Army Chief’s USA visit: Divergence to Convergence

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Qamar Bashir

Deeply concealed within the labyrinth of the US Embassy’s website lies the US Integrated Country Strategy (ICS) for Pakistan, a document unearthed by a speaker at a round table conference hosted by the Pakistan Institute of Strategic Studies. This paper, dissected during the conference, delineates the fundamental priorities and objectives of US involvement with Pakistan spanning 2023-2027. It delineates crucial areas including combatting terrorism and violent extremism, advancing regional stability, integration, and security, fostering inclusive economic growth and sustainable development, alongside strengthening civilian democratic institutions and safeguarding human rights.

The timing of this conference held significant meaning, coinciding with the visit of Pakistan’s Chief of Army Staff, General Asim Munir, to the US, where he engaged in meetings with top US leadership. The visit strategically aligned with a reprimand aimed at India, reflecting US discontent regarding the killing of Sikh political activists by alleged rogue agents of India’s Research and Analysis Wing (RAW), first in Canada and later in the US. The visit also resulted in an official rejection of an invitation extended by Indian Prime Minister Modi to President Biden to attend India’s Republic Day, an event that has now been diminished due to Biden’s adamant refusal to participate. This development is perceived as a significant setback for India, which, without legitimate grounds, is endeavoring to position itself as a major global power.

The army chief’s visit is perceived as a crucial step toward rebuilding and fortifying trust and cooperation between Pakistan and the US. However, the success of this visit hinges on tangible agreements forged and the willingness of both sides to address longstanding issues of mutual concern, which may carry different connotations for Pakistan and the US. The stated objectives of the visit encompass strengthening military ties, bilateral defense cooperation discussions, intelligence sharing on regional security threats, and exploring avenues for potential collaboration.

Pakistan seeks US support in countering threats from groups like Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) in Afghanistan, while emphasizing economic cooperation and seeking assistance for its ongoing economic challenges. Urging a more constructive US role in stabilizing Afghanistan, discussions focus on countering regional threats and exploring investment and trade opportunities between both nations.

Discussions are likely to cover contentious issues straining relations between Pakistan and the USA, including the forced repatriation of Afghan refugees, Pakistan’s relations with Afghan Interim Government, Kashmir issue, China Pakistan relations with emphasize on CPEC, engaging IMF, World Bank and International Financial Institutions,  Russian Ukraine conflict,

. The US has vehemently opposed this, citing concerns about the refugees’ safety and well-being. Stressing Afghanistan’s instability and potential human rights violations, the US highlights Pakistan’s obligations under international law to protect those seeking asylum. It firmly opposes the forced return of refugees, citing potential violations of international commitments.

The US holds deep suspicions regarding Pakistan’s alleged support for the Taliban’s interim government. Moreover, the US has voiced concerns about Pakistan’s perceived lack of transparency and mistrust, casting doubt on its sincerity and the effectiveness of its cooperation.

Pakistan is engaging the Talibans’ interim government aiming for a cooperative relationship that prioritizes mutual interests, seeking moderation from the Taliban while averting Afghanistan’s transformation into an extremist breeding ground. The stance remains dynamic, navigating complexities while emphasizing stability, human rights, and bilateral concerns in this evolving Afghan landscape.

Despite varying priorities and mutual distrust, the US must rely on Pakistan’s declared Afghanistan policy and seek active cooperation. This collaboration aims to prevent militant and weapon movement across the porous Pakistan-Afghanistan border, leveraging Pakistan’s historical ties and economic influence to influence the Taliban positively. Additionally, the US seeks insights into Taliban activities and intentions, particularly concerning terrorist threats, aiming to promote regional cooperation and prevent Afghanistan from becoming a source of instability in South Asia.

The Kashmir issue has long been a delicate and intricate matter for the US focusing on fostering dialogue and diplomacy between India and Pakistan, advocating for peaceful resolutions of outstanding issues especially Kashmir. The stance underscores non-interference in internal affairs, recognizing Kashmir as a bilateral matter between India and Pakistan, refraining from taking a specific legal position or advocating for predefined solutions.

Pakistan’s Kashmir expectations from the US are a mixed bag. They crave acknowledgement of the issue’s international dimension, US-mediated dialogue, advocacy for Kashmiri self-determination, human rights pressure on India, and a balanced portrayal of the conflict. Neutrality, deep engagement with Pakistan, and action beyond just listening to India are also key. In essence, Pakistan wants the US to be a proactive and constructive player in resolving Kashmir peacefully, respecting Pakistani concerns, and seeking a lasting solution.

The US stance regarding Chinese involvement in Pakistan, particularly through initiatives like CPEC and military collaborations, is marked by apprehensions. It sees Chinese increasingly influence in Pakistan as challenges to US interests in the region, including Afghanistan and maritime security; worries about unsustainable debt and opaque financing within CPEC projects; unease about Pakistan’s deepening military ties with China and the potential transfer of sensitive technology with potential military applications; and the perceived threat of upsetting the regional balance of power, possibly leading to instability. The US emphasizes the importance of transparency in CPEC contracts, encourages diversification of foreign partnerships to prevent overreliance on any single nation.

Pakistan’s state policy toward Chinese relations and the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) centers on fostering a robust strategic partnership with China while maximizing the transformative potential of CPEC for national development. This policy underscores the depth of the Pakistan-China alliance, prioritizing mutual support on core issues while harnessing CPEC’s economic promise. Embracing CPEC as a game-changer, Pakistan positions it as pivotal for economic growth, job creation, and regional connectivity, emphasizing responsible management to safeguard national interests. Additionally, Pakistan aims for a balanced foreign policy, cultivating relations beyond China while nurturing cultural ties and remaining adaptable to evolving global dynamics.

The US wields significant influence over International Financial Institutions (IFIs), positioning them as potential tools to nudge Pakistan towards aligning with its strategic objectives. Through its sway over these institutions like the World Bank and IMF, the US prioritizes projects beneficial to its goals—such as regional connectivity and counterterrorism initiatives—compelling Pakistan to cooperate in securing vital funding.

Furthermore, the US holds the power to impact Pakistan’s global standing by leveraging assessments of creditworthiness and economic stability from IFIs. A negative evaluation could hinder foreign investment and access to credit markets, pressuring Pakistan to comply with US demands to avert potential economic isolation.  Beyond financial clout, the US exercises soft power through leadership roles in IFIs, subtly influencing policy discussions, advocating its values, and diplomatically pressuring nations like Pakistan.

Pakistan’s expectations from the US regarding engagement with International Financial Institutions (IFIs) like the IMF and World Bank revolve around seeking assistance devoid of stringent conditionalities or obligations. This encompasses favorable loan terms with lower interest rates and extended repayment periods, enabling economic reforms without hindering sustainable development.

Additionally, Pakistan seeks technical expertise in critical areas, aiming for institutional strengthening and capacity building to manage debt responsibly and implement effective reforms. Moreover, it anticipates the US to advocate within IFIs for its development goals and international trade agenda, while also seeking public recognition of its progress, without attaching any strings or obligations to the support provided.

The US holds nuanced expectations from Pakistan regarding its stance on the Russia-Ukraine conflict. Primarily, the US urges Pakistan to publicly condemn Russia’s invasion while reducing military ties, supporting humanitarian aid efforts, and diplomatically pressuring for a peaceful resolution. Additionally, countering Russian disinformation is expected. Recent but confirmed and unsubstantiated reports suggest that Pakistan might be providing non-lethal military assistance to Ukraine, potentially due to increased US pressures.

Pakistan’s official stance on the Russia-Ukraine conflict embodies a nuanced approach that has evolved over time. Notably, Pakistan has consistently abstained from UN resolutions condemning Russia’s actions, underscoring its pursuit of a diplomatic resolution. Emphasizing dialogue and diplomacy, Pakistan urges direct engagement between Russia and Ukraine while advocating for the importance of respecting international law and territorial integrity without explicitly condemning the invasion. Additionally, Pakistan expresses concern for the humanitarian crisis resulting from the conflict and calls for unimpeded access to humanitarian aid to address the escalating situation.

USA expectation from Pakistan on Israel-Hamas conflict would be hands off or to support Israel in the ongoing Israel Hamas Standoff, whereas Pakistan expressed its  unwavering commitment to supporting the Palestinian cause declaring  that Pakistan has no intention to send troops to Palestine and expressing grave concerns about the ongoing humanitarian crisis infringed by Israel in Gaza advocating ceasefire and restoration of international aid.

In conclusion, the Army chief inaugural visit to the USA is of paramount importance. With his pragmatic approach, he will be fostering convergence rather than divergence of views and strategies between Pakistan and the USA which are pivotal for the advancement of Pakistan’s progress, regional stability, and global peace and development. He will Find common ground with objectives regarding security, economic growth, regional stability, and humanitarian concerns for mutual prosperity.

It goes without saying that aligning efforts, addressing differences, and cultivating cooperation stand as fundamental pillars for a constructive partnership that not only benefits both nations but also contributes significantly to fostering peace and progress in the region and beyond.

Through shared objectives and collaborative endeavors, Pakistan and the USA can pave the way for a more stable, prosperous, and peaceful future, both domestically and on the global stage.