US- Pakistan relations at a standstill

After President Trump’s vitriolic broadside against a major non-NATO ally Pakistan, last August, criticizing it for playing a double game in Afghanistan by allegedly supporting the Afghan Taliban, it was but to be expected that the first high-level contact between the two countries would be a tentative one. Vice President Pence made time on the margins of the current UN General Assembly to meet Prime Minister Abbasi. The meeting reportedly broke the ice. Pence did point to the utility of the US maintaining its relationship with Pakistan and especially ironing out their differences over Afghanistan. The second contact between the newly appointed Foreign Minister Khawaja Asif and US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was held recently in Washington in a better atmosphere. Tillerson spoke about the importance of the US and Pakistan working together by overcoming the misgivings each had about the other. In a sense he appeared to be extending the olive branch to Pakistan.

There is no doubt in my mind that Tillerson is a man of substance and experience. He does not shoot from the hip like his boss nor does he use the bellicose terminology of American generals, the latter seemingly thinking that they could bully or cow into submission weaker countries who do not hew the American line. General Mattis, the Defence Secretary belongs to this school of thought. He is supposed to have stated that the US was giving Pakistan a “last chance” otherwise it would explore other options to deal with this refractory nation.

It was said about Bush 43 that he believed in the aphorism “my way or the highway”. Bush of course belonged to that class of leaders who did not have much time to read books during their term of office (a trait which appears to be followed by the current incumbent in the White House). Donald Trump has earned many titles in the short eight months of his incumbency, but perhaps he is most distinguished by being the first President in US history who likes to splash his thoughts on various subjects through the medium of tweeting. This can be dangerous because Trump’s tweets many times appear to be at variance with what his cabinet level officials are conveying to their foreign interlocutors. The latest example of this divergence was Trump’s tweeted advice to his secretary of state to “stop wasting his time” trying to open diplomatic channels to North Korea. One would have thought that the prime duty of his Secretary of State is to use the powerful and effective tool of diplomacy to further American interests on a global level. It seems however that Trump has little use for diplomacy. Bluff, bluster and braggadocio seem to be more in keeping with his persona and psyche. Since America assumed the title in the words of the former French Foreign Minister Hubert Vedrine of being the “world’s hyper power”, after the collapse of the Soviet Union, US presidents have found it of not much importance to retain diplomacy in their toolkits. Boutros Ghali, the one term UN Secretary General in the 1990s whose second term was vetoed by the United States, remarked in his memoirs that the United States like the Romans had no use for diplomacy. Perhaps the Roman Empire could get away with that posture two thousand years ago, but the conditions today are quite different. Nearly 200 sovereign states of varying levels of political and economic capabilities have to interact with each other. They have no option but to negotiate political, economic and other issues with each other on a continuous basis. This requires them to possess expertise in the art of diplomacy. Therefore not utilizing diplomacy as an element of power can only boomerang upon the proponent.

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