By Ali Salman Andani
During Prime Minister Imran Khan’s 3-day state visit to the United States, to avoid another national embarrassment, it would be quite useful for the officials of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Pakistan to ignore any possible demand coming from their stubborn Prime Minister to let him chauffer President Trump around for a tip of a few billion dollars for the country’s cash-strapped economy, or may be to help it fend off a possible blacklisting by the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) after the October 2019 deadline which will be followed by strict economic sanctions and most probably the country will end up being cornered by the global financial institutions, or perhaps to persuade him to request the IMF to show some leniency on the 3-year course of its $6 billion Extended Fund Facility provided to Pakistan as far as complying with the Fund’s Structural Conditionality is concerned.
But no doubt about the fact that Khan must be thinking that he is fully prepared to meet the most powerful person right now on earth –must be feeling what a son after securing ‘As’ in the exam feels while showing his report card to his father –as Hafiz Saeed, Jamaat-ud- Dawa’s (JuD) chief, has been arrested by Counter Terrorism Department Punjab earlier this week; anti-Trump tweet by Shireen Mazari, the Pakistan’s Human Rights Minister, posted with the link of The New Yorker’s article titled as “A Racist in the White House” was deleted; apparently CPEC’s engine is all-set to fail as neither Pakistan nor China is showing interest in the projects the way they were initially–thanks to the Imran Khan government; after five months of closure the country has opened its airspace fully for civilian flights this week after the February 26 Balakot airstrikes by India; and the Khan administration agreed to comply with the International Monetary Fund’s (IMF) structural conditionality which also includes compliance with the Fiscal Responsibility and Debt Limitation Act (FRDLA) and undertakings by the Pakistani authorities to the Fund that it has received commitments from China, Saudi Arabia and the UAE to keep rolling over the debts which the country owes to them until the Extended Fund Facility expires –unfortunately this fiscal discipline is absolutely opposite to the principles of China’s Debt Trap Diplomacy and if successfully implemented, China’s dream of ‘snatching Gwadar port like Sri Lanka’s Hambantota port will be shattered very soon.
President Trump for sure will thank Prime Minister Imran Khan for Pakistan’s great deal of support in relation to convincing Taliban, first to sit with the US on the negotiating table and releasing three high-ranking members of Afghan Taliban to boost the peace-talks, including Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar (co-founder of the Afghan Taliban), Mullah Abdul Samad Sani and Mullah Mohammad Rasul in October last year and then with the Afghan authorities earlier this month. But I think that the ‘thankyous’ won’t equate the hard-hitting criticism which will indeed be the highlights of Khan-Trump talks. While President Trump will appreciate the ‘efforts’ of the ‘Pakistani authorities’ with regard to the recent detention of JuD’s chief Hafiz Saeed –for which President Trump has given credit to his continuous pressure on Pakistan –an order to ‘do more to stop terror groups from using its land’ will be ‘politely’ reiterated. To counter that Khan will repeat the script which he has been repeating for quite some time, that, Pakistan will never fight someone else’s war like it did (War Against Terror) after 9/11 as it brought devastation to human lives and the economy, again without losing his temper-after all it is not Twitter!
Amid looming economic meltdown with a sharply falling dollar reserves, reducing exports, depreciating REER -21% in fiscal year 2018/19 & 26% nominal depreciation in the same period, declining participation rate, real output and foreign direct investment (down from $3.47 billion in FY17/18 to $1.73 billion in FY 18/19), Imran Khan will be looking for US’s ‘aid and investment’. If not on record, I believe, ‘behind the doors’ he will indeed ask for the restoration of the ‘security aid’ which the Trump-administration suspended earlier last year –after all Khan’s tall claims of ‘self respect above all’ comes with a deadline, that is, ‘till his next u-turn’. Similarly the Trump administration will push Khan to consider releasing Dr. Shakil Afridi in return for Dr. Afia Siddiqui. If the Pakistani authority will somehow agree to do that, Prime Minister Khan will indeed be appreciated by the general Pakistani public. US- administration might raise the issue of the persecution of the Ahmaddiya and Christian community of Pakistan by various elements in the country, which will come as a result of President Trump’s meeting with the survivors of religious persecution this week, including Abdul Shakoor – an Ahmaddiya Muslim charged with blasphemy and terrorism charges for which he faced five-year imprisonment and Shan Taseer (son of Salman Taseer) who was charged with hate speech by the Pakistani authorities for saying “Merry Christmas.”
President Trump before 2020 general elections wants to end 17-year long Afghan War. Pakistan is one of the major stake holders in US-Taliban Peace Talks and the recent Afghan- Taliban talks. Its support would help President Trump to fulfill one of biggest foreign policy issues (after North Korea-issue) the United States is facing right now –a great potential source of so many popular votes for the Republicans in 2020 general election.
For Pakistan, at this moment in time, the situation is not satisfying at all. Its unsustainable and insubstantial actions to counter “externally-focused militant groups and UN- designated terrorist organizations operating from its
territory” can’t trick the US into providing any sort of assistance. The times have changed. FATF’s October deadline is already hanging over the ‘almost-crippled-economy-with-an-incompetent-prime minister’ like a sword of Damocles. The country could also be easily defeated on the diplomatic front; we have observed it in the recent past too.
The writer is an economic and political analyst – columnist at the Asia Times, Modern Diplomacy and other media outlets. Find him on twitter @an_alisalman.
DISCLAIMER : Views expressed above are the author’s own.