Counterterrorism and Afghanistan is one area where the US and Pakistan need each other’s support. The US does not want to see Afghanistan once again become a sanctuary for transnational terrorist outfits
At a recent briefing, the Foreign Office spokesperson acknowledged that the change of government brought a positive shift in Pakistan’s relations with major powers and other countries. “I think it is very evident that there is a positive, forward movement; there is improvement and further strengthening of bilateral relations and cooperation with a host of countries.
That is evident from the series of interactions, the various visits and meetings that are taking place, the intense diplomacy that you have observed in the last couple of months,” the spokesperson replied when asked if the dismissal of Imran Khan government had had any impact on Pakistan’s relations with the outside world. One major development on the foreign policy front is the increased interaction between Pakistan and the US at all levels.
Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif held a brief informal interaction with President Joe Biden on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly session in New York and Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto and Army Chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa had back to back trips to Washington. This was in stark contrast to the state of ties between the two countries during the PTI government. The relations were so low that President Biden didn’t even bother to make a customary telephone call to the former PM Imran Khan. But despite the visible improvement or at least greater interaction between the two sides, the question remains: what’s the future of Pakistan, US relations?
Pakistan remained the most allied ally of the US. In return for offering its geostrategic locations to the US for advancing its interests in the region, Pakistan was the beneficiary of American assistance both financial and defence. The military hardware and F-16 fighter jets provided by the US continue to help Pakistan keep its many times bigger adversary at bay. February 27, 2019 dogfight between the air forces of Pakistan and India clearly illustrated how F-16 fighter jets were central to Pakistan’s defences.
But with the rapid rise of China at the turn of the 21st century, the US is increasingly turning to India. The relations between India and the US have grown immensely in all fields and New Delhi is a beneficiary of the latest military and defence equipment of the US. The idea behind propping up India as a major regional power is to counter China. In this scenario, many American commentators and retired diplomats have concluded that Pakistan figures nowhere in the US scheme in the long run.
The role of Pakistan is further undermined since the withdrawal of US forces from the neighbouring Afghanistan. But despite these developments, there seems eagerness on the part of the US to maintain a working relationship with Pakistan. The Biden administration’s move to approve $450 million for F-16 maintenance is evidence of that. India opposed the decision tooth and nail. The US, however, brushed aside New Delhi’s concerns, insisting that it will maintain a mutually beneficial relationship with Pakistan.
The US officials emphasised that the F16 package would help Pakistan’s counterterrorism prowess. Counterterrorism and Afghanistan is one area where the US and Pakistan need each other’s support. The US does not want to see Afghanistan once again become a sanctuary for transnational terrorist outfits. Pakistan too is seeking durable peace in the war-torn country. The US needs intelligence cooperation from Pakistan to keep an eye on all these groups while Islamabad may need Washington’s assistance to tackle these outfits if they regrouped.
There are also ample opportunities in the field of trade and investment provided Pakistan creates the right type of policies and environment. Given Pakistan’s economic challenges, the US support is also crucial for any financial assistance from international institutions controlled by Washington. For various reasons both sides will not seek divorce.