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Ten useless days

Tariq Fatemi’s visit to the US came at an inopportune time and could not achieve much in changing the stressful US-Pakistan relations

Ten useless days
Special assistant on Foreign Affairs, Tariq Fatemi.

Pakistan had a rather stressful bilateral engagement with the United States this year. Statements, one after another, from different US departments, warned that Pakistan needs to keep up its promise — act against terrorist organisations within its territory without discrimination or face consequences.

This time around, the warnings were not just verbal. The US has cut down Pakistan’s financial assistance significantly, and also ended a few other aid programmes. Then, the Congress, in one major move, blocked the subsidised sale of much-needed fighter jets to Pakistan.

Senator Bob Corker, chairman of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, wrote a letter to Secretary of State John Kerry in Feb 2016 saying: “I fully understand that our relationship with Pakistan is both complicated and imperfect. Cooperation with Pakistan is important and has achieved some of our interests. Nonetheless, I also believe that many Pakistani activities are immensely problematic and continue to point to a duplicitous partner, moving sideways rather than forward in resolving regional challenges.”

The letter ended at a major worrying point, “… for now if they wish to purchase this military equipment, they will do so without a subsidy from the American taxpayer.”

To top that, lawmakers in Washington introduced a bill against Pakistan urging the administration to declare the country a terrorist state just at the time when prime minister Nawaz Sharif was in New York attending the annual UN General Assembly session.

Congressman Ted Poe, the Chairman of the House subcommittee on Terrorism, along with Congressman Dana Rohrabacher called it, the Pakistan State Sponsor of Terrorism Designation Act. Chairman Poe stated: “…From harboring Osama bin Laden to its cozy relationship with the Haqqani network, there is more than enough evidence to determine whose side Pakistan is on in the War on Terror. And it’s not America’s.”

The international media termed the conversation “fawning” and then “reckless and bizarre”, while the White House urged president-elect to consult dedicated experts at the State department before giving out such generous remarks.

The bill did not proceed, yet it was quite symbolic. Meanwhile, like other countries, Pakistan was betting on Secretary Hillary Clinton to win the US presidential election; even though Clinton too had voiced her concerns many a time about Pakistan.  “We live in fear… that they’re going to have a coup, that jihadists are going to take over the government, they’re going to get access to nuclear weapons, and you’ll have suicide nuclear bombers…” she reportedly said in a close-door fundraiser in Virginia during the election campaign.

Still, there was hope that since Clinton understands the region so she might continue with the policies that Democrat party had instilled in the last eight years under President Obama. Clinton lost the election but the hope that the relations could pass the difficult times prevailed a little. The ray of hope beamed in when president-elect Donald Trump supposedly praised Nawaz Sharif during a congratulatory call.

The Trump team did not say much about the conversation that took place between the two but the prime minister’s office in Islamabad violated the diplomatic protocol and released a statement quoting Trump as praising both the prime minister and his country. “… As I am talking to you, Prime Minister, I feel I am talking to a person I have known for long. Your country is amazing with tremendous opportunities. I am ready and willing to play any role that you want me to play, to address and find solutions to the outstanding problems. It will be an honor and I will personally do it…” were the exact words of the transcript.

The international media termed the conversation “fawning” and then “reckless and bizarre”, while the White House urged president-elect to consult dedicated experts at the State department before giving out such generous remarks. “The United States’ relationship with Pakistan is one that is quite complicated,” the White House press official said adding, “every president benefits enormously from expertise and services of thousand of patriotic Americans at the State Department.”

The administration officials further carefully defined the status of the relationship with Pakistan revealing that President Obama wanted to visit the country but then decided against it. “It sends a powerful message to the people of a country when the president of the United States goes to visit,” the official said.

“The relations between our two countries, particularly over the last eight years, have not been smooth — consistently smooth, particularly in the aftermath of the raid on Pakistani soil that President Obama ordered to take Osama bin Laden off the battlefield,” the official maintained.

The wording did not bother the Pakistani side. Contrary to that, the phone call conversation released by the prime minister’s office encouraged special assistant on Foreign Affairs, Tariq Fatemi, so much that he reached Washington, laden with self-proclaimed assurances, to interact with the Trump transition team. “This is a fresh opportunity to burnish [Pakistan’s] credentials as a strong Muslim democracy and U.S. ally in South Asia to achieve both countries’ bilateral, regional and global national security and foreign policy goals,” Fatemi said after he landed.

The ‘interaction’, of course, was neither scheduled nor supposed to take place. Besides, the Trump transition was hair-tied finalising cabinet posts, and fighting off internal issues.

Eventually, Fatemi spent nine days in the town spending time with just the out-going administration officials.

The press releases sent out by the Pakistani embassy said that Fatemi’s visit afforded “an excellent opportunity to explain Pakistan’s perspective on Governance, Economy, Counter-terrorism”. He had meetings with Deputy Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, National Security Advisor Susan Rice, Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Senator Bob Corker and Senator John McCain.

At the end of his trip, Fatemi remarked that “though Trump Administration was not yet in place, Pakistan looked forward to working closely with the new President-elect; his team with particular focus on economic linkages and trade that formed a common denominator in the agenda of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and President-elect Trump”. This was something he could have easily stated sitting in Islamabad.

Before flying back to Pakistan Fatemi once again indicated that “his visit would be followed by other high level visits. Pakistan was aiming at building a comprehensive, sustained and forward looking relationship with the US”.

Wajid Ali Syed

Wajid Syed
The writer is Geo TV's Washington correspondent. He can be reached at [email protected]

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