PM Imran’s Diplomatic coup

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Prime Minister Imran Khan
Prime Minister Imran Khan

TIC ANALYSIS l

The recently concluded visit of Prime Minister Imran Khan has emerged as a game-changer in the political landscape of South Asia. All the highlights of the trips such as the austerity showcased by the PM and entourage travelling by commercial flight, the massive Pakistani American rally in Washington, the meeting with US President Donald Trump and the final meeting with the Congressional Pakistan Caucus at Capitol Hill were widely followed and extremely significant in themselves.

Build Up to the Visit

Anticipation for the visit saw a rise due to an early diplomatic victory in the form of the blacklisting of the Balochistan Liberation Army (BLA) as a terrorist group by the US. On July 3, the U.S. State Department announced the decision to designate the Balochistan Liberation Army (BLA) as a terrorist group and declared to deny the organization access to resources for planning and carrying out attacks. The designation of the BLA as a terror group gave Pakistan international legitimacy to go after the group at home and abroad. Washington’s listing of BLA as a terrorist organization was cited by many observers as a major victory for Pakistan’s diplomacy and an indication of Islamabad’s improving relationship with Washington.

READ MORE: Indo-Pak Relations After Modi’s Re-election

Landing and the massive Jalsa

The US trip started with the PM and his entourage which included Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureishi boarding a commercial flight to the USA. As the national air carrier, PIA did not operate a direct flight to the US, Qatar Airways was chosen. Upon his arrival, he was met by the US Acting Chief of Protocol, Mary-Kate Fisher (whose predecessor had been fired earlier due to harassment claims) as well as Pakistani embassy staff. Indian media and unfortunately some Pakistani political circles tried to show this as a snub but in reality was as per rules and regulations of PM Imran’s “working level visit”.

The Prime Minister spoke to a 30000 strong crowd at the Washington Capital One Arena, making it the largest gathering of Pakistani Americans in history. This rally dwarfed Indian Premier Narendar Modi’s rally of 19000 at Madison Square Garden in 2014. Observers also pointed out that Modi’s rally was arranged by many companies and lobbies while PM Imran Khan’s rally was largely self-paid.

In his speech to the massive crowd, the Prime Minister spoke about the benefits of meritocracy, a relentless fight to curb corruption and laid out his vision for “Naya (New) Pakistan”. Some critics jumped on the point of his declaration of giving no respite to corrupt political opponents as being divisive but observers pointed out that had he refrained from saying such words the same critics would be calling it a U-turn.

Khan-Trump Summit and other meetings 

The meeting with Trump was one of the major points of the America visit. This was an important meeting especially after the twitter war between the two over Pakistan’s role in the American self declared War on Terror. However, the most prominent point of the meeting was not Afghanistan but Kashmir, when US president Trump not only offered to be the mediator between Pakistan and India to resolve Kashmir issue that has been an imbroglio between the two countries for over seven decades but also stated that Indian Prime Minister Modi had already asked him to mediate. His offer was a clear departure from United States’ long-held position that the Kashmir issue was a bilateral dispute between the two nuclear-tipped neighbors.

READ MORE: Does US want free and open Indo-Pacific region?

Trump also declared that Pakistan was now helping to “extricate” the US from Afghanistan and “saving millions of lives” after Trump said that the other option that he had at his disposal was to “kill 10 million people” in order to end the war, hinting that he could have done so by dropping countless other “Mother Of All Bombs” all over the country. The US president also negated previous tension between Pakistan and the US by blaming the previous US presidents.

Trump also signaled his desire to increase Pakistani-American trade by ten to twenty times its current level after heaping nothing but praise on its people and economic potential. This is extremely significant in the context of current US-India trade relations where India has put tariffs on US exports.

Trump announced that he’d “love to go to Pakistan at the right time”, which could even be as early as the end of this year if he travels to India in November or December like is reportedly being explored and then pays a visit to its neighbor, especially if there’s a big breakthrough in the Afghan peace process around that time.

During his meeting with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, PM Imran Khan stated that a strong Pakistan-US partnership was vital for the promotion of mutual interests of the two countries as well as broader regional peace, stability and prosperity. The PM also attended a reception at Capitol Hill, hosted by the Congressional Pakistan Caucus. Prime Minister said that Pakistan had facilitated the Afghan peace and reconciliation process as peace and stability in Afghanistan was vital for Pakistan. While cautioning about the complicated nature of the process and possible challenges, he said that Pakistan will continue to extend all possible facilitation in the process.

Another important facet of the trip was an interview at the US Institute of Peace (USIP), where he stated that Pakistan’s “top priority is to build good relationships with our neighbors” apart from putting an end to corruption and building strong institutions. He also stated that he was in favor of a free press but the media watchdog had to be strengthened.

Impact on Domestic Politics

The US trip for Imran Khan has been considered highly successful as many see it as a “kind of victory” for Pakistan. According to analysts, the large Pakistani American gathering in Washington has severely damaged the narrative of “selected” Prime Minister. Many allude to the tweet by Opposition leader Bilawal Bhutto Zardari who vowed to support the current government’s effort to strengthen international relationships. The use of “My Prime Minister” as compared to the “selected” in his tweet strengthens the notion that the opposition narrative has failed due to the impressive rally in Washington.

His citing of accountability measures can be used to project an enhanced increase in the anti-corruption drive at home with no regard for the allegations of “political victimization” from a few quarters. His public vow to strengthen the media watchdog as significant as it seems that the government will now focus more strongly on disinformation from the media circles.

READ MORE: Hybrid Warfare in Pakistan

Impact in the Foreign Arena

The most immediate impact was felt in India. Over the last three days, the Indian Parliament has been held up by the Opposition on the singular demand that Prime Minister Narendra Modi make a clarification on the comments made by US President Donald Trump regarding mediation in Kashmir. While Modi has yet to respond, the country’s external affairs minister, S. Jaishankar, read out a statement in the upper house of parliament, diplomatically mirroring what his spokesman said: “I repeat, no such request was made by the prime minister to the U.S. president.”

While it remains to be seen if its effective, the offer by the US President has only increased pressure on India over the Kashmir issue. Two other major powers, China and Russia have already offered to meditate on the Kashmir dispute which is causing pressure on Indian policy on Kashmir. The largely successful Trump-Khan meeting also seems to have curtailed the “isolate Pakistan”strategy of India.

Aside from Kashmir, the major benefits for Pak-US relations has been the convergence of interests between Islamabad and Washington on both countries’ Afghanistan policy. In context of terrorism and militancy, there was no comment against Pakistan. Another interesting point is that the issue of terrorism did not feature as a major issue in official meetings between the military as well as the civilian leadership. President Trump has hinted that the USA is ready to assist Pakistan on the trade front and  also hinted on the restoration of $1.3 Billion Aid Package to Pakistan.

In the end , it can be asserted that the current visit of the PM to the US has paved the way for future reciprocity between the two countries which can result in cooperation over diverse issues including the political settlement in Afghanistan, economic activities and strategic partnership. This will result in the establishment of the basis of a relationship based on dignity and mutual respect.

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