The past week, there was a media hype over Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan’s recent visit to the United States. His meeting with US President Donald Trump on July 22 was indeed crucial for both countries. The US and Pakistan, two old friends and allies, were becoming increasingly indifferent to each other for apparently no substantial reason. International financial institutions had suddenly subjected Pakistan’s fragile economy to immense pressure, with even ordinary Pakistani citizens feeling the pinch. At the same time, Trump wanted to disengage US forces from Afghanistan as early as possible. However, the Afghan Taliban, with whom Pakistan enjoys a certain level of influence, has not agreed to any face-saving withdrawal of Western forces.
The Khan-Trump meet was otherwise quite interesting. Two leaders well known for bluntness and straight talking were meeting to retune their relations and address urgent and critical national interests. To many people, the outcome of the meet was unpredictable. However, in the end, everything went well, and the two leaders understood each other’s point of view well and cheerfully promised to proceed further. There appeared to be a consensus. Pakistan undertook a challenging task: to persuade the Afghan Taliban to settle a “rightful” share of power with the Afghan government. The United States promised to check India’s “negative” influence in Afghanistan and help resolve long-standing disputes with India, particularly over Kashmir.
When Khan returned home after the US visit, he was welcomed as a hero. The reception at Islamabad Airport even pleasantly surprised the prime minister. The ruling Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party claimed that it was a historic visit and that relations between the two countries had been reset. The PTI further emphasized that there was scope for a resolution of the Kashmir issue as a powerful US president had offered mediation between India and Pakistan. The masses on the Pakistani side attached high hopes, and there prevailed a sense of jublilation.
In international media, the Pakistan Prime Minister US visit also attracted unprecedented positive coverage of Pakistan in mainstream and social media platforms. Trump hailed Pakistan’s help in advancing peace talks in Afghanistan, in a marked shift from the previous tone. He is seeking an accord with the Taliban for a graceful exit, a major foreign-policy objective, before the 2020 general election. This is meant to clear the way for most US troops to pull back from Afghanistan and bring an end to America’s longest war.
“We have made much progress over the last couple of weeks, and Pakistan has helped us with that progress,” said Trump. “A lot of good things are happening for the United States, and I think a lot of great things are going to happen for Pakistan under Khan’s leadership.” Thus the US president showed a lot of confidence and optimism.
Pakistan is one of the major stakeholders in the US-Taliban peace talks. It shares a border of around 2,400 kilometers with Afghanistan and houses more than a million Afghan refugees. Pakistan’s support would surely help Trump deal with one of his most significant foreign-policy issues – a great potential source of many votes for the Republicans in the next general election.
The United States enjoys enormous soft and hard power in the world. It would take very little to prove its sincerity to Pakistan. Unfortunately, last Saturday, Pakistan lost soldiers while patrolling the Afghan border. The US has sufficient intelligence to confront/neutralize Indian involvement there. The US desire to counterbalance China has revived India’s importance in the eyes of Washington since the mid-2000s. Since then, India has become a local hegemon believing that it remains indispensable to Washington.
New Delhi is keeping China, Russia and the US happy by simultaneously offering something to keep each power satisfied. This is exemplified in India’s ‘reset’ with China since 2018, buying the S-400 missile defence system from Russia, and signing the Communications Compatibility and Security Agreement (COMCASA)) with the US.
Quite recently, India, instead of attending to Trump’s sincere offer for mediation, sent 10,000 more troops into the Kashmir Valley. India already maintains a deployment of 500,000 heavily armed soldiers in the region, who routinely harass Kashmiri people. The new deployment is intended to counter any fallout from the planned scrapping of Articles 370 and 35A of the Indian constitution, which protect the special status of Kashmiri citizens until a final resolution of the dispute.
Pakistan, the Indian National Congress, the Hurriyat Conference and regional parties of Jammu and Kashmir, including the National Conference, the Peoples Democratic Party, the Jammu and Kashmir People’s Movement and others are opposed to fiddling with Articles 35A and 370. The said provisions give special status to Jammu and Kashmir, but the government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi continues to defy international norms and United Nations resolutions.
India and Pakistan have fought many wars and many in both countries are convinced that Kashmir is a political problem that they cannot resolve through force. Both nations need a face-saving solution. The US president has insight into the ground situation and has offered mediation. Trump could make a “Deal of the Century” by resolving the Kashmir dispute.
Peace in South Asia hinges on the normalization of relations between India and Pakistan. This is undoubtedly in the best political and commercial interests of the United States. President Trump and PM Imran Khan should remain committed to the promises made during the recent meet.