Still finding direction?
How must Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi be feeling after US Director of National Intelligence Daniel Coats’ presentation, before the US Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, about militant safe havens in Pakistan, cross-border threats, and all that? Wasn’t it only last Sunday that Qureshi claimed Islamabad had “reset” relations with Washington? This, of course, was after there seemed some momentum in the US-Taliban talks – which Pakistan of course felt it had played some part in facilitating – only to find that the Taliban poured cold water over all the excitement all over again. Now it turns out that the Americans are just as concerned as ever about the militant threat from Pakistan in 2019.
It says something about Pakistan’s sense of the situation that the Americans are openly debating these issues when Pakistan just might be playing a pivotal role in the talks with the Taliban. That could mean that Qureshi’s other claim, that the relation with Washington had moved from a transactional to a strategic nature, is also not quite true. That Coats also brought up concerns about Pakistan’s nuclear program will give Islamabad yet more nightmares; not the least since that opens debates about theft, security incidents, etc.
That fact is that the Trump Administration views Islamabad only through the prism of Afghanistan. Already many in the western media are claiming that Trump’s tough approach, of cutting off the money line, has pushed the Pakistanis into pushing the Taliban to talk, even though the Taliban’s actions prove otherwise. And so long as Islamabad is willing to help wrap up the long, ugly war, perhaps something mutually beneficial can be worked out. But for the moment, as Coats noted, the Americans are continuing to exert pressure on the cross-border militancy front. If anything, now their concerns have increased from just Afghanistan to “neighbouring countries and beyond.” It seems PTI will have to take another U-turn; this time on one of its foreign policy boasts.