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Pakistan’s ‘options’

It’s less than a month before the United States formally withdraws all forces from Afghanistan. Yet, the US leadership has ignored Pakistan and negated its role in the Afghan peace process.  US President Biden has not had any contact with Prime Minister Imran Khan till date which highlights the friction between the two sides.

NSA Moeed Yusuf was recently in Washington accompanied by the ISI chief to hold comprehensive dialogue with his counterpart Jake Sullivan. Yusuf has expressed his frustration on the US President’s refusal to even have a phone call with the Pakistani leadership. He earlier said Pakistan was not expecting any call and has now stated that Pakistan has “other options” if the US consider a phone call as a concession.

Although Yusuf did not elaborate on his statement, the indication was certainly towards China with which Pakistan has cultivated deep ties and wants to expedite development projects. The failure of the US to even contact Pakistan’s leaders is seen as a diplomatic setback in their cooperation. It is noteworthy that no US President has visited Pakistan since 2006.

During Trump’s administration, the US severed $2bn in security assistance to Pakistan. However, Trump invited Imran Khan to the White House as it relied on Pakistan for a deal with the Taliban. Obama never visited Pakistan during two terms as relations worsened after the raid on Bin Laden’s compound.

The US State Department has assured Islamabad that Washington recongnises Pakistan’s vital role in restoring peace in Afghanistan. Pakistan was expected to play a role for a political settlement but US special envoy Khalilzad said a deal between the Afghan government and Taliban seems far away. The Taliban are demanding a new government with most power in their hands, while Kabul wants to bring them into the current system.

The United States cannot ignore Pakistan’s regional role or scale down relations. Despite the Indian hegemony and China’s growing influence, both sides should look beyond the Afghan issue and improve bilateral relations. The US cannot give up its political role despite withdrawing from the region. It should not give an impression that Pakistan has a significant rikw but practically continues to ignore it or else we would have no choice but to use “other options.”

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