan of ‘nothing but lies and deceit’ in a New Year’s tweet, adding that the US was ‘foolish’ to give Pakistan $33 billion in aid.
Now, however, both sides seemed to have agreed to turn over a new leaf and begin collaborating on what US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said are ‘shared goals’.
Pompeo said Prime Minister Imran Khan claimed peace in Afghanistan was a priority for him. “I think he said they’re the number one or number two-advocate for reconciliation in Afghanistan. I said I think we’re number three-all of wanting that. So we have a shared goal there.” The US invaded Afghanistan after 9/11 and overthrew the Taliban regime in the final months of 2001. Since then the US has been bogged down in the longest war in its history, going on for 17 years now and dragging Pakistan down with it.
The visit was fruitful, however, as it has created a space necessary for further talks. The foreign minister of Pakistan, Shah Mehmood Qureshi, said that the diplomatic stalemate between Pakistan and the United States had ended after Secretary Mike Pompeo’s visit.
According to a report by the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction showed that the US has bungled nearly $70 billion in training Afghan security forces. According to some estimates, the total cost of the war in Afghanistan has reached nearly $850 billion, with thousands of lives of American troops lost. All this seems to have been for naught as the Taliban show no signs of relenting.
What began as a low-level insurgency in 2005-06 has now over half the country under its control. There have been concerns that the seemingly endless tactical victories by the Taliban will inevitably give them a strategic advantage. It would not be far-fetched to suggest that the conditions for talks between Washington and the Taliban are being set by the latter rather than the former.
Alice Wells, United States Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for South and Central Asian Affairs, held talks with the Taliban in Qatar which was described as ‘preliminary but useful’ by US officials. Wells also hailed Prime Minister Imran Khan’s stance on Afghanistan outlined in his inaugural address.
Washington needs a face-saving exit from Afghanistan, face-saving in front of the world and the American taxpayer as well. Pakistan’s support and assistance in this matter are necessary. Afghanistan was a key issue in the meeting between Pakistan and US officials at the Prime Minister House on Wednesday. Mike Pompeo held a delegation level talks with his counterpart Shah Mehmood Qureshi that last nearly 40 minutes before the Prime Minister, the Chief of Army Staff of Pakistan, the Director General of Inter-Services Intelligence joined the meeting along with Chairman of the Joint Chief of Staffs, General Dunford of the US.
According to Micheal Kugelman, deputy director of the South Asia program at the Woodrow Wilson Center, ‘All in all, it sounds and looks like this was a relatively cordial and controversy-free, albeit brief, series of meetings between Pompeo and his interlocutors in Pakistan.’ He also said that not much of substance could have been discussed in a two-hour meeting. The visit was fruitful, however, as it has created a space necessary for further talks. The foreign minister of Pakistan, Shah Mehmood Qureshi, said that the diplomatic stalemate between Pakistan and the United States had ended after Secretary Mike Pompeo’s visit.
The civilian and military leadership met the US delegation at the PM house, indicating a unity in narratives that had been sorely lacking in Pakistan for quite some time.
“I spoke out to Secretary Pompeo and made him understand the mindset and new approach of the new government under PM Imran Khan,” Qureshi told the media after the end of the meeting. ‘Pakistan wants to see and review its policies with the United States in a new light and have an approach that also involves its neighbors’. He also said that the meeting ended on a high note since Pompeo has invited the Pakistani foreign minister to Washington. Both sides seem to agree on the need for a political settlement in Afghanistan.
How does this meeting compare with previous ones? A similarly short visit to Pakistan was also made by an identical US delegation during the final years of the previous government’s tenure. The then American team merely repeated Washington’s mantra of ‘do more’, holding Pakistan responsible for the war it’s losing in Afghanistan. Not unlike previous visits, the American delegation went to India shortly after for a longer more elaborate round of talks with their Indian counterparts in New Delhi.
However, this time the ‘do more’ narrative seems to not have been repeated. Instead, a cordial atmosphere has been created that lends itself for future talks that could be productive. Furthermore, there was no separate visit to GHQ and the Prime Minister House. The civilian and military leadership met the US delegation at the PM house, indicating a unity in narratives that had been sorely lacking in Pakistan for quite some time.
Indeed, the foreign minister said so in his media briefing, that civilian and military narratives were not different this time around. ‘We are on the same page’, he argued. Another significant difference was that the senior leadership of Pakistan, i.e. neither the foreign minister nor the Prime Minister was not there to welcome the American delegation on the ground. Officials from the foreign office along with American diplomats greeted the US Secretary of State as his plane landed at the Nur Khan Airbase.