Pakistan prime minister Imran Khan on Saturday arrived in Washington for his three-day visit to meet US president Donald Trump, accompanied by Pakistan's Chief of the Army Staff General Qamar Javed Bajwa and the director-general of Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) Faiz Hameed. This is the first time the two top generals are accompanying a prime minister for his visit to the White House.
However, the move isn't surprising, considering Pakistan's military history and the fact that it is a "praetorian state" where the military dominates the core political institutions and processes and calls the shots in strategic policies, as pointed out by defence analyst Brahma Chellany.
While Khan held talks with Trump on Monday, Bajwa met Defence Secretary Patrick M Shanahan, the new chairman of Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen Mark Milley and other senior officials in Pentagon to discuss the ongoing reconciliation process in Afghanistan. The Pakistani army chief has to deliver on Taliban cooperation and therefore, he is likely to be a co-signatory to assurances given to the US by Islamabad.
The US-Pakistan relationship has been strained in recent times, especially after Trump struck down $1.3 billion worth of aid to Pakistan in 2018. Washington had said that the aid would remain suspended until Islamabad takes steps against harbouring terrorists on its soil. Around the end of the year, Trump even accused Pakistan of “lies and deceit”.
Subsequently, following the 14 February Pulwama terror attack — the responsibility of which was claimed by Pakistan-based terror outfit Jaish-e-Mohammed — the United States supported India in its fight against terrorism. Washington told Pakistan to immediately stop supporting terrorists and also introduced a resolution with UK and France to blacklist JeM chief Masood Azhar as a global terrorist at the UN Security Council.
Since the Trump administration took office in January 2017, it has been seen as comparatively less tolerant than previous administrations of harbouring of terrorist groups on Pakistani soil. In one of his first policy speeches on South Asia in August 2017, Trump said the US could “no longer be silent about Pakistan’s safe havens for terrorist organisations, the Taliban, and other groups that pose a threat to the region and beyond."
The US has been “paying Pakistan billions and billions of dollars, at the same time, they are housing the very terrorists that we are fighting," Trump was quoted as saying. On Monday, Trump again reiterated that despite the aid being given to Pakistan, the West Asian nation wasn't giving anything in return to the US. In November 2018, Khan had slammed Trump for saying that Pakistan “doesn’t do a damn thing" for the US despite billions of dollars in US aid.
The meeting between Khan and Trump comes after what is being seen as a successful round of talks between the US and Taliban in Doha at the end of June, with Pakistan playing a role behind the scenes, given its influence over the Taliban. Also, just days before the Khan-Trump meeting, Pakistan arrested LeT chief Hafiz Saeed, sending him to seven days in judicial custody in what is being called a major appeasement move by the Islamic nation.
However, Bajwa and the new ISI chief Hameed are likely to face a barrage of questions and examinations in US, all directed towards one thing — a ceasefire by the Taliban. The army will, of course, expect that, given their decadal experience with negotiations on Afghanistan. Rawalpindi will be ready with a counter demand for resuming military training and provision of equipment, opines Tara Kartha.
Meanwhile, back home in Pakistan, Khan's relationship with Bajwa has reportedly developed strains over issues concerning the functioning of the government. According to a report in The Economic Times, Bajwa has been unhappy with the overall performance of the Khan-led government, including its handling of the Financial Action Task Force (FATF).
However, the report states that Khan wants to send a signal to the outside world that he is not the "military’s puppet" and therefore should not be treated as one and in order to do so, he has started "snubbing Bajwa in one form or the other".
The report also says that Bajwa, who is set to retire in November, wants an extension and for that, he has sought the help of the US to put pressure on Khan.
In light of these internal developments, it will be interesting to see what the politico-military delegation of Pakistan will be able to score in the White House during its first official visit to Washington.
With inputs from agencies
Updated Date: Jul 23, 2019 18:56:23 IST