Can General Bajwa lead Pakistan in the American camp?

By Vivek Mishra & Sarral Sharma

Pakistan and the United States are making active efforts to restore their bilateral relations. The new ruling Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM) alliance in Islamabad has shown its eagerness to improve relations with Washington after three and a half years of strained relations under former Prime Minister Imran Khan. The recent push to improve relations between Pakistan and the United States has come at a time when the Pakistani government is desperate for external support to stabilize its faltering economy and forestall the risk of default. While Washington awaits cooperation from Islamabad on Afghanistan, counter-terrorism and support on the Russian-Ukrainian issue.

The recent assassination of al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri in a US Over-the-Horizon (OTH) operation signals that Pakistan may have made a deal with the United States to allow its space air and land is in turn used for economic purposes. relief through an IMF loan and exist from the FATF.

Although there has been increased engagement between Pakistan and the United States, Imran Khan’s outspoken anti-American stance, his growing political influence and possible chances of returning to power, and a weak coalition government in Islamabad could jeopardize attempts to repair bilateral relations. Meanwhile, Pakistan’s powerful military establishment supports the PDM government’s efforts to revitalize relations with the United States.

For India, the recent push to mend ties between the Pak and the United States may not bring immediate challenges. However, New Delhi should follow these developments closely, especially possible US financial aid to Pakistan, anti-India lobbying in Washington or support for Pakistan in the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), which could have serious implications. implications for India’s short-term security. long-term.

Packet angle

Pak-US relations were badly damaged during Pakistan’s Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) government, which lasted nearly four years. Even after three months of the fall of his government, Imran Khan blamed the United States for the alleged “regime change”, with the tacit approval of the “neutrals” or the Pakistani army. More importantly, Khan’s anti-American sentiments reverberate among his supporters. As a result, the PDM coalition government is under immense pressure to justify its renewed drive to improve Pakistan’s strained ties with the United States.

Furthermore, Imran Khan and members of his party are critical of any bilateral engagement between Washington and Islamabad, official and unofficial visits and other confidence-building initiatives between the two countries. Under these circumstances, the alliance led by Shehbaz Sharif faces a serious political dilemma between prioritizing relations with the United States or facing political consequences in the upcoming National Assembly elections in Pakistan. The cross-party coalition is aware that Imran Khan will continue to play the ‘victim’ card in the future and use the alleged US-led ‘foreign conspiracy’ against him as an emotional issue to garner public support.

During recent by-elections in Punjab province, Khan openly referred to anti-American propaganda and repeated his allegations that the ruling PDM alliance, which he denounces as an “imported government”, was brought to the fore. power by an American conspiracy. Interestingly, his party won an unprecedented 15 seats out of a total of 20, clear evidence of the PTI’s growing political influence in the country despite its absence from power for the past three months. Therefore, it should be noted that any favorable political outcome for Imran Khan could derail or limit efforts to mend ties between the Pak and the United States.

The PDM coalition government, on the other hand, is struggling to survive politically and failing to keep the country’s declining economy afloat amid a growing budget deficit, high inflation rates and a record exchange between the Pakistani rupee and the US dollar. While security cooperation and Afghanistan remain central bilateral issues between Pakistan and the United States, Islamabad wants to prioritize trade and energy relations with Washington. Therefore, Pakistan is seeking support from the United States to resume the stalled International Monetary Fund (IMF) bailout program and seek help for further assistance from other international financial institutions.

Less than a month after the new government in Islamabad, Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari met with Secretary of State Antony Blinken in New York and discussed “expanding partnership in climate, investment, trade and health as well as people-to-people links”. Besides Bilawal, other key Pakistani government officials such as Finance Minister Miftah Ismail and Special Assistance to Prime Minister of Foreign Affairs Tariq Fatemi also visited the United States to lobby for the support of the government. Biden administration at the IMF. These efforts have so far brought only very limited relief, and mostly rhetoric, to the people of Pakistan. For the coalition government led by Shehbaz Sharif, time is running out as it is under immense pressure to hold snap elections, possibly by November this year, after the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) lost the July 17 partial polls in Punjab to Imran Khan’s PTI.

Simultaneously, an emboldened Imran Khan openly blamed the connection between his political opponents, the “neutrals” or Pakistani military, and the United States for his “illegal” removal from power in April. Since then, there have been several instances of anti-army slogans and statements by PTI supporters, a rare development in Pakistan.

Faced with the backlash, the Pakistani military ditched its blinders, took the lead and embarked on an all-out effort to woo the United States and the West. Here, army chief Javed Qamar Bajwa leads from the front. A day after Zawahiri’s murder, Bajwa took the unusual step of calling US Under Secretary of State Wendy Sherman to request a quick disbursement of a $1.2 billion tranche from the IMF to bail out the Pakistan’s struggling economy.

Aware of the Anglo-American alliance, Bajwa then headed for London. In the British capital, he became the main guest in the passing out parade of the Sandhurst military academy. More importantly, he symbolically acknowledged his country’s submission to British royalty – a step that would have been met with approval in Western capitals.

According to the UK Ministry of Defence, General Bajwa represented the Queen at the Sovereign’s Parade for the commissioning of Royal Military Academy Sandhurst (RMAS) Course 213 (CC213). During his speech, General Bajwa said representing the Queen was a “unique honor and a great privilege”.

Also read: After Zawahiri killing, Bajwa leads from front to moor Pakistan in western camp

(Dr. Vivek Mishra is a Fellow, Strategic Studies Program, ORF, New Delhi. Sarral Sharma is a PhD candidate at the Center for National Security, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi)

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