US re-engagement with Pakistan: Ideas for reviving an important relationship

A group of Pakistan experts in the United States, including former diplomats, has called for ‘pragmatic engagement’ between Pakistan and the United States based on mutual interest and what is attainable.

In a report titled, ‘US Re-Engagement with Pakistan: Ideas for Reviving an Important Relationship,’ the Pakistan Study Group has advised against ignoring or trying to isolate Pakistan. Pakistan “one of the world’s most populous, majority Muslim countries” that sits “at the crossroads of South, Central, and West Asia,” and is armed with nuclear weapons, “cannot and should not be ignored, isolated, or marginalized,” the report says.

“Walking away from the region has not worked out well for American interests,” the report adds, making several important recommendations on the “the form and level of engagement” between the two countries.

Authors of the report include former US ambassadors to Pakistan, Ryan Crocker and Cameron Munter; former Assistant Secretary of State, Robin Raphel; Kamran Bokhari, Director Analytical Development, New Lines Institute for Strategy and Policy; Toby Dalton, co-director and a senior fellow of the Nuclear Policy Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace; Husain Haqqani, former Pakistan ambassador to the US and Director South & Central Asia, Hudson Institute; Elizabeth Threlkeld, Director South Asia Program, Stimson Center; Dr Harlan K. Ullman, Senior Advisor, Atlantic Council; Dr. Marvin Weinbaum, Scholar-in-Residence, Middle East Institute; and Uzair Younus, Director Pakistan Initiative, Atlantic Council.

The report argues for “a modest pragmatic” relationship between the two countries while accepting the facts that the two countries differ on India, China, and Afghanistan. It also says the US will not be able to change Pakistan’s “strategic calculus.” But instead of relying on either inducements or threats to encourage greater cooperation, the report proposes that the two countries develop a framework for pragmatic engagement.”

The authors of the report state that “American security interests in South Asia cannot be served through benign neglect” of Pakistan and that US-Pakistan policy has often had a “circular quality.”

Noting disagreements on issues relating to terrorism, the authors of the report point out that the two countries “have often cooperated in sharing intelligence on Al-Qaeda, Islamic State, Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan, and Tehreek-e-Nifaz-e-Shariat-e- Mohammadi.” With US military withdrawal from the region, the report says that the need for counterterrorism cooperation with Pakistan had increased.
Taking cognizance of the close China-Pakistan relations at a time when the US-China rivalry is deepening, the report states that “one thing the US, has in common with Pakistan is a desire to ensure Pakistan maintains a degree of sovereign autonomy over its actions. The US prefers to see a Pakistan that is capable of independent decision-making and avoids becoming a Chinese proxy.”

Speaking about India-Pakistan relations, the report points out that “Pakistan has a vested interest in ensuring that the US remain engaged with the region and ensure a robust US role in preventing escalation of military hostilities.” Further, even though “the US sees no role for itself as a mediator in Kashmir” the report points out that “managing an India-Pakistan crisis, and preventing escalation remains a key American interest.”

At the same time the report notes that “for Pakistanis, Kashmir remains an important and emotive issue and expecting that Pakistan would give up its position on Kashmir might amount to crossing a red line.”

While acknowledging that any “expansion” in US-Pakistan commercial ties needs to be led and sustained by the private sectors in both countries, the report points out that “any encouragement provided by the US government would go a long way” because it remains “a vital economic partner for Pakistan, providing market access for Pakistani exports, capital in the form of foreign direct investment, and technical expertise critical to modernizing Pakistan’s economy.”

The report also argues for more cooperation in the fields of energy, climate change, and technological cooperation.

“American developmental assistance to Pakistan needs to be viewed from the lens of investment not for building influence but for enabling Pakistan to deal with its multiple challenges,” the report says.

The report states “A Pakistan that is politically and economically stable, is democratic and protects the human rights of its citizens, fulfills its human development goals, and has good relations with its neighbors is of interest to the United States.”

For this to happen the report calls upon the US “to continue its support for Pakistan’s civil society, media and press, academia, and policy world.”

The report includes a list of recommendations that focus on commonalities between the two countries “even if at the strategic level their interests diverge.”

It says that “It is not in American national security interests to isolate Pakistan or irreparably breach the relationship.”

“Decades of American efforts to strengthen Pakistan militarily have not resulted in Pakistan’s changing its views on India,” the reports stresses.

The Pakistan Study Group recognizes that resumption of large-scale military assistance of the variety given to Pakistan during the Cold Wat may no longer be feasible. “Maybe, it is time to understand that engagement should continue, even in the absence of large-scale military aid and transfer of equipment,” the group’s report says.

According to the report, “Sustaining US-Pakistan cooperation when it comes to weapons of mass destruction security is important. Going forward, security-related engagement including on nuclear should be done with more transparency.”

“There is a need to ensure open lines of communication between Pakistan and the US and to build relations between military officers in both countries,” says the report, adding, “An important way to achieve this is through training programs and programs like IMET a low-cost program that has over time provided a large dividend in helping build relations between officers of both countries.”

The report says that “It is in US and allied interests to help Pakistan reduce its economic dependence on China.” It also insists that “The US has an interest in supporting those in Pakistan striving to strengthen the country’s democratic institutions and the rule of law.” It recommends availability of fellowships, training, and mentoring programs, professional training and teaching opportunities to Pakistani journalists, think tankers, academics, and civil society personnel.

The American experts on Pakistan also not that “Without appearing to intrude in domestic politics, the US must make clear where it stands in its respect for media freedom, right to dissent, protection of religious freedom, and the rights of civil society in Pakistan.”

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