Prime Minister Imran Khan was accompanied on his visit to Washington by Pakistan’s Army chief General Bajwa—his all-powerful “adviser” on issues from national security and foreign policies, to strategies for overcoming Pakistan’s chronic economic challenges. Bajwa ensured that his jihadis across the LoC and the Taliban in Afghanistan were pulled back from the borders, to avoid any serious terrorist attacks on India and Afghanistan, when he was away in Washington. Imran also reenacted the usual Pakistani charades, like putting Hafiz Saeed behind bars, yet again. Even the normally conformist Pak media was not impressed by this Bajwa-Imran charade.
Trump appeared willing to pay any price to secure Pakistan’s commitment to persuading the Taliban to moderate its attacks and give him a face-saving exit of US forces from Afghanistan, before Presidential elections scheduled for November 3, 2020. Such a withdrawal would significantly boost Trump’s reelection prospects. He even went to the extent of lying that Mr Modi had asked him to mediate on the Kashmir issue—an assertion neither the State Department, nor White House, nor US legislators believed.
The only country to endorse what Trump said (which he chose not to repeat fully, later) was China. China’s official mouthpiece Global Times endorsed what Trump said. It noted that others like Nelson Mandela had expressed similar sentiments, while adding: “China has always supported international mediation because the peace and stability of South Asia is of great importance”. It concluded: “India should not act against the will of the international community.”
The Trump Administration and Xi Jinping’s expansionist China today are opposing each other, on virtually every global issue. The US has imposed crippling trade and economic sanctions on China. What then possessed a Chinese Government mouthpiece to come out with such a hostile statement, which even suggested that the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation should also mediate on India-Pakistan relations? This, despite the fact that Mr Modi appears set to welcome Xi in his constituency, Varanasi, later this year. China has evidently been rattled by the obvious desire of both Imran and Bajwa to successfully woo Trump. This, at a time, when one is hearing murmurs of discontent emerging within Pakistan, about being led into a “debt trap” by high interest rates, on Chinese funding for its much-touted China-Pakistan Economic Corridor. Moreover, while China and Russia are totally opposed to American sanctions on Iran, Pakistan unilaterally pulled out of an Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline project, fearing American sanctions. Rawalpindi has also been periodically accused by Tehran, of supporting armed attacks by radical Sunni groups on its bordering Sistan-Baluchistan Province.
Even as Trump and Imran were oozing affection for each other in Washington, there was deep distrust in the Trump Administration and the US Congress, over Pakistan’s duplicity and its propensity, to back the Taliban in Afghanistan and groups like the LeT in India. Moreover, Trump is under considerable pressure in Washington to tread carefully in dealing with an untrustworthy Pakistan. But, New Delhi will have to work assiduously to ensure that Afghanistan does not again become a base for events like the IC 814 hijack, after the Americans withdraw from the country.