The possible way forward for Pakistan-US relations

As the United States and Pakistan approach 75 years of bilateral engagement, the relationship between the two countries is at a critical crossroads. While viewing the US-Pakistan relationship exclusively through the security lens seems to be untenable, the road ahead, in the broader context of the Afghanistan withdrawal and great power competition, remains murky.

trajectory of US-Pakistan relations

The recent engagement and interaction between the US and Pakistan are encouraging. A visible will exists to restore the traditional friendship between the two allies. The US was among the very few countries that recognized Pakistan just after getting independence from British rule in 1947.

As the United States and Pakistan approach 75 years of bilateral engagement, the relationship between the two countries is at a critical crossroads. While viewing the US-Pakistan relationship exclusively through the security lens seems to be untenable, the road ahead, in the broader context of the Afghanistan withdrawal and great power competition, remains murky. Nevertheless, there exists a willingness on both sides to avoid the lows of the 1990s even if the highs of the 1980s or 2000s are not possible.

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High-level mutual visits were enhanced and senior Pakistani leaders have been visiting the US often, including multiple visits of Pakistan’s Foreign Minister, Prime Minister, and Military leadership. Similarly, US officials have also increased visits to Pakistan.

The most recent visits are as:

Special Envoy for Biodiversity and Water Resources Monica Medina traveled to Islamabad and Karachi, Pakistan, March 15-17 to participate in the U.S.-Pakistan Climate and Environment Working Group.  She addressed climate and environmental issues of concern including climate-smart agriculture, water management, air quality, conservation, and plastic pollution. While in Pakistan Special Envoy Medina, who also serves as Assistant Secretary of State for Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs, engaged with government counterparts as well as private sector and civil society stakeholders on strengthening support for actions that tackle the biodiversity crisis, build resilience to impacts of the climate crisis such as flooding, elevate women in STEM, advance clean energy goals, and enhance science and technology cooperation.

The Department of State’s Bureau of Energy Resources Assistant Secretary Geoffrey R. Pyatt traveled to Lahore and Islamabad March 14-15.  As Pakistan recovers from devastating floods and the global energy crisis, the Assistant Secretary stressed the U.S. commitment to ensuring Pakistan’s sustainable energy future by promoting cooperation on regional energy security and the clean energy transition through the U.S.-Pakistan Green Alliance.

In Lahore, he visited the Lahore University of Management Sciences Electric Vehicle Labs to highlight technological advances made through U.S.-Pakistan cooperation. In Islamabad, he led the U.S. delegation for the U.S.-Pakistan Energy Security Dialogue. Assistant Secretary Pyatt also met with officials from the Government of Pakistan and participate in a roundtable with women leaders in energy.

Pakistan – US Counter-Terrorism Dialogue took place in Islamabad on March 6-7, 2023. The Pakistan side was led by Syed Haider Shah, Additional Secretary (UN&ED), Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and the US delegation was headed by Acting Coordinator for Counterterrorism, State Department, ChristopherLandberg. The two-day discussions covered a range of topics including counter-terrorism cooperation at multilateral forums, assessment of the regional counterterrorism landscape, cyber security, and countering violent extremism.

The US assistance projects in Pakistan were discussed, with a particular focus on capacity building in anti-money laundering and the justice sector. Both sides highlighted the importance of these projects in enhancing Pakistan’s capacity to counter-terrorism. The two sides shared their experiences in countering the financing of terrorism. They reaffirmed their commitment to addressing the common threat of terrorism in all its forms and manifestations. They also agreed to continue this dialogue and develop a better understanding of the terrorist threat.

During a recent Press Briefing, USSD Spokesperson Ned Price passed positive remarks including:

Washington will not let “propaganda, misinformation, and disinformation – lies” get in the way of any bilateral relationship, including the one it has with Pakistan.

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Regarding Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto Zardari’s meeting with US Secretary of State Antony J Blinken, Price said that both leaders had the opportunity to reflect on the 75th anniversary of US-Pakistani relations and talk about how the two countries can strengthen that cooperation going forward. “It is a broad-based bilateral relationship. The secretary underscored the resolute US-Pakistan commitment to Afghan stability and to combating terrorism as well,” Price said. “They also discussed ongoing engagement when it comes to our economic ties, trade and investment, climate, energy, health, and education,” he added.

Regarding expanding relations between two countries based on an education exchange program, Price said that “US’s educational exchange program, whether it’s with Pakistan, whether it’s with any other country, is a core element of our people-to-people ties.” “We’ve been fortunate to have Pakistanis studying here in this country. We have American students who’ve had the opportunity to study in Pakistan. Those types of exchanges are always helpful, are always valuable as we seek to understand our partners and, as Americans, seek to better understand the world, and as we have other countries better understand America,” the spokesperson added.

However, similar statements were given by Trump Administration, especially. Allice Well has been showing green pasture on many occasions, but, nothing happened on the ground. She visited Pakistan and made several announcements, but all of her promises turned false and no progress was witnessed on the ground. It seemed Trump Administration was not sincere with Pakistan, but, only wanted to impact of Pakistan-China relations, specifically damaging CPEC. Trump Administration used Media as a tool to distort China’s perception among the Pakistani public and spread fake news and fabricated stories. His offers to Pakistan were merely part of his anti-China campaign and wanted to isolate China from Pakistan.

It is hoped that Biden Administration will be sincere with Pakistan and place his policies on the ground and let make the masses in Pakistan see a real change. For example, China has invested almost US Dollars 30 billion in Pakistan and pledged up to US Dollars 72 Billion. The Joe Biden Administration should invest even more in Pakistan. He should remove all restrictions and facilitate US investors to invest in Pakistan. China has invested in and initiated projects of economic prosperity like Infrastructure developments, Power Projects, etc.

The US may also do the same but at a higher quality, more advance, and larger scale. The Chinese have supported Pakistan’s export to China, and the US should also make policies to enhance Pakistani exports in much more quality, volume, and variety. China has opened all disciplines to Pakistan youth for higher education and offered scholarships generously. The US should follow a similar approach.

Furthermore, it is recommended that the US should compensate Pakistan for buying expensive oil and gas instead of importing cheaper oil and gas from Russia and Iran due to American-imposed sanctions.

The US should not repeat its policy of “do more” and coercion, but, compete with other countries to help Pakistan. A real change in the US attitude toward Pakistan will ensure the comprehensive restoration of Pakistan-America traditional friendship.

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