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Thursday May 10 2018

Pakistan’s diplomatic limbo in DC

Pakistan and the US have witnessed a tumultuous relationship in the post 9/11 period and there is no sign of this relationship experiencing an upswing any time soon. The US has not only withheld aid but also pushed for placing Pakistan on a global terror financing watch-list, which is to be released in June. The fact that we again do not have a foreign minister, or a full-time ambassador in the US, is certainly not reassuring.

Long gone are the days when Pakistan was still viewed as a longtime strategic partner, which had even played an important role in facilitating US-Chinese rapprochement during the Nixon era. Policy and opinion makers in the US are tired of hearing about how Pakistan helped defeat the Soviets in Afghanistan and how it was abandoned subsequently. These grievances are rebutted by claims of Pakistan’s deflection of US aid during the proxy war in Afghanistan towards countering India.

It is unfortunate that we did not even have a foreign minister till this past August, and the foreign minister we got did little to assuage negative western perceptions of Pakistan. His tit-for-tat reaction to President Trump’s harsh tweet about Pakistan’s ‘deceitfulness’, where he called the US a “friend who always betrays” us, did not win us much sympathy in DC. However, the Supreme Court disqualification of Khawaja Asif has again left the country’s foreign ministry rudderless, and this is how it will probably remain until after the coming general elections.

Pakistan urgently needs not only a capable foreign minister, but also an exceptional ambassador to the US. Our foreign minister and our top diplomat in the US should possess the charisma and insight to go beyond denying charges of duplicity, or trying to rebut them by adopting an increasingly hostile posture.

We need diplomats who can help project a more nuanced and sympathetic understanding of Pakistan’s regional insecurities, rather than merely bemoaning how we have been turned into a scapegoat for the failures of American interventionism. Our ambassador to the US needs to make opinion makers and legislators within the US realize the folly of a myopic Af-Pak approach, as they simultaneously pursue a multifaceted engagement with India to counteract China. In the absence of more creative diplomatic leadership, Pakistan will remain underappreciated and distrusted.

Last summer, an audience at an influential thinktank in Washington, DC literally burst into laughter when our then-newly appointed ambassador to the US, Aizaz Chaudhry, asserted that Pakistan offers no safe sanctuaries to terrorists. This audience was much more sympathetic to the views of the former US ambassador to Afghanistan and the Indian panelists who blamed Pakistan for continuing to use non-state actors in its bid to retain strategic depth.

Pakistan watchers in Washington DC are aware of the growing collaboration between Pakistan and China, and there are varied speculations about what this collaboration will mean for Pakistan, and for broader strategic configurations within the region. However, our closer relationship with China does not mean that we can afford to ignore what the rest of the world thinks of us.

Such haphazard diplomacy will not be able to alter the prevailing negative perceptions concerning Pakistan within Washington DC which, for better or for worse, holds immense sway in how the western world views and deals with us.

- Ali is a development anthropologist.

Note: The views expressed are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Geo News or the Jang Group. 

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