No doubt the most important foreign policy challenge for the new government would be resetting the relationship with the United States. And since Imran Khan has been perhaps the most vocal political opponent of the US war since 2001, especially its drone program which became central to the US war effort years ago, the direction of this new embrace will become clear in the first few months of the administration. However, Imran’s desire for a ‘trust based relationship”, after demanding a ‘relationship of equals’ for years, betrays a certain distance from reality that might cost the new government in terms of time and resources.
Imran has welcomed Washington’s decision to talk to the Taliban after almost two decades of unceasing, and senseless, war. But clearly America, especially the Trump Administration, could not care less what any other partner in the war might think. It has set itself the task of finally winding up the war that has already confounded two two-term administrations. And to do that it needs to come to an arrangement with the Taliban. For that, of course, it needs Pakistan to play ball. It’s just as simple as that from Washington’s point of view.
Also, Pak-US relationship is one of quantifiables, not trust or good will as such. They give us money for fighting a war and helping rein in rogue elements that allegedly shelter on our side of the border and attack US interests in Afghanistan. There are not many other angles, to be realistic, in this relationship. And this time Washington is, quite clearly, asking for more ‘do more’ from Islamabad. So much was hinted in Mike Pompeo’s speech, when he warned IMF against lending to Pakistan. While all experts are in agreement that America would never let a crucial country like Pakistan go belly up – we are facing default, after all – they also see Pompeo’s statement as just an extension of the ‘do more’ mantra; which means the money will be arranged as long as you accommodate our politics a little more. If Imran really wants a relationship based on trust, he must first work with the Americans to revise the working arrangement we already have in place.