WASHINGTON: US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will stopover in Islamabad on September 5 en route to New Delhi for the US-India 2+2 dialogue in what will be the Trump administration’s first contact with Pakistan’s new Prime Minister Imran Khan, a critic of American policies in the region.
Pompeo and Defence Secretary Jim Mattis are expected to arrive in New Delhi on September 6 for the twice-deferred strategic dialogue with their Indian counterparts Sushma Swaraj and Nirmala Sitharaman. But in what some might see as a throwback to the old routine of US officials looping visits to both countries, Pompeo will have an Islamabad layover to assess first hand the new prime minister’s outlook after Trump White House adopted a hardball attitude in response to Pakistan’s undermining US goals in the region.
President Trump had been particularly harsh on the country, starting with a New Year January 1 tweet in which he said, “The United States has foolishly given Pakistan more than 33 billion dollars in aid over the last 15 years, and they have given us nothing but lies & deceit, thinking of our leaders as fools. They give safe haven to the terrorists we hunt in Afghanistan, with little help. No more!”
On cue, the State Department and Pentagon have gradually whittled down aid and comfort, to the extent that the administration has even pledged to end military exchange and training programs that have been a cornerstone of ties between the two countries. Pakistan generals, including terrorist-supporting ones such as Musharraf and Kayani, have gone through US military academies, and generations of Pakistani officers have cashed in on the Pentagon’s International Military Education & Training (IMET) programs.
Some American regional experts have argued that ending such programs undermines US leverage on Pakistan although there is no evidence that the sinecure did anything to stop the Pak military from using terrorism as a state policy to fulfill their idea of a strategic objective.
With the Trump administration whittling down aid to Pakistan to a paltry millions from the billions in bonanza previous US administrations showered in the country despite its overt and covert support to terrorist groups, ties between Washington and Islamabad are now at an all time low. Additionally, Imran Khan, widely seen as a Taliban supporter and a Pakistan army stooge, is viewed with suspicion in Washington.
In fact, ahead of Pakistan’s recent election where Khan appeared to be pre-determined winner, the US the State Department had expressed concerns about “flaws in the pre-voting electoral process”, noting that these included “constraints placed on freedoms of expression and association” during the campaign period.
But over the weekend, ahead of the Pompeo visit, US officials dialed back criticism and said Washington looks forward to working with the new Prime Minister of Pakistan.
“We recognize & welcome the newly elected #Pakistan Prime Minister @ImranKhanPTI on taking the oath of office. The US. looks forward to working with Pakistan’s new civilian government to promote peace and prosperity in Pakistan and the region,” State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert said.
We recognize & welcome the newly elected #Pakistan Prime Minister @ImranKhanPTI on taking the oath of office. The U… https://t.co/8rrmT21C1n
— Heather Nauert (@statedeptspox)
The Pompeo mission will also help Washington and New Delhi coordinate their objectives and mission in Afghanistan where Pakistan is still seen as a key player – and a spoiler to date.
Ahead of the visit, the Trump administration has also demonstrated that it is willing to undermine alliance partners – such as NATO in the case of Turkey, whose economy is on the rack – to punish a regime that is hostile to the US.