Imran Khan visit to United States

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After a year and a half of frosty relations between the United States and Pakistan, which saw the cessation of U.S. security assistance to the Pakistan now indicate a thawing of relations between the two countries remaining sometime ally and sometime not.

The visit of Imran Khan has brought good news from USA after a U Turn from Donald Trump as well. Kashmir issue has been highlighted and Pakistan looks to be on road to get US support to get funds and political backing. Apart from this Imran Khan got historic reception from Pakistan community and representatives of Congress and Senate.

This visit has happened at the juncture of US and Taliban negotiations which is presumably moving towards an agreement. Since USA has more tilt towards India in the region hence PTI government has arrested Hafiz Saeed blamed to be the mastermind of Bombay blast and opened Pakistan’s space for Indian flights to mitigate some of USA concerns.

However the whole region has changed a lot in 2019. Arab world has aligned with Israel leaving aside Iran, Turkey and Syrian government with Palestinians fighting for their rights and dying.US China trade war is also on peak. So lots of pressures are hanging on this region.

Nobody can forget that just two years back, In 2017 President Donald Trump accused Pakistan of aiding and abetting militant and terrorist groups that targeted the U.S. military in Afghanistan. Subsequently he withheld $900 million worth of security assistance to Pakistan, and pushed for Pakistan’s inclusion on the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) on Money Laundering’s black list. USAID for FY 2020 for Economic Support and Development Funds for Pakistan is just $48 million, a significant cut from $200 million the previous year, indicating a downturn. But, as in 1979 at the brink of the Soviet-Afghan war, and in 2001 with the advent of the Global War on Terrorism, Washington once again finds itself needing Islamabad’s cooperation—preferably collaboration—as the former seeks to exit Afghanistan after a costly war effort of nearly two decades draws to an indecisive close.

Historically relations between the Islamic Republic of Pakistan and the United States of America have always changed its colors in different periods. On 20 October 1947, two months and six days after Pakistan’s independence, the United States established relations with Pakistan, making it amongst the first nations to establish relations with the new state. Pakistan allied itself with the U.S. during the Cold war era against the Soviet Union, and was an integral player in the CENTO and SEATO.

Worsening of relations following the election of the left-oriented Pakistan People’s Party under Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, relations quickly improved and deepened during Operation Cyclone in the 1980s by the military ruler Ziaul Haq, which was directed against Soviet expansion in Central Asia and South Asia, by funding and training Muslim mujahedeen in Afghanistan to combat the Soviet Union.

Relations once again soured after the collapse of the Soviet Union, when the United States approved sanctions against Pakistan by passing the Pressler amendment, which was enacted against Pakistan for its nuclear weapons program, which was initiated after the war with India in 1971 and accelerated after India detonated a nuclear bomb in 1974. Pakistan once again assumed an important role in American geopolitical interests in the region following the September 11 attacks, and the subsequent War on Terror. Relations were strengthened as the United States named Pakistan a major non-NATO ally in 2002—which allowed for the release of over $25 billion of aid to Pakistan. American recovery efforts following the 2005 Kashmir earthquake were widely appreciated by the Pakistani public.

Relations began to strain as both sides began to criticize one another’s strategy in the War on Terror, with the United States government frequently accusing Pakistan of harboring members of the Afghan Taliban and Quetta Shura, while Pakistan had alleged that the United States had done little to control security in eastern Afghanistan, where Pakistan’s most-wanted terrorist, Mullah Fazlullah was believed to be hiding. Furthermore, as a result of the Raymond Allen Davis incident in Lahore, the secret U.S. operation in Abbottabad which resulted in the death of Osama bin Laden, followed by the Salala incident, relations between the two countries became increasingly strained in recent years with high levels of mistrust. Public opinion in Pakistan frequently ranks the U.S. one of its least favored countries, and vice versa. In 2015, according to Gallup’s annual World Affairs survey, only 15% of Americans had a favorable view of Pakistan.

The United States can today engage in extensive economic, social, and scientific assistance as well as vital military relations with Pakistan, while Pakistan continues to occupy a strategic position in the United States’ interests in Central and South Asia. The United States is the second-largest supplier of military equipment to Pakistan after China, and is one of Pakistan’s largest donors of foreign assistance.

Further the time in 2019 is also different now in Pakistan. Imran Khan Government is the one with whom Pakistan establishment is standing with step to step. Earlier in any elected government establishment always half heartedly remained with the government. So when establishment of Pakistan that has remained the main catalyst in strengthening relation with USA is with Imran Khan, so a window of opportunity exist for the two countries to reestablish their turbulent relationship, and Prime Minister Khan—and his travel companion, the Chief of Army Staff General Qamar Javed Bajwa have almost played their role to seize the chance.

Prime Minister Khan is hoping that the optics of the trip will help him political gains respite domestic tensions, ranging from allegations of media censorship and crackdowns on political activists, increases in inflation rates and creeping doubts around the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). Domestically the religious extremists would also come in the list of opposition in addition to PPP, PMLN, JUI, JI, ANP etc etc after this trip.

The prime minister and the general have strived for the resumption of U.S. security assistance to Pakistan, which would help both political and security matters. A return to the U.S. fold while simultaneously continuing close ties with China will also allow Pakistan the ability to hedge against pressure from both partners and play them off each other for the benefit of Pakistani national interests.

Perhaps most importantly, the opportunity is going to play a role in the Afghan peace process that has significant bearing on Pakistani national security. As is anticipated the United States will eventually leave Afghanistan, but Afghanistan and Pakistan will continue to be neighbors. It will come as no surprise then that a friendly government in Kabul will be high on Pakistan’s national agenda, and Prime Minister Khan and General Bajwa will strive to ensure that President Trump remains committed to including Pakistan in the ongoing talks.

Pakistan has reportedly played a big part in the “substantial” progress in the negotiations with the Taliban, likely contributing to the thawing of relations between Washington and Islamabad. There is great debate in Washington’s policymaking community around Pakistan’s ambitions in Afghanistan, but the ground reality is that Pakistan will always have an existential stake in the region and no amount of U.S pressures can change that in an enduring way. Severing U.S. ties with Pakistan would, as history demonstrates, accomplish the opposite of compelling Islamabad to act according to Washington’s interests. By continuing to work by, with, and through Pakistan beyond the Afghan peace process, the United States can ensure that it still has some visibility and leverage over how Pakistan conducts itself in Afghanistan.

Hence Prime Minister Khan’s trip to the United States holds significant stakes for Pakistan and potential opportunities for the United States. It could bring benefits to both sides. With major implications for the Afghan peace process and regional security overall, the meeting between Prime Minister Khan and President Trump will certainly be very closely watched and time to come would see its implications.

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