Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan
Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan
Photo Credit: Twitter

The Prime Minister of Pakistan Imran Khan Niazi created a precedent by patting his own back right after alighting at the Islamabad International Airport when he told the supporters of the ruling Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf, “I feel like I am not coming here from a foreign trip but that I am returning after winning the World Cup.” There is no denying that the Pakistani Chief Executive never received such a media hype in Washington, albeit due in main to the communications craft by the Pak embassy out there in Washington.

“To create an appropriate ambience for the ‘historic’ summit Islamabad made hectic preparations, including engaging lobbies to put across Pakistan’s narrative”, appropriately said Pakistan’s former interior secretary and an ex-ambassador Rustam Shah Mohmand. The arrest of Hafiz Saeed, the so-called ‘mastermind’ of the 2008 Mumbai terror attacks, reflects Islamabad’s servile move for appeasement, although the general opinion is that Hafiz Saeed should not have been allowed to do what he has been doing for several years.

Maybe, the summit will break new ground in the somewhat cold relations between the two countries as even recently President Trump had publicly castigated Pakistan for not aligning its policies with the core US regional interests despite having received massive assistance from the USA. The shah-en-shah of White House even accused Pakistan of having cheated the US in the past. Maintaining a dignified calm, Khan assured Trump of ‘peaceful neighbourhood policy while outlining his vision of ‘Naya Pakistan' although still on paper.’

Nonetheless, the US President Donald Trump’s warm reception of Premier Imran Khan and a delegation that included the Chief of Army Staff General Qamar Javed Bajwa and the chief of Inter-Services Intelligence Lt General Faiz Hameed was a welcome relief to the Pakistani government which has been under increasing economic pressure at home. It is likely to contribute positively to the endeavour for rebuilding Pakistan’s image in Washington after years of US suspicions.

But the Cup that Khan imagines to have been lifted is in the Shakespearian language, for many, not all of whom are skeptics, is ‘airy nothing’ that seeks ‘a local habitation and a name’. The presence of ‘miltablishment’, especially the head of notorious ISI has independent diplomatic opinion. “For now, I think the Pakistani side would be happy with what they got,” agrees Umer Karim, a visiting fellow at the London-based Royal United Services Institute but he made no secret of his disapproval of the presence of General Qamar Javed Bajwa, and Lt Faiz Hameed alongside Khan, as if to woo Washington that developed a mistrust of Pakistan’s security establishment. “Those optics are optics of rehabilitation, re-engagement on a strategic level,” quipped Karim.

The Friday Times editor-in-chief Najam Sethi in his latest signed editorial in his usual sarcastic style wrote: “In a speech at the United States Institute of Peace, Mr Khan said he was ‘bowled over’ by President Donald Trump. Unfortunately, we haven’t heard any such reciprocal sentiment from President Trump. This is the same President Trump who called ex-Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif ‘a terrific guy’. The PTI government is crowing about President Trump’s offer to “mediate” the Kashmir dispute as a great initiative by PM Khan. Alas! There is no such mention in any press briefing or statement by the US State Department or White House, and New Delhi has swiftly put paid to the notion that any third-party mediation over Kashmir was ever mooted between Indian PM Narendra Modi and President Trump. Washington insiders clarify President Trump’s statement as another one of his notorious gaffes. Mr Khan claims that he did not seek financial or security assistance from the US because he abhors ‘dependency’. We note only that President Trump referred to the possibility of ‘incentivizing’ Pakistan in the distant future only if – and this is the Big IF – Pakistan were to ‘do more’ to facilitate the US end-game in Afghanistan.’

Media and academic commentators pronouncedly lament the past instead of looking up to the future. They see the IK-Trump summit as a prologue to more strategic trouble for Pakistan than an opportunity. Some Pakistani experts treat Washington as an “unpredictable” ally, especially in the ‘dangerously populist Trump era and are unsure about whether IK-team has cushion against the eventuality of the US readiness to revive the blame game in case the latest Afghan peace process fails.

William Millam, ex-US Ambassador to Pakistan and Bangladesh and senior policy scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington D.C. cautioned in his column for TFT “there is lingering doubt that Pakistan has the clout with the Afghan Taliban to get it to the table with the government, or to look at the statement more critically, whether it is willing to expend the chips it has with the Taliban on this goal”.

The writer is a freelance journalist. Views are personal.

- Sankar Ray

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