Ahead of Pompeo’s visit
Pak-US relations, most likely, face a historic reset moment as Secretary of State Mike Pompeo comes to meet the new government in Islamabad. One after the other US actions have spoken louder than words – not that the Trump administration’s diplomacy has been much softer. And the implication, quite clearly, is that the post-9/11 arrangement, which saw Pakistan elevated to ‘major non-Nato ally’ and its debt rescheduled, will no longer hold. Not only has Washington put a cap on the Coalition Support Fund (CSF), despite the obvious fallout on the local war against terrorism, it is now in the process of slashing another $300 million in aid to Pakistan. Recently, Pompeo warned the IMF against lending to Pakistan, despite the risk of a nuclear armed sovereign defaulting without a bailout.
Until recently the relationship between the two countries’ militaries was not hurt by the usual, cyclical lows in the Washington-Islamabad equation. Senior US generals have been quoted, on numerous occasions, as saying that Pentagon-GHQ dealings are not affected by the politics between the two countries. But that, too, stopped recently when the Americans rolled back all training programs for Pakistani officers.
Strangely, Washington is tightening the economic noose around Pakistan just when it needs Islamabad’s help the most to wrap up its long war in Afghanistan. But asking Islamabad to help, and cutting off aid at the same time – when a new government is handicapped with almost zero fiscal space – only betrays Washington’s own increasing frustration and helplessness. Recent gains by the Taliban have embarrassed both President Ghani’s government in Kabul as well as hawks in the Trump administration. Isolating Pakistan, while also rejecting offers of mediation from Russia, will do the wider war effort no good, especially as the Taliban increase area under their control with every passing day. Pakistan, for its part, must make these issues crystal clear during discussions with Pompeo shortly.