By Ding Hao
US president Donald Trump met with visiting Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan at the White House on July 22, 2019. It was the first high-level meeting between the two countries as the peace talks between Washington and Taliban of Afghanistan entered a critical stage.
The two leaders especially discussed security issues such as counter terrorism and the Afghan War, and they both used moderate words and expressed an obvious willingness for rapprochement instead of pointing fingers at each other like before.
Each side had its reasons - the US was eager to withdraw from the Afghan War while Pakistan had to make strategic considerations in order to get out of the current dilemma.
In the past two years, Taliban seems to have expanded with a stronger momentum, thwarting America's attempt to vanquish it with force. Infuriated and frustrated, America put the blame on Pakistan's passive attitude in fighting terrorism, accused it of providing "shelter" for terrorist organizations including Taliban, and cut off the hundreds of millions of dollars of security funds to Islamabad.
But Pakistan didn't knuckle under America's sanctions and threat. It not only blocked the American army's crucial land transportation route through Pakistan to Afghanistan, but also expelled American intelligence and military assistance personnel in Pakistan. This worsened the situation for American and NATO troops on the Afghan battlefield and put America's Afghanistan strategy in a dilemma position.
Under such circumstances, Washington realized that political talks are the only way for it to pull out of Afghanistan with security and dignity, and Pakistan's cooperation is indispensable.
Therefore, it gave up the Afghanistan policy that solely relied on the use of force and turned to have "direct dialogues" with Taliban. The two sides have had several rounds of peace talks so far and reached an initial agreement on a series of important issues.
For instance, foreign troops should withdraw from Afghanistan within 18 months after signing the peace agreement, Taliban promised not to allow extremist organizations like al-Qaeda and IS to take advantage of Afghanistan and attack America or its allies, the two sides will release and exchange captives, and Washington will lift the international travel ban on several Taliban leaders.
On the other hand, the US is working to improve its relations with Pakistan. On December 3, 2018, Trump wrote a letter to Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan expressing his hope for Pakistan to exert its influence and bring Afghan Taliban back to the table of peace negotiations.
On July 2 this year, the US Department of State listed the Balochistan Liberation Army (BLA) as a specially designated global terrorists (SDGTs), which was welcomed by Pakistan.
Later the IMF board of governors approved a three-year bailout package worth 6 billion dollars for Pakistan, of which the first tranche of about USD1 billion will soon be paid while the rest will be paid in installments. Trump also said he might re-start the military aid to Pakistan according to the latter's performance.
The US-Pakistan relation is of great importance for the latter's security and economic development. At present, the country is suffering from a sluggish economy and being accused by various parties of its poor anti-terrorist performance.
It is in urgent need of America's support and aid in order to thoroughly eradicate the Taliban armed forces and terrorist organizations in Pakistan, counter India's war threat to it, and especially mitigate the extremely serious debt crisis.
Washington's recent listing of BLA as a terrorist organization was helpful for squeezing the organization's activity space and containing India's vicious attacks of Pakistan due to anti-terrorist issues.
In particular, IMF's recent approval of the 6-billion-dollar loan for cash-strapped Pakistan was right in time despite the harsh conditions attached, with which Islamabad could curb its debt growth and avoid a crisis of international balance of payment.
According to a recent report released by IMF, the debts of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) administration will rise to USD130 billion in the next four years, a year-on-year increase of 36.3% from the time when Pakistan Muslim League (N) was in power.
However, with the implementation of IMF's aid program for Pakistan, its debts will decrease gradually after the fiscal year of 2020-2021 and slowly fall to a sustainable level, which is critical for the current administration to stabilize its economy.
Generally speaking, as Washington took the initiative to mend its relations with Islamabad, the latter naturally returned the gesture by stating on several occasions that it is willing to exert its influence and help bring the Afghan Taliban back to the Afghan peace talks. This is the result of bargaining between the US and Pakistan.
However, given the imbalance and inequality of bilateral ties and the complexity of Afghan peace talks, whether the US and Pakistan can really fix their relations remains to be observed.