The resetting of bilateral relations with the USA after President Donald Trump’s blowing hot and cold and bullying Pakistan for almost two years for “taking their money and cheating on them” in Afghanistan, would not be an easy task. Bilateral relations began taking a nosedive as soon as President Trump took the reins of power in January 2017. He kept Pakistan on tenterhooks by his erroneous policy of “maximum pressure and inducement”.

The disbursement of the Coalition Support Funds to Pakistan for mobilizing and keeping a heavy military forces along the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan to stem the movement of Taliban, was arrogantly stopped; maximum pressure was brought upon Pakistan by blackmailing it through International Financial Institutions and the Financial Task Force; revamping and expanding the presence of its arch-rival – India in Afghanistan; bullying Pakistan on cooperation with China in the China-Pakistan Economic Cooperation – CPEC are some of the instances of the hostility of the US leadership to Pakistan.

Despite all this intimidating policy of the Trump administration, Pakistan steadfastly, as a good neighbour and a peace loving country, followed a policy that guarded its national interests in the long run in the region and ensured durable peace in Afghanistan. This policy was simple enough – that the Taliban have become a political reality and a strategic force to reckon with. No peace, disregarding the participation of the Taliban, would be durable. The war was not any solution to this festering problem. The USA would have to review its Afghanistan policy and engage the Taliban in talks.

Pakistan’s stance was opposed by the Ashraf Ghani regime for political reasons – not sharing power with the Taliban who would take the bigger share of the apple pie as occupants of over 40% of the country, and India for its selfish political and strategic interests. All along, the Ashraf Ghani regime and India have been in a vicious collusion to malign Pakistan as state sponsor of terrorism and destabilize it in Balochistan supporting Balochistan Liberation Army. We have not forgotten the poisonous statements of Prime Minister Narendra Modi spewed publicly by him not long ago to break Pakistan into pieces by helping secessionists in Balochistan or at his behest, the hostile statements of the former US State of Secretary Rex Tillerson against the CPEC viewing it as a disputed project ‘passing through disputed areas’.

Diplomacy is the art of possible. States cannot afford to shrink inhard casing without looking forward to any likely opportunity to recalibrate their bilateral relations. Pakistan’s policy was vindicated by the exigency of time and circumstances leading to the US eating the humble pie and starting peace talks with its bet noire – the Taliban. The instrumentality of Pakistan in the success of peace talks was recognized.Pakistan put behind the bullish US behaviour and contributed to the peace process. Pakistan’s role in nudging the Taliban to reach an agreement on the four known elements of the peace talks has been crucial.

The peace process exposed the faulty and self-serving Indian policy in Afghanistan. India was banking on the regimes in Kabul for the past 17 years viewing the Taliban as a terrorist force and cultivating, at best, the elements of the Northern Alliance. While feigning to help in rebuilding Afghanistan, it cleverly expanded its presence in that country for political, economic and strategic objectives with the sole purpose of destabilizing Pakistan or seeking access to the Central Asian region through the Afghan territory over and above the head of Pakistan. The post Pulwana situation also exposed India’s strategic strength to qualify for the India-Pacific strategic partnership to countervail China. No blame on the Indian strategic analysts sulking over the emerging geo-strategic situation with China, Russia and the USA equally eulogizing Pakistan for its pivotal role in pushing the Afghan peace talks to a likely conclusion.

The USA advances to recalibrate its bilateral relations with Pakistan have been quite pronounced. The blacklisting of BLA, the softening policy of the International Financial Institutions towards Pakistan and an invite to Prime Minister Imran Khan for an official visit to Washington DC along with his Army Chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa indicate to a new strategic thinking in the White House. It appears that the role of Pakistan in preventing Afghanistan from relapsing into haven for terrorism is viewed as crucial by the USA leaders. While Prime Minister Imran Khan will hold two meetings with President Donald Trump in the White House, General Bajwa is scheduled to have meetings with Secretary of Defence M. Shanahan and the new Chairman of Joint Chief of Staff General Mark Milley and other senior officials.

This indicates that a new phase of strategic cooperation being in offing as part of the rebalancing of bilateral relations with the USA. However, Pakistan’s leaders need to be careful in renewing bilateral relation with US on an even keel particularly about any new strategic partnership. We should not punch the bag more than our weight as put it by Ambassador Ashraf Jehangir recently. As I said in this Daily a week ago that the undertakings we may accept in the rebalancing of relations with the US should not be beyond our capacity to deliver. We should avoid being a scapegoat for any likely collapse of peace talks at the last moment mainly owing to the manipulations of Afghan regime, India and Iran. Their interest in further stay of the US in Afghanistan is quite obvious.

The tension in the Gulf region is escalating with the US drowning an Iranian drone and Iran threatening to abandon restrictions on its uranium processing to weapons grade as stipulated in the nuclear deal made redundant by the US withdrawal. This is another pitfall which our leaders should carefully avoid falling in no matter what inducements in terms of economic and military aid are offered by the US. Our traditional policy of neutrality in any Arab-Persian conflict has validly stood the ground and we should adhere to it in any case.