Prime Minister Imran Khan has repeatedly made it clear that he is not waiting for the call from US President Joe Biden, but Foreign Minister and National Security Advisor have been signaling the US for attention and improved bilateral relations.
After dealing for more than seven decades with the United States, it seems that Pakistan’s political leaders have not learned that relations between both states have always been transactional. Now US wants to keep a minimalist, ad-hoc and tactical relationship with Pakistan which will be Afghanistan-centric. The meeting of National Security Advisors of both states in Washington showed that the US wants Pakistan for clearing the mess in Afghanistan, while Pakistan wants to have strong bilateral relations which should focus on geo-economics.
Opposition parties have been pressurizing the government by saying that Imran Khan’s cabinet could not arrange a call from the US President which is a diplomatic debacle. One aspect of Pak-US relations is domestic where political parties and the ruling party convey to the masses that they enjoy good relations with the US which is the cornerstone of their foreign policy. In any case, Imran Khan is a populist leader signaling the US with populist sloganeering which is more for domestic consumption rather than improving bilateral relations with the United States. The statements of the Prime Minister about military bases to the US were unnecessary and for improving his image among masses as he had lost popularity because of inflation and bad governance.
The last interaction of Imran Khan with former President Donald Trump was not properly arranged by the US State Department, but the President’s son-in-law Jared Kushner managed it directly through the White House. Imran Khan celebrated his meeting with President Trump as if he won the cricket World Cup, because he managed to make Trump speak about Kashmir for mediation. President Joe Biden knows Pakistan well as he was the Vice President from 2008 to 2016 and was an active member in the US Congress. It appears that the institutional apparatus and bureaucracy in the US State Department has been assessing Pakistan and they will speak with Prime Minister Imran Khan post-assessment.
The United States has already realized the role which they want to assign to Pakistan which will be to stand in competition with China. Pakistan has strategic compulsions which include dependence at global multilateral forums, infrastructure transformation, Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), and a shared vision on manufacturing military hardware with China which reduces Pakistan’s dependence on Western military equipment. Meanwhile, the US is not worried as it was during the Cold War because that was more of an ideological competition between liberal democratic setup and communism. Hence, when there is little convergence between the two countries, the US is more occupied in creating global institutional architecture like transatlantic partnership against China in the shape of Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (QUAD). How can Pakistan keep its neutrality during the strategic competition between the US and China? That is the tough question for Pakistan’s political and military leadership.
Meanwhile, Pakistan has not transformed its economy into a high-tech business industry which could create links between both states. The US has largely depended on Pakistan’s security apparatus, but that dependence has decreased.
Pakistan needs to update its list of talking points with the US since it wants to convince the US about mediating between India and Pakistan. However, the US does not have that leverage on India now where they could convince it to resume bilateral talks. Meanwhile, Pakistan has used the Kashmir issue to create awareness at international forums. Pakistan needs to have strategic autonomy to force India to come to the table as India has succeeded in establishing its strategic autonomy. Hence, requesting the President of the United States for help in Kashmir may be a good point for domestic consumption, but the US looks at India differently now.
Expecting a call from President Biden which can give Imran Khan some space to gain popularity in the domestic landscape may be futile, because any interaction between both leaders may not help to mend ties when the US does not expect Pakistan to change its position on China. In response to the BRI, the US and its global partners, are offering to Build Back Better World (B3W) where $ 40 trillion will be used for global infrastructure transformation.
Will this enable Pakistan to compromise on China? One can say there is many a slip between the cup and the lip.
The writer is a strategic and political analyst.