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Editorial

December 6, 2017

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Carrots and sticks

For his first visit to Pakistan as US defence secretary, General James Mattis adopted the role of good cop. Even before reaching the country, Mattis had said that he would do “some listening” and try to find common ground with Pakistan. His soft tone during the one-day trip was a change from the hectoring that has become the norm of the Donald Trump administration. In his meeting with Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, Mattis agreed that both countries have an interest in securing long-term peace in Afghanistan and appreciated the sacrifices Pakistan has made in fighting militancy. He also told Army Chief Qamar Javed Bajwa that the US wants to address Pakistan’s concerns and try to work together. This was a change from the normally aggressive Mattis, who has earned the monikers ‘Warrior Monk’, ‘Chaos’ and ‘Mad Dog’ over the years. Just two months ago, the defence secretary had said that the US would be willing to work “one more time” with Pakistan to eliminate the Haqqani Network and Afghan Taliban safe havens that the Americans claim we have permitted in the country. After that, he said in what sounded like a final warning, that the US would take whatever steps are necessary to address Pakistan’s supposed support for militancy.
The more conciliatory approach taken by Mattis during his visit to Pakistan shouldn’t lull us into a false sense of security. Just one day before Mattis’ trip, CIA Director Mike Pompeo said that if Pakistan does not eliminate these safe havens the US will do everything it can to do its job for us. Since Pompeo is being touted as the next secretary of state – to take over from the out-of-favour Rex Tillerson – his words carry at least as much weight as those of Mattis. That Mattis had nothing to say about our complaints of Indian interference in Afghanistan shows that there are limits to how much the US is willing to listen to Pakistan. As Foreign Minister Khawaja Asif said after the visit, trust between

the two sides needs to be slowly rebuilt. Asif also stressed that we no longer need financial assistance from the US. This, in fact, may be at the heart of the problems between Pakistan and the US. The Americans are used to flexing their financial muscle to get Pakistan to follow its bidding. That no longer works. It is now using a combination of threats and sweet talk to get its way. Pakistan, not being dependent on the US, can patiently explain its position and deal with the US as more of an equal than before. That may lead to problems in the short term but will ultimately be healthier for relations between the two countries.

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