South AsiaUS-Pakistan relations

Pakistan sells civil-military unity to Pompeo as ties ‘reset’

The future of Afghanistan and militancy on Af-Pak border dominated talks during US Secretary of State's visit to Islamabad

September 6, 2018 4:55 PM (UTC+8)
PM Imran Khan, left, talks to US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, second right, as Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi, center left, listens during their meeting at the PM's Office in Islamabad. Photo: AFP / Pakistan Press Information Dept / Ho

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo met on Wednesday with the newly elected Pakistan government headed by Prime Minister Imran Khan during a five-hour visit to Islamabad.

The Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff General Joseph Dunford accompanied Pompeo, who met with Pakistan Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi, Pakistan Army chief General Qamar Bajwa and Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) director-general Lt General Naveed Mukhtar.

The future of Afghanistan and continuing militancy in Pakistan dominated the talks. Pompeo echoed the Trump regime’s position on Islamabad not doing enough to uproot safe havens of militant groups in the country, sources privy to the meeting told Asia Times.

“Pompeo said that as long as terror groups function along the Afghan-Pak border, the security situation in Afghanistan cannot improve, and said that Pakistan hasn’t done enough to counter these groups,” a senior Pakistan government official told Asia Times.

Action sought against Haqqani network

“The US wants decisive action against the Haqqani network and wants Pakistan to play a constructive part in shaping the future of Afghanistan,” the official added.

However, both agreed that it was time for their countries to “reset” their ties given that there is a new leadership in Islamabad.

The US delegation’s assertions in the meeting followed the cutting off of $300 million worth of aid to Pakistan, over “unsatisfactory progress in combating terrorism”.

“The rationale for [Pakistan] not getting the money is very clear. It’s that we haven’t seen the progress that we need to see from them,” Pompeo told reporters before taking off for his South Asian tour.

There was a moment of angst for the new Pakistan government last week when the US State Department sent the transcript of last month’s phone conversation between Khan and Pompeo after Islamabad had questioned the State Department’s statement on the conversation including discussion on “terrorists operating in Pakistan”.

Senior officials from the Pakistan Foreign Office revealed that neither the call, nor the aid cut, was brought up during the talks with the US Secretary of State. However, the US delegation maintained during the talks that Pakistan could face further cuts if militant groups continued to function in the country.

Military sources reveal that the US believes military ties with Pakistan are crucial to propping up support from Islamabad with regard to Washington’s Afghanistan policy. This was reiterated by Pompeo in a separate meeting with Army Chief General Bajwa.

‘Stick for the govt, carrot for the military’

“Despite keeping a harsher stance with the civilian leadership, [the US delegation] incentivized cooperation for the Army leadership. The stick was reserved for the civilians and the carrot was for the military,” a senior military official told Asia Times.

Analysts say that with Pakistan Army’s hegemony on foreign and security policies, Washington wants the Pakistan military to toe its line and is willing to offer benefits in the shape of military aid and cooperation.

What was also critical in Islamabad’s bid to avoid tension with the US, officials said, was for civil and military leaders to be “on one page” during their meetings with the US delegation. “In the past a clear divide between the civilians and the military has been visible to the US officials, which they’ve regularly expressed frustration about. Hence, it was important to show the Pompeo-led delegation that the new Pakistani government and the Pakistan Army are on one page and will work with Washington as one unit,” the military official added.

While claims of a fresh start echoed from both sides, skepticism still hovers over Pakistan and US ties given the tumultuous history of the relationship. Ties between the two countries would be gauged through the Afghan prism, and the security situation along the Afghan-Pak border.

The Pakistani leadership concedes that the US has been critical of Islamabad’s role in the regional security situation, but says that Washington’s allegations are disproportionate.

“It would be wrong to say that we do not differ on many issues. But as a matter of fact there is a better atmosphere now to move ahead,” said Pakistan Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi. “[However] it would be wrong to say that the entire problem lies on our side of the border.”

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