Pompeo Visit to Islamabad – Reset Relations, Reaffirm Commitments
United States Secretary of State Michael Pompeo along with the Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff Joseph Dunford, made a brief stopover in Islamabad on their way to Delhi to attend the Indo US 2 + 2 Strategic Dialogue.
As evident from the transcripts released of the meet by both sides, the basic objective of the visit was to reset relationship between the two countries across the entire spectrum to include, “economic, business, and commercial,” and to lay the foundation for a new partnership given that there is a change of government in Islamabad.
Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan naturally sought support for his development agenda where he is focusing on poverty alleviation, health upliftment and other issues.
Importantly Secretary Pompeo underlined that there was a need for both sides to deliver based on the joint commitments so as to build confidence and trust.
“We made clear to them that – and they agreed – it’s time for us to begin to deliver on our joint commitments, right. So we’ve had lots of times where we’ve talked and made agreements, but we haven’t been able to actually execute those. And so there was broad agreement between myself and Foreign Minister Qureshi, as well as with the prime minister, that we need to begin to do things that will begin to actually, on the ground, deliver outcomes so that we can begin to build confidence and trust between the two countries. That was the focus of the gathering”.
Pompeo agreed that the relations between the two countries are frayed but the “relationship military to military is one that has remained in a place.”
General Joseph Dunford was a part of the delegation essentially to exploit this continued strong military to military partnership and he indicated that, “General Bajwa and I agreed that we will leverage the military-to-military relationship to support the Secretary and the prime minister, and more importantly, President Trump’s South Asia strategy”.
These objectives were obvious given the preparations that were made for the meeting with the US having raised the tempo just days before by a public announcement of cut back in military assistance after Pompeo spoke to Imran Khan to congratulate him on the meeting as indicated below.
As the first interaction the meet has realigned short term intentions, however has this realigned interests of both sides on a common US South Asia strategy will be determined by the actions in the coming days and months.
Setting the Stage for the Meet
On board traveling to Pakistan Secretary of State Mike Pompeo outlined the purpose of the visit. He said, “So just a couple things. So first stop Pakistan, a new leader there. I wanted to get out there at the beginning of his time in an effort to reset the relationship between the two countries. We have worked closely with the Pakistanis in my role as CIA director. Our teams have been working together for a long time. There are lots of challenges between our two nations for sure, but we’re hopeful that with new leadership that we can find common ground and begin to work on some of our shared problems together. They have expressed good-faith intention to do so”.
He underlined that both he and Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff General Dunford new the Pak leadership well. “ We’ll also meet with General Bajwa, who we both know, who I’ve met with a number of times, as well as my counterpart, Foreign Minister Qureshi. So we’ll have three opportunities to walk through the complexity that is this relationship and hopefully begin to make some progress so that we can get back to a set of common understandings. So that’s really the very straightforward objective. I think it’s important to meet the new prime minister, Prime Minister Khan, early on in his time in office,” said Dunford.
Earlier in August United States (US) Secretary of State Michael Pompeo telephoned Prime Minister Imran Khan and congratulated him on forming the government. In the readout the Secretary notes that he spoke with the new prime minister and expressed his willingness to work with the new government toward a productive bilateral relationship. U.S. Secretary of State had previously indicated that he will have questions over IMF bailout to Pakistan but that aspect was not discussed during the call. However there was controversy after a read out of the conversation between the Prime Minister and Secretary of State about mention of terrorists operating in Pakistan. The Foreign Office in Islamabad stated that this was factually incorrect and this point was not discussed. The US State Department however indicated that there was no change to what was stated in the read out.
Outgoing United States (US) Ambassador David Hale during a farewell visit to Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi at the Foreign Office said that there was great interest in the US of Prime Minister Imran Khan’s reform agenda. Hale told the foreign minister that this, along with a “readiness to turn the page”, were the objectives of US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s upcoming visit to Pakistan on 05 September.
In signs that the US was stepping up pressure on Pakistan prior to the Pompeo visit to Islamabad, the US Department of Defence or Pentagon announced withholding of $ 300 million military aid to Pakistan. “Due to a lack of Pakistani decisive actions in support of the South Asia Strategy the remaining $300 (million) was reprogrammed,” Pentagon spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Kone Faulkner was quoted by Reuters. $500 million in Coalition Support Funds has already been withheld by Congress. Thus the total funds denied to Pakistan will be $800 million roughly accounting for 10 % of the Defence Budget of the country. This is possibly being done also to appease India as the 2 + 2 talks in New Delhi will follow Mike Pompeo’s visit to Islamabad where he would be landing a day before he is in New Delhi. The move is in line with the coercive approach that has been adopted by the Trump administration to bring Pakistan to book on supporting the Trump South Asia strategy. This has had marginal effect so far in that there has been limited response to curtailing terrorist groups operating in Afghanistan and there are allegations that Pakistan has in fact supported the operations by the Taliban in Ghazni.
The US administration also reduced vacancies for training and educational programmes that have been a key feature of bilateral military relations for more than a decade. Under the International Military Education and Training programme (IMET) Pakistan was allocated 66 vacancies for courses for officers which have been now cut back. This is however likely to have a negative impact overall losing the long established contacts that the United States had developed with Pakistan and forcing the country to turn to China and Russia in the future. The subtle influence that the US exercised on the Pakistani military by influencing their professional careers through exposures in American military establishments will now be passé.