The government’s decision to postpone the visit of US Acting Assistant Secretary of State for South Asian and Central Affairs Alice Wells is a clear signal of Pakistan’s thought process with reference to the US’ stance shift regarding policy for the Subcontinent. After the volley of accusations and rebuttals in both public and private between the US and Pakistan – with Commander of US forces in Afghanistan, General John Nicholson making the strongest accusation to date on Saturday by stating that the US “knows the Afghan Taliban leadership is in Quetta and Peshawar” – the government’s postponement of the visit is entirely justified.
A reset is needed; even if the US and Pakistan are to retain a partnership (which might not be possible in the current political climate) accusing Pakistan on one hand and sending an Assistant Secretary of State to smooth things over is something Pakistan should not be accepting. The government might just be holding out on the US till the reported visit of Minister for Foreign Affairs Khawaja Asif to the Washington, or at least until the Trump Administration sends someone authorised to make actual decisions based on the US government’s wishes, and this is wise. Alongside this, Pakistan needs to work on diplomatic efforts with other states as well.
In this regard, Pakistan’s foreign policy has already been set in motion. On Sunday, Khawaja Asif embarked on a visit to China, Russia and Turkey, with the new American policy set to be a major talking point during his discussions with all three states.
There are also rumours that Ms Wells’ visit was postponed due to the COAS being out of the country. Even if the visit was postponed as a result of COAS Qamar Javed Bajwa being otherwise engaged – the Army chief is on a three-day visit to Tajikistan – waiting for the military leadership to issue a joint response to the inevitable accusations from the US is a smart move. The civilian and military leadership need to unite against the mutual threat of diplomatic isolation by the US and India.
Not just this, but Mr Asif is also right in asking for opposition parties to form a consensus on how to deal with the US’ change of stance regarding Pakistan. With a major foreign policy shift on the cards, banding together at this crucial time and developing a new way forward is instrumental – more eggs will inevitably be put in the China basket, with hopes for closer cooperation with Russia, Turkey and hopefully even neighbouring Iran for immense mutual benefit. Pakistan is not out of options even if the US is no longer a major ally and it is positive that the state is collectively coming to this realisation now, before it is too late to form counter-alliances of our own.