Tillerson's visit to Islamabad

Daily: Daily Times
Date: 28.10.17

The simple lesson war has taught to human being is that prefer the table of negotiations to
the battlefield to settle mutual differences. The sooner the better.

On October 24, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson visited Islamabad on the request of
Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Khawaja Muhammad Asif. The aim was to reopen the door of
negotiations – even if under the ruse or rubric of giving Pakistan a “second chance” – after
Pakistan refused to welcome any visiting US officials trying to explain US President Donald
Trump’s policy speech delivered on August 21 on Afghanistan and South Asia.

The first victim of nonchalance was Alice Wells (the Acting Assistant Secretary of State in-
charge of South and Central Asia, and Acting Special Representative for Afghanistan and
Pakistan), who had to postpone her visit to Islamabad scheduled for August 28. It was the
Xiamen (or BRICS) declaration of September 4 that made Pakistan awaken to its isolation in
the region. The declaration acknowledged the presence of certain terrorist networks
functional in the region (but having their roots in Pakistan) wrecking peace in both
Afghanistan and India. Pakistan learnt that circumventing negotiations ceased to be an
option. Khawaja Asif had to rush to the US to explicate Pakistan’s position and invite
Tillerson to Pakistan.

Before flying for Pakistan (and then for India), Tillerson made it clear while in Afghanistan
that the linchpin of Trump’s Afghanistan and South Asia policy was the conditions-based
approach: make a choice between compliance and consequences. Here, the term
compliance means “do more” whereas consequences is self-explanatory.

Contrary to past practices, this time the US officials did not hold separate meetings with the
Pakistan government and the army, as these meeting engendered more problems than
solutions not only at the civil-military level in Pakistan but also at the Pak-US bilateral
diplomatic level. The US delegation led by Tillerson negotiated with the Pakistani delegation
led by Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, while Pakistan’s Foreign Minister, the COAS
General Qamar Javed Bajwa and DG ISI Lt. General Naveed Mukhtar were in attendance.

In the meeting, Pakistan’s civil-military duo unanimously reassured the US delegation at
least two points. First, Pakistan was not forsaking the war on terror; instead, Pakistan was
committed to fighting it. That is, in the war against terror, Pakistan and the US were
strategic partners who would solemnly continue bilateral cooperation and strengthen
bilateral ties, especially in the economic area. This is how the objective of both Pakistan
and the US was declared shared and fused. Second, Pakistan was not distancing itself from
the future of Afghanistan; instead, Pakistan was cognizant of the happenings ravaging
Afghanistan’s future. That is, Pakistan and the US were strategic partners who would
establish a stable, peaceful Afghanistan, and in order to meet this objective both would
eliminate terrorist groups including the ISIS. These two points must have allayed the US
concerns surfaced after Pakistan’s National Security Committee reacted on August 24 to
the August 21 speech of US President Trump.

In the meeting, there also emerged five major disagreements between Pakistan and the US.
First, though Pakistan claimed that it contributed significantly to the war in the past – the
effort was duly acknowledged by the US delegation – and produced results on the ground,
the US delegation delivered the message of US President Trump that Pakistan needed to
“do more” on this account. In this regard, Pakistan may appreciate that the Xiamen
declaration made Pakistan’s “no more” stance untenable.  

Second, though Pakistan claimed that it fought the war on terror wholeheartedly, the US
delegation was of the view that Pakistan fought its part of the war on its soil to protect itself,
leaving no impact on the US part of the war on terror being fought in Afghanistan. This is
the point which underpins the “do more” refrain of the US.

Third, though Pakistan claimed that it eliminated all safe heavens of Afghan Taliban from
Pakistan, the US delegation claimed that the footprints of these militants could be traced to
Afghan settlements around Quetta and Peshawar. In this regard, Pakistan thinks that it has
no solution for the problem except to send all Afghan refugees back. That is, in the
presence of Afghan refugees, Pakistan was incapable of stopping the back and forth
movement of these refugees across the border and that Pakistan was not responsible for
the acts of these refugees in Afghanistan. One angle could be that this is a genuine excuse
but another angle could be that this is a phony one, as the US cannot ask Pakistan to push
all Afghan refugees back to Afghanistan. The US delegation considered that these Afghan
suburbs were the support base of the Afghan Taliban active against the Kabul government.

Fourth, though Pakistan was committed to facilitating a peace process in Afghanistan, the
US delegation thought that the role of India could also be noteworthy not only financially in
the reconstruction of Afghanistan, but also strategically in the fight against terrorism.
Pakistan is apprehensive of the multiplication in the role of India in Afghanistan.

Fifth, though Pakistan was disposed to playing its part in promoting peace and stability in
South Asia, the US delegation considered that Pakistan be kept on looking to its western
border. Though Pakistan conveyed that peace and stability in the region was not possible
without the resolution of the Kashmir issue, where human rights violations were now daily
occurrence, the US delegation tried to make Pakistan realize that peace in Afghanistan
would bring stability and security in the region including Pakistan.

In short, the “do more” refrain is constant as a demand, which is now more an ultimatum
than a collaborative attempt. However, the additional demand to vet and curb Afghan
habitations in the outskirts of Quetta and Peshawar is worrisome. Similarly, to put more
pressure on Pakistan, India is offered multiple declared roles in Afghanistan. Moreover, this
is perhaps the first time the US has openly commented on Afghanistan’s potential to export
instability and insecurity in the region especially to Pakistan. Shoving all agreements aside,
one can find disagreements replete with ominous signs for Pakistan.

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