Can Pompeo visit reset Pak-US ties?

By Sajjad Malik
0 Comment(s)Print E-mail, September 5, 2018
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U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo speaks during a press briefing in Washington D.C., the United States, Aug. 16, 2018. [Photo/Xinhua]

Relations between Pakistan and the United States are passing through a difficult phase. There are genuine concerns and grievances on both sides and one wonders if Secretary of State Mike Pompeo during his visit to Islamabad on September 5 can fix some of them.

Two important events ahead of Pompeo's trip provide ominous tidings for his interactions with his hosts. First, Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif became the first foreign leader to travel to Islamabad after the new government took office. 

Pakistan's foreign ministry said in a statement after the meeting between Zarif and his counterpart Shah Mehmood Qureshi that Islamabad supported Tehran in his recent tiff with the U.S. over the nuclear issues. 

Donald Trump unilaterally dumped the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, commonly known as the nuclear deal. Pompeo was tasked to read the riot act and issued a list of demands for Tehran to fulfill before any new deal is negotiated. 

Second, the Pentagon announced just days ahead of Pompeo's planned visit to cancel $300 million in aid to Pakistan, citing its failure to act against certain militant groups allegedly using Pakistan's soil to launch attacks across the border.

Pakistan has diverged with the U.S. on the issue. Not only has it rejected the accusation about inaction against militants but also the description of the stalled money as "aid." 

Foreign Minister Qureshi said that the funds were not "aid or assistance" but the reimbursement of past expenses made by Pakistan in the fight for a common objective to defeat militants and create peace and stability. 

It means that the U.S. has stopped its payments to Pakistan under the Coalition Support Fund which provided for reimbursing the expenditures incurred by Pakistan in the fight against terrorism and its provision of various kinds of logistic support to the U.S. forces. 

What can we make out of these developments just days before the visit of Mike Pompeo whose task also includes creating a rapport with the new government of Prime Minister Imran Khan? Interestingly, Khan had been an ardent opponent of the war on terror and advocated the policy of dialogue to address the issues of militancy. 

He has also demanded in the past that Pakistan should part ways with the U.S. over the issue of the war on terror and stop fighting against the militants as it was an "American war." Khan also continuously opposed the drone strikes in tribal regions close to the Afghan border. 

Pompeo's difficulty is not only how to handle Khan but also Donald Trump who has been wary of what he calls "Pakistan's double game," and has been pushing for a tougher policy against it. Trump also questioned the logic of financial assistance and has been instrumental in effectively choking up the bulk of it. 

The root cause of differences is the issue of militancy in Afghanistan and the persistent demand by U.S. leaders that Pakistan should act against the Taliban and Haqqani network. Pakistan's position is that it has expelled all militant groups and it is not providing any kind of support to those fighting against NATO and Afghan forces.  

Officials in Islamabad also believe that the U.S. is using Pakistan as a whipping boy to hide its massive failures in Afghanistan. They also say that the U.S. gave India an upper hand in the affairs of Afghanistan to the detriment of Islamabad and allowed India to use Afghan soil to support militant activities inside Pakistan.

Successive governments in Pakistan and the U.S. have failed to address this basic disjuncture. In order to bring the relations to an even keel, Pakistan needs to meet U.S. demands for a decisive action against militants in return for Washington addressing Pakistan's concerns about India and the Afghan government. Islamabad also needs U.S. economic support to get out of its current financial difficulties. 

Pompeo should know that any kind of high-handedness will absolutely fail and backfire as the new government is not in a position to absorb even a little bit of pressure. Imran Khan will be discredited if he took any unilateral measure to satisfy Pompeo or Trump.

Conversely, the secretary of state will expect visible progress on his demands to calm the situation in Afghanistan without showing any appeasement towards Pakistan. The margin of give and take is slim but there is always room for progress in diplomacy. 

Sajjad Malik is a columnist with For more information please visit:

Opinion articles reflect the views of their authors, not necessarily those of

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