Pak­istan hopes for bet­ter U.S. ties, eyes Rus­sia

Di­plo­mat awaits talks with Trump’s team

The Washington Times Daily - - FRONT PAGE - BY CARLO MUNOZ

Pak­istan plans to step up its eco­nomic and mil­i­tary co­op­er­a­tion with Rus­sia, hedg­ing its bets de­spite hopes for a smoother re­la­tion­ship with the next U.S. ad­min­is­tra­tion, a top Pak­istani di­plo­mat said in an in­ter­view.

Mem­bers of Pres­i­dent-elect Don­ald Trump’s na­tional se­cu­rity team “know Pak­istan paid a heavy price in terms of the suc­cesses of the United States” in the re­gion, in­clud­ing Is­lam­abad’s back­ing of the U.S. mis­sion to push the Soviet Union from Afghanistan in the 1980s and the post 9/11 era, he said.

“We will work closely with the ad­min­is­tra­tion,” Tariq Fatemi, a top ad­viser to Prime Min­is­ter Nawaz Sharif, told The Wash­ing­ton Times.

“We be­lieve Mr. Trump’s busi­ness back­ground and strong in­ter­est in eco­nomic ties … match the vi­sion and poli­cies” of Mr. Sharif.

Af­ter years of ten­sion and in­con­sis­tency in bi­lat­eral ties, “there is an el­e­ment of nor­malcy and pre­dictabil­ity within the re­la­tion­ship” be­tween Wash­ing­ton and Is­lam­abad since Mr. Sharif came to power three years ago, Mr. Fatemi said.

The volatil­ity that plagued U.S.-Pak­istani re­la­tions un­der pre­vi­ous regimes in Pak­istan has sub­sided, he said dur­ing an in­ter­view at the Pak­istani Em­bassy last week as part of a post­elec­tion trip to Wash­ing­ton and New York. Mr. Fatemi re­port­edly was sup­posed to meet with Trump tran­si­tion team aides in New York, but Pak­istani press re­ports said Mon­day that the meet­ings had not been held.

To suc­cess­fully deal with the se­ri­ous chal­lenges fac­ing Pak­istan and the U.S. in South Asia, the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion must en­sure that the re­la­tion­ship “stay on an even keel and con­tinue to progress grad­u­ally,” he said.

Although Is­lam­abad pledges to main­tain strong mil­i­tary and eco­nomic ties to the United States, it is also mak­ing over­tures to­ward es­tab­lish­ing a sim­i­lar re­la­tion­ship with Rus­sia.

Pak­istani Sen. Syed Mushahid Hus­sain, a top law­maker and se­nior aide to Mr. Sharif, said in Oc­to­ber that the coun­try would con­duct joint mil­i­tary ex­er­cises with Rus­sia and be­gin buy­ing arms from Moscow for the first time in decades.

As first re­ported by The Wash­ing­ton Times, the move is part of a “new re­gion­al­ism” strat­egy that the Sharif regime is pur­su­ing, in ad­di­tion to in­fras­truc­ture projects with Iran and China, and open­ing trade routes with its South and Cen­tral Asian neigh­bors, Mr. Hus­sain said.

Mr. Fatemi re­jected re­ports of pend­ing ma­jor weapons sales be­tween Rus­sia and Pak­istan but said Is­lam­abad “is ex­plor­ing all op­tions from all coun­tries” to arm his coun­try’s mil­i­tary. He said diplo­matic out­reach to Rus­sia also is fo­cused on bur­geon­ing eco­nomic and po­lit­i­cal re­la­tion­ships.

Mr. Sharif’s goal is to “estab­lish mu­tu­ally ben­e­fi­cial eco­nomic ties with all coun­tries … and now we are reach­ing out to Rus­sia,” he said.

Moscow’s prow­ess in de­vel­op­ing power plants, elec­tric trans­mis­sion lines and re­gional oil pipelines is a key fac­tor for Pak­istan, which is strug­gling to pro­vide re­li­able en­ergy flows to ma­jor ur­ban pop­u­la­tions in Is­lam­abad, La­hore and Pe­shawar.

Mr. Sharif has in­tro­duced a plan to con­struct a ma­jor oil pipe­line from Pak­istan’s south­ern port city of Karachi to La­hore, Mr. Fatemi said. Is­lam­abad is weigh­ing Rus­sian par­tic­i­pa­tion in the cre­ation of that pipe­line, as well as power plant con­struc­tion in the north­ern part of the coun­try.

Tense times

But Pak­istan is mak­ing over­tures to­ward Rus­sia at the tail end of tense re­la­tions with Wash­ing­ton re­gard­ing U.S. mil­i­tary sup­port. The two coun­tries have been un­com­fort­able bed­fel­lows in coun­tert­er­ror­ism op­er­a­tions tied to the U.S. mis­sion in Afghanistan, sym­bol­ized most no­tably by the se­cret U.S. mil­i­tary mis­sion in 2011 that killed al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden in the same city where Pak­istan’s more fa­mous mil­i­tary academy is based.

The re­la­tion­ship has been rife with ac­cu­sa­tions that Pak­istan’s in­tel­li­gence agency, the In­ter-Ser­vices In­tel­li­gence direc­torate, has been covertly train­ing and fi­nanc­ing ter­ror­ist groups such as the Pak­istani fac­tion of the Tal­iban and the Haqqani net­work.

Is­lam­abad has coun­tered that Wash­ing­ton’s heavy mil­i­tary and po­lit­i­cal sup­port for In­dia has un­der­mined re­gional sta­bil­ity ef­forts spear­headed by Pak­istan.

Many Pak­ista­nis sus­pect it was ris­ing In­dian in­flu­ence in Wash­ing­ton that per­suaded Congress to block the sale of eight U.S. F-16 fight­ers to the coun­try’s air force last year.

Ten­sions were fur­ther in­flamed last week when De­fense Sec­re­tary Ash­ton Carter ap­proved In­dia’s des­ig­na­tion as a “ma­jor de­fense part­ner” with the United States.

Among U.S. al­lies in the re­gion, only New Delhi holds that distinc­tion. The des­ig­na­tion would give In­dia ac­cess to some of the most ad­vanced and sen­si­tive mil­i­tary tech­nol­ogy in the Amer­i­can arse­nal, putting it on par with U.S. al­lies such as France, Canada and the United King­dom.

Mr. Fatemi de­clined to com­ment specif­i­cally on In­dia’s sta­tus with the Pen­tagon. “It is for them to de­ter­mine [the re­la­tion­ship],” he said.

He re­jected re­ports that Pak­istan’s emerg­ing mil­i­tary re­la­tion­ship with Rus­sia was in re­sponse to In­dia’s closer mil­i­tary ties with Wash­ing­ton, but he did warn that “what­ever or when­ever Amer­ica en­gages in these types of [ac­tions], it has to bear in mind what kind of im­pact it will have on the re­gion.”

“Vir­tu­ally all our weapons sys­tems are Amer­i­can-made, which is what we would want,” Mr. Fatemi said, but the blocked F-16 sale and other scut­tled arms deals with Wash­ing­ton have forced the Sharif regime to con­sider its op­tions.

“Our first pref­er­ence would be to ob­tain weapons from the United States,” said Mr. Fatemi. “We hope the ad­min­is­tra­tion will look at our re­quest, with an eye to­ward what those weapons sys­tems can do in terms of … pro­mot­ing peace and sta­bil­ity in a dif­fi­cult part of the world.”

The Pak­istani gov­ern­ment caused some­thing of a diplo­matic in­ci­dent by mak­ing pub­lic its ver­sion of the con­grat­u­la­tory call Mr. Sharif placed to Mr. Trump. The Amer­i­can pres­i­dent-elect praised Pak­ista­nis in flow­ery terms and hinted that he would con­sider a trip to Is­lam­abad and was ready to me­di­ate Pak­istan’s deadly dis­pute with In­dia over the Kash­mir prov­ince — an of­fer In­dia has long re­jected.

That in­ci­dent and Mr. Fatemi’s dif­fi­cul­ties meet­ing with Mr. Trump’s tran­si­tion team in New York have some in Pak­istan warn­ing that re­la­tions with the next U.S. ad­min­is­tra­tion may not be as easy as some hoped.

“Those hop­ing that the new U.S. ad­min­is­tra­tion would adopt a softer ap­proach to­ward Pak­istan are likely to be frus­trated in days to come,” the on­line pub­li­ca­tion Pak­istan To­day wrote in an ed­i­to­rial over the week­end. “There is more like­li­hood of Amer­ica’s Pak­istan pol­icy be­com­ing more hawk­ish and tough than be­fore.”

On coun­tert­er­ror­ism op­er­a­tions, how­ever, Mr. Fatemi said Mr. Trump’s views align with those of Pak­istan’s leadership.

“We want peo­ple from the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion to come to Pak­istan and see for them­selves the areas that have been cleared of ter­ror­ists,” he said. “If you are en­gaged in mil­i­tancy and ter­ror­ism, there is no place for you in Pak­istan. We will elim­i­nate you. … It is as sim­ple as that.”


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