US State Department Assistant Secretary for South Asia and Central Asia, Alice Wells is arriving Islamabad to discuss matters pertaining to the resolution of Afghan conflict , terrorism and economic matters with senior government officials. The US South Asia strategy will be discussed, particularly in the context of Afghanistan and Pakistan’s stated commitment to eliminate all terrorist groups, which the former still believes to be present on the latter’s soil. Besides this, shared interests to build economic commercial ties will also be touched upon.
The US perceives that Pakistan posses a great leverage over Afghan Taliban to persuade them to accept President Ashraf Ghani offer for a dialogue to restore peace and stability in Afghanistan. This wrong perception gained currency from the irresponsible statements of certain federal ministers who were least concerned with foreign policy. That is why Alice Wells stated on March 11 that Pakistan can play a much more important role in shaping Taliban behavior. She stressed on Islamabad’s critical role to provide incentives to Afghan Taliban for undertaking negotiations with Ashraf Ghani Government.
The perception that Pakistan alone can convince the Afghan Taliban to come on table and hold peace talks with the Afghan government is not correct. Foreign Minister Khwaja Muhammad Asif told the Tashkent Conference on Afghanistan that there is a dire need of collective pressure on the Afghan Taliban and other insurgent groups in order to bring them to the negotiation table and push forward the moribund Afghan peace process. Pakistan has constantly called for the resolution of lingering Afghan Conflict through a political settlement, for which it has all-along supported the international and regional peace initiatives. Bringing Taliban to the dialogue table and restoration of peace and stability in Afghanistan is the shared responsibility of the international community.
The United States has not appreciated Pakistan’s efforts and sacrifices in war on terror. Defense Minister Khurram Dastagir, in an interview with Voice of America, complained that the strained relationship between Pakistan and United States stems from Washington focus on military partnership alone with Islamabad rather than engaging the country as democracy. He argued that the ambivalence in US approach pushed Pakistan to turn towards China and initiate rapprochement with Russia. The US-Pakistan relationship has suffered as successive White House administrations have blamed the country for not doing enough to eliminate terrorist sanctuaries along the Pak-Afghan border. The US move to put Pakistan back on the grey list of FATF if in June if it fails to improve its anti money laundering and counter terrorism financing regime.
It is a good omen that Alice Wells, in her meetings with government officials, will also dwell upon the matters of shared interests to strengthen the bilateral economic and commercial ties. The economic situation of the country is precarious and Pakistan will go for a fresh IMF bail out package to meet its external debt payment liabilities and balance of payments obligations because of ballooning trade deficit. The United States control 70 percent voting rights in the IMF and World Bank and the strained relations between these two allies may hinder the prospects of much needed economic assistance on concessional terms and conditions from the international lending institutions. Hopefully, the ruling political leadership will do a comprehensive homework for improvement of relations between the two countries by removing all the irritants.