On 27th of June 2019, East-West Center in Washington arranged a seminar on “U.S.-Pakistan Relations: Challenges to and Prospects of the Pivot from AFPAK to Indo-Pacific. Mr Riaz Khokhar (Research Assistant CISS and Asia Studies Visiting Fellow at East-West Center in Washington) presented the findings of his research project. The event was moderated by Satu P. Limaye (Vice President, East-West Center & Director, East-West Center in Washington) and Daniel S. Markey (Senior Research Professor and Assistant Director, SAIS, Johns Hopkins University) was the discussant.
Former intelligence officials, senior U.S. Congress staffers and researchers, Indian journalists and Pakistani Washington Embassy’s representative attended the event.
Salient features of the discussions were as follows.
- Mr Khokhar argued that the United States and Pakistan do not have the kind of convergence at the moment that they had during the Cold War era. Since the 1990s, and especially since 2004-05, Washington has demonstrated a clear tilt towards India, which it considers a counterweight to the rising power of China. Under the U.S.-India Strategic Partnership, Washington has made with New Delhi some agreements such as the Communications Compatibility and Security Agreement (COMCASA) and granted India the Strategic Trade Authorization Tier-1 status, which Pakistan believes have undermined deterrence stability in South Asia. Pakistan feels that the U.S. will lose its traditional mediatory role in the event of an India-Pakistan conflict, if New Delhi uses any of American military or communication facilities against Islamabad, since it would imply an indirect American induction in the South Asian conflict.
- Speaking of Afghanistan’s problem, he asserted that it constitutes the number one issue between Washington and Islamabad and is the only factor sustaining the bilateral relationship. Solution of the Afghanistan conundrum by mutual cooperation can create great goodwill between the two countries and may expand the bilateral relations in multiple, diverse domains of cooperation.
- About the U.S.’ stance on CPEC, he asserted that the United States was initially supportive of Chinese investments in Pakistan. The objective of CPEC—investments in Pakistan’s energy and transport infrastructure, for example—aligned with the American objectives of economic development in Pakistan. However, as the nature of the Sino-US relationship turned more competitive than cooperative, the U.S. started looking at Chinese investments anywhere in the world from a geopolitical lens and consequently adopted the strong opposition. And, since Washington has made a strong bet on New Delhi as the serious contender against the rise of China, it started towing Indian position that, for instance, CPEC passes through the disputed territory between India and Pakistan.
- The U.S.’ critical approach toward the CPEC, or Pakistan’s relationship with China, in general, is a very shortsighted approach. Pakistan needs foreign investments in its energy and transport infrastructure; therefore, if Washington opposes these investments coming from Beijing, it will result in more alienation of Pakistan. As a matter of fact, Pakistan’s relations with China are historical and have remained exclusive of its relationship with the United States. The way Pakistan’s membership in the U.S.-led security pacts in the 1950s was not aimed against Beijing; similarly, its strategic partnership with China will never be at the expense of its relations with Washington. Pakistan keeps a strong desire to have good relations with the United States, while remaining in a strategic partnership with Beijing.