‘NSA Moeed Yusuf’s Arrogant Tone In The US Did Not Help Pakistan’s Already Tough Case’
US-Pakistan relations appear to have entered a critical phase with Pakistan’s National Security Adviser Moeed Yusuf’s statement that the country can exercise ‘other options’ if US President Joe Biden does not call Prime Minister Imran Khan.
“The president of the United States hasn’t spoken to the prime minister of such an important country who the US itself says is make-or-break in some cases, in some ways, in Afghanistan — we struggle to understand the signal, right?” Yusuf had told Financial Times in an interview during his visit to the US last week. He went on to say that Pakistan had ‘other options’ if the phone call does not take place.
The NSA’s remarks served to expose the frost in US-Pak relations with many questioning the future trajectory of bilateral cooperation between the two countries. While Yusuf later termed his visit ‘constructive’ and insisted that the US-Pak ties were ‘moving in the right direction’, he indirectly admitted that the optics of his interactions with the US officials were not ideal. “The focus of both sides is on outcomes, not optics,” he wrote in a tweet.
Concluded a constructive visit to US. Besides continuing discussions with @JakeSullivan46 that began in Geneva, engaged with the Hill, think tanks, media, & our diaspora. The Pak-US relationship is moving in the right direction. The focus of both sides is on outcomes, not optics.
— Moeed W. Yusuf (@YusufMoeed) August 6, 2021
Naya Daur Media asked foreign relations experts and commentators to weigh in on the matter.
Shuja Nawaz, Director of South Asia Center of the Atlantic Council in Washington DC, says that Moeed Yusuf may have been instructed to raise the phone call issue publicly during his visit to the United States. He however added that a high level contact is usually preceded by preparation at lower levels, including ambassadors and other senior bureaucrats, which was missing in this case.
He points out that the United States does not as yet have an ambassador in Pakistan nor permanent, confirmed senior staff in the South and Central Asia Bureau at the Department of State. “Pakistan’s Foreign Secretary does not appear to be actively involved with this issue. Absent preparations for what would be discussed or agreed to by President Biden and Prime Minister Imran Khan in a direct conversation, it is hard to imagine the value of a call,” he adds.
‘Talking to Imran Khan a waste of time’
Aqil Shah, author and scholar at Carnegie endowment for international peace, says that NSA Moeed Yusuf’s statement was a ‘desperate and pathetic’ plea for American approval of the leadership of Pakistan’s hybrid regime. He added that those in the DC policy community who interacted with Moeed Yusuf believe that his ‘arrogant’ tone did not help Pakistan’s already tough case including the issue of Taliban sanctuaries in Pakistan.
Further, Shah thinks the reason why Biden is avoiding calling PM Khan is that the administration knows that he is a ‘frontman’ for the establishment who lacks both authority and legitimacy and talking to him is a waste of time. He further said that America’s apparent disinterest in Pakistan could also be a response to the country’s ‘ongoing double game’ wherein it harbors the Afghan Taliban while pretending to support a peace process.
Did Pakistan succeed in denying links with Afghan Taliban?
Commenting on whether or not the NSA’s visit to the US was fruitful, Shuja Nawaz said, “The visit was aimed at informing the US thought leaders and officials of Pakistan’s views on the emerging situation in the country and deny Pakistani links or influence over the Afghan Taliban. It is not clear if those assertions changed any minds in the US. US civil and military officials have stated in the past that Pakistani counterparts tend to go silent when presented with evidence of collusion with the Taliban. It looks as if this situation has not changed. Pakistan is arguing that Afghan refugees inside Pakistan provide support for the Taliban. That new argument did not achieve much traction in the US.”
Nawaz further said that the US appears tied to its decision to exit Afghanistan, having signed a deal with the Afghan Taliban that seems to be unenforceable. “Plan B seemed to be threat of use of airpower in support of Afghan forces from bases in Central Asia or in the Gulf. That does not seem to be happening now. The Taliban have achieved a fait accompli by capturing provincial capitals. Pakistan will suffer the consequences of turmoil in Afghanistan yet again,” he says.
How will lack of coordination between Pakistan and the US impact regional situation?
Aqil Shah says the relationship between Pakistan and the US has been tense and fraught over diverging goals and priorities. “The Biden administration wanted to leave Afghanistan at all costs, and expected Pakistan to pressure the Taliban to commit to a peace agreement with the Afghan government.”Pakistan’s establishment sees the Ghani government as ‘pro-India’ and would rather have the Afghan Taliban in power both to reduce New Delhi’s perceived ‘undue’ influence over Kabul and to dampen Pashtun nationalism/the Pashtun Tahaffuz Movement in former FATA.
“The US would likely expect Pakistan to cooperate in future counter-terror operations which could further strain the relationship if Pakistani authorities remain reluctant to do so fully for both “national security” and domestic political reasons,” he says.
‘Washington already spoke to Pakistan’s most powerful leader’
Michael Kugelman, South Asia senior associate at the Wilson Center, says one can understand why Islamabad is unhappy about Imran Khan not getting a call from Biden. “There’s a prestige factor associated with your country’s leader having a call with the US president. And the Biden administration has described Pakistan as a key partner in the Afghanistan peace process, which has been a top policy priority for Biden up to now. But let’s be clear: The absence of a Biden-Khan phone call shouldn’t be mistaken for a lack of interest in engagement with Pakistan, or an indication that the US doesn’t think Pakistan is important,” he says.
Kugelman adds that it is important to remember that the US secretaries of defense and state have spoken with their Pakistani counterparts and the CIA chief made a visit to Pakistan. “There has been engagement with the Pakistani Army Chief, Qamar Javed Bajwa, the person that Washington views as Pakistan’s most powerful leader. “So with all of this intense, high-level bilateral engagement going on, complaints about Khan not getting a call from Biden come across as rather misplaced,” he says.