Written by Muhammad Abdul Qadeer
Citing a US official, the Indian Express reported on April 28 that the US government has declined to share any information with India on the use of F-16 fighter jets by the Pakistan Air Force during an aerial fight between the two countries on February 27, 2019.
According to a US official, India complained to the US in March, 2019 that Pakistan had violated the end-user agreement on their F-16’s by using the jets for offensive operations against India. The US official said that after the Indian complaint, Washington informed New Delhi that it would not share any information on this matter because it was a bilateral matter between the US and Pakistan.
On April 29, US Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation, Zalmay Khalilzad and US Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for South and Central Asian Affairs, Alice Wells visited Islamabad and held talks with Pakistani officials on the Afghan peace process, Pakistan-US bilateral relationship and regional security situation.
Pakistan reiterated its support for intra-Afghan dialogue and emphasised the need for creating a “conducive environment” in Afghanistan, to facilitate the return of Afghan refugees back to their country. During a meeting between US Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary, Alice Wells and Adviser to PM on Finance, Dr Abdul Hafeez Shaikh, both sides underlined the need to deepen the engagements between the two countries in the areas of trade, economy and energy. Alice Wells told Hafeez Shaikh that the US supports all policies of Pakistan’s government which are aimed at bringing economic stability in the country.
On April 8, US Central Command (CENTCOM) Chief, General Kenneth McKenzie Jr, visited Islamabad and met with Prime Minister Imran Khan. During the meeting, PM Khan and General McKenzie discussed regional security, Pak-US ties and the ongoing Afghan peace talks.
General McKenzie’s visit to Pakistan came a month after he became the head of US CENTCOM. Prime Minister Khan told the CENTCOM Chief that the policy to seek direct engagement with Afghan stakeholders, including Taliban, to find a negotiated solution has the greatest prospects to end the conflict in Afghanistan. In a separate development, General McKenzie met Pakistan’s Army Chief, General Qamar Javed Bajwa at the General Headquarters in Rawalpindi. Both sides discussed the geo-strategic environment as well as regional security in light of the recent Pak-India tensions.
On April 2, Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi and US Secretary of State Michael Pompeo exchanged views on the Afghan Peace Process. Both sides reaffirmed their commitment to “pursue the Afghan reconciliation process.” Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Qureshi reiterated that “intra-Afghan dialogue was an important component of the reconciliation process.”
In a related development on April 5, 2019 US Special Envoy for Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad visited Islamabad and met with Pakistani officials including Foreign Minister Qureshi. During the visit, Ambassador Khalilzad thanked Pakistan for its efforts in supporting the Afghan Peace Process.
On April 4, a report by US based Foreign Policy magazine, which citied two US defence officials, rejected India’s claim of shooting down a Pakistani F-16 fighter jet in February 2019.
The US officials told Foreign Policy, “a US count of Pakistan’s F-16 fleet has found that all the jets are present and accounted for.” The revelation has caused major embarrassment to Indian officials who claim the Indian Air Force shot down a Pakistan Air Force F-16 during an aerial clash on February 27, 2019. Indian officials rejected the Foreign Policy report saying they had “irrefutable evidence” that it downed a Pakistani jet.
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On March 20, US President Donald Trump said that relations between the US and Pakistan are “very good,” adding, “we’ll be meeting with Pakistan.”
The brief remarks came as the US remains engaged in talks with the Afghan government and Taliban for a prospective peace deal to end the conflict in Afghanistan. Pak-US relations have seen improvements in recent months as the US views Pakistan’s role as “critical” in bringing the Afghan conflict to an end. However, despite the positive trajectory in Pak-US ties, Secretary of State Michael Pompeo’s series of baseless comments were not well received in Pakistan after he suggested in a radio interview that proliferation of Pakistan’s nuclear programme is one of the biggest threats to the American security. He also accused Pakistan of providing safe havens to terrorists, and commented on the recent Pak-India conflict in Kashmir as being initiated because of cross-border terrorism.
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According to Dawn on February 8, Commander of US Central Command (CENTCOM), General Joseph Votel said that “some military cooperation activities” between the US and Pakistan have continued even though the Trump Administration has suspended security assistance to the country.
General Votel also said that the US’ “posture with Pakistan involves supporting our colleagues at the Department of State as they pursue a diplomatic solution with Islamabad to end the conflict in Afghanistan.” General Votel also said that Pakistan would always be a country of importance to the US, not only because of its critical role in resolving the Afghan conflict, but also because it possesses nuclear weapons and sits at the nexus of Russian, Chinese, Indian, Iranian, and US geopolitical interests.
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On January 29, US Director of National Intelligence, Daniel Coats noted in a threat assessment report to Senate Select Committee on Intelligence that militant groups “supported by Pakistan will continue to take advantage of their safe haven in the country and to plan and conduct attacks in India and Afghanistan, including against US interests.”
The report also noted that Pakistan’s “narrow approach” towards combating terrorism would frustrate US counter terrorism efforts against the Taliban. The report claimed that Pakistan has been using some militant groups as “policy tools”. Pakistan’s Foreign Office spokesman, Dr Muhammad Faisal warned that such “controversial statements would be counterproductive and could adversely affect the peace and stability of the region.” Pakistan has maintained that there are no terrorists’ safe havens in Pakistan.
On January 20, US Republican Senator, Lindsey Graham visited Islamabad and met with Prime Minister Imran Khan. During the meeting, the two sides discussed bilateral ties and the regional security situation.
Terming Pakistan a “reliable strategic partner,” Graham said that he would request US President Donald Trump to meet Prime Minister Khan “sooner or later and push a joint agenda for peaceful resolution of Afghan conflict.” Graham came to Islamabad soon after US Special Envoy for Afghanistan Reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad visited Pakistan where he met with Prime Minister Khan, Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi and Army Chief, General Qamar Javed Bajwa. Khalilzad’s visit was part of US efforts to encourage Pakistan to play its role in ending the stalemate between the Afghan government and Taliban over the Afghan reconciliation process. In a related development on January 20, 2019 General Joseph Votel, Commander of the US CENTCOM, met with Pakistan’s Army Chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa and discussed regional security and the Afghanistan reconciliation process.
According to Dawn on January 14, Republican Congressman Andy Biggs introduced a bill in the Congress to terminate the designation of Pakistan as a major non-NATO ally.
The resolution asks the US President to certify that Pakistan has shown progress in arresting and prosecuting members of the Haqqani Network. The bill was sent to the House Foreign Affairs Committee for necessary action. However, the bill cannot be passed without a strong support from the Trump Administration and Democrats.
On January 3, Pakistan’s Foreign Office spokesman, Dr Mohammad Faisal welcomed US President Donald Trump’s remarks on ties with Pakistan and said that the government was looking forward to positive engagement with the US at the leadership level.
The development follows President Donald Trump’s comments about Pakistan in which he expressed his desire to meet “the new leadership in Pakistan”. However, Donald Trump repeated the allegation against Pakistan that it supports “the US enemy,” a reference to the Afghan Taliban.