Mike Pompeo visits Islamabad: Can the US and Pakistan reset bilateral ties?

Pakistan's newly elected PM Imran Khan faces the first real test as head of government as he holds talks with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in Islamabad. Khan's maneuvering options are, however, limited.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and US military chief General Joseph Dunford arrived in Islamabad on Wednesday to hold talks with Pakistani authorities, including Prime Minister Imran Khan, Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi and Pakistan's army chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa.

The security situation in Afghanistan, particularly Pakistan's shaky cooperation with the US, was high on Pompeo's agenda.

After Pompeo's meeting with his counterpart Qureshi, Pakistan's Foreign Office said in a statement that "discussions on bilateral, regional and international issues" took place in the meeting that lasted for about 40 minutes.

"FM Qureshi underscores the need to reset bilateral ties on basis of mutual trust and respect," Foreign Office spokesperson Muhammad Faisal stated on Twitter, adding: "Safeguarding Pakistan's national interests will remain supreme priority."

On Sunday, the Trump administration canceled a $300 million aid package to the Islamic country due to Islamabad's perceived unwillingness to act against militant groups.

The Pentagon's decision to scrap the package comes after US President Donald Trump said at the beginning of the year that his administration was suspending aid payments to Pakistan due to its supposed "lies and deceit."

Washington's heavy-handedness has not gone down well with Pakistani authorities, especially the military generals, who call the shots on defense, security and foreign policy matters.

A new face of Pakistan leadership

Former PM Nawaz Sharif, who had reportedly confronted his country's powerful army over the generals' alleged backing to a number of proxy jihadist groups, is now behind bars on corruption charges. His Pakistan Muslim League (PML-N) party lost to the Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI, Movement for Justice) party in the July 25 general election, which allowed cricketer-turned-populist politician Imran Khan to take the reins of the South Asian country.

Read more: Opinion: Imran Khan's dangerous victory

Political analysts believe that Khan agrees with the military's security policies vis-à-vis Afghanistan and India. Since becoming prime minister, Khan has held three lengthy talks with General Bajwa over the security issues. It is therefore clear that the civilian government and the military spoke to Pompeo and Dunford with one mind.

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But the US has also made it clear what it wants from Pakistan — that Islamabad takes decisive action against the militant Haqqani Network operating on its soil and whole-heartedly assists Washington in ending the 16-year-long war in Afghanistan.

Pakistan's Foreign Minister Qureshi said talks with Pompeo were cordial

Read more: Direct talks with Taliban: 'US exploring all avenues,' State Department tells DW 

The refusal to comply with Washington's demands could be tricky for PM Khan, who has often slammed the US' Afghanistan policy and expressed his support for the Taliban.

"First stop Pakistan; a new leader there. I wanted to get out there at the beginning of his [Khan's] time in an effort to reset the relationship between the two countries," Pompeo told journalists on board his Pakistan-bound flight. The US delegation will spend more time in India, Pakistan's neighbor and arch-rival.

"I think it's important to meet the new prime minister, Prime Minister Khan, early on in his time in office," the secretary of state added.

Read more: US, Pakistan dispute whether Mike Pompeo talked terror with Imran Khan

But analysts say that keeping the diplomatic protocol aside, Pompeo is aware that the decision to support the US in Afghanistan is the Pakistani military's prerogative. Therefore, his talks with General Bajwa were considered more crucial than the exchange of pleasantries with PM Khan.

Who is Imran Khan, Pakistan's new prime minister?

Affluent upbringing

Imran Khan was born in Lahore in 1952, the son of a civil engineer. Khan grew up with his four sisters in a relatively affluent part of the city. He received a privileged education, first in his hometown and then in Worcester, England. It was there that Khan's love and talent for the game of cricket became evident. In 1972, he enrolled at Oxford University to study politics and economics.

Who is Imran Khan, Pakistan's new prime minister?

Pakistan cricket's blue-eyed boy

Khan played cricket throughout his time in England and after returning to his native Pakistan in 1976, he quickly became a regular in the national team. By 1982, he was awarded the captain's armband. Khan enjoyed an illustrious career and was regarded by many as one of the best all-rounders in the world.

Who is Imran Khan, Pakistan's new prime minister?

World champion

The ultimate high point of Khan's sporting career saw him captain Pakistan to the 1992 Cricket World Cup in Melbourne, Australia. As if his popularity couldn't get any bigger back home, Khan even took the winning wicket in the final against England.

Who is Imran Khan, Pakistan's new prime minister?

From playboy to (thrice) married man

Khan enjoyed hedonistic bachelor life and was a regular fixture on London's nightlife scene. However, in 1995, at age 42, he finally tied the knot to 21-year-old Jemima Goldsmith. During their nine-year marriage, the famous couple provided plenty of fodder for the British and Pakistani tabloids. Despite separating in 2004, Goldsmith has remained a vocal supporter of Khan's politics.

Who is Imran Khan, Pakistan's new prime minister?

Khan enters politics

Khan wasted little time after retiring from cricket in 1994. Just two years later he entered Pakistani politics and founded the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party. However, his popularity was slow to carry over from cricket into politics. In the 1997 general elections, his PTI party failed to win a single seat.

Who is Imran Khan, Pakistan's new prime minister?

Political activist

Khan remained active in politics over the next decades. In 1999, he supported General Pervez Musharraf's military coup, only to later turn against Musharraf ahead of the 2007 presidential election. Khan was subsequently placed under house arrest and even spent a few days in prison. However, his supporter base continued to grow, and by 2013 he became a key candidate in the general elections.

Who is Imran Khan, Pakistan's new prime minister?

2013: Khan's political breakthrough

The PTI made substantial gains in the 2013 election, claiming 30 parliamentary seats and finishing second behind the Pakistan Muslim League. The party became the main opposition in the key provinces of Punjab and Sindh. However, its greatest feat was winning its first province in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

Who is Imran Khan, Pakistan's new prime minister?

"Taliban Khan"

Khan has often been the butt of jokes for his pacifist stance towards terrorism in the region. He earned the moniker "Taliban Khan" for claiming that the only way to achieve peace with the Taliban in neighboring Afghanistan was through negotiation. Khan was also a vocal critic of US drones strikes on Pakistan and has promised to disengage Pakistan from America's conflicts in the Middle East.

Who is Imran Khan, Pakistan's new prime minister?

Two more marriages

Since his divorce from Goldsmith in 2004, Khan has remarried twice. In January 2015, Khan announced his marriage to British-Pakistani journalist Reham Khanm although just 10 months later the couple said they were filing for divorce. In February 2018, Khan married his third wife, Bushra Manika (pictured front row, second from the left), whom he describes as his spiritual adviser.

Who is Imran Khan, Pakistan's new prime minister?

Making waves in 2018

By 2018, Khan's PTI were among the favorites going into the general election. Campaigning on a populist platform, Khan pledged to break away from Pakistan's corrupt legacy. His plans include a poverty reduction program similar to that seen in China. This would see the establishment of an "Islamic welfare state," the creation of 10 million jobs and construction of 5 million homes for the poor.

Who is Imran Khan, Pakistan's new prime minister?

Prime Minister Imran Khan

Khan completed his journey from all-star cricketer to political leader on July 26, 2018. With most votes counted, the PTI is expected win up to 119 seats in Pakistan's 272-seat parliament. "I started this struggle 22 years ago and today I have been given a chance to fulfill what I dreamed for the country," Khan said in a televised speech. "We will run Pakistan like it's never been run before."

A deep lack of trust

"The US would like to see a stable Afghanistan, and Washington believes that the way to achieve that is to step up pressure on all terror groups that operate in the South Asian region," Husain Haqqani, former ambassador of Pakistan to the US, and director of South and Central Asia at the Hudson Institute, told DW.

"This means targeting the Afghan Taliban, the Haqqani Network and their allies, and also the so-called 'Islamic State' (Khurasan branch) inside Afghanistan, in the hope that once enough pressure has been applied on them militarily, the Afghan Taliban leadership may be more amenable to negotiations," the expert added.

"The US believes Pakistan provides safe haven to Afghan jihadists even as it acts against those Pakistani groups that attack inside Pakistan," Haqqani noted.

"The US policy for the last year has involved consistent pressure on Pakistan to act against terror groups that operate within its territory and also help bring the Taliban to the negotiating table."

Read more: Taliban: Haqqani network leader dead

But Pakistan complains its "sacrifices" in the war on terror have not been appreciated by the US.

"The US says we do not want to bring the Taliban to the negotiating table. Did we not bring them to negotiations in 2015? But the Afghan intelligence agency continues to work at India's behest," General (retired) Amjad Shoaib, an Islamabad-based defense analyst, told DW.

"Also, Pakistan's influence on Afghan groups has waned over the years. The Taliban have good ties with Iran and Russia. Why would they listen to Pakistan?" Shoaib said.

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Pompeo wants to ‘reset’ US ties with Pakistan

Changing regional alignments

In the past decade, Washington has moved closer to New Delhi with an aim to counterbalance China's growing influence in the region. Pompeo's South Asia visit is a testimony to India's importance for the US, as the secretary of state will spend more time in New Delhi on the second leg of his trip. Pakistan's army views the US' closeness to India with a lot of skepticism.

"The US wants Pakistan to be subservient to India; Pakistan will never accept that. The US and Pakistan are allies but US officials give more time to India," Shoaib said, adding that if the Trump administration gets tough with Pakistan, Islamabad has other options to explore. "We are no more dependent on the US for our military needs," the former military general said, indirectly referring to Pakistan's close ties to China.

But former Pakistan ambassador to the US, Haqqani, is of the view that "Pakistan has not kept its promises of acting against terrorism after decades of promising to do so and after receiving enormous amounts of military assistance and equipment." The US therefore cannot consider Pakistan a reliable ally, he said.

"The US argument is that Pakistan promised to act against terror groups like the Taliban and the Haqqani Network. If Pakistan refuses to act against these groups and instead provides them safe havens then why should the US continue to provide the military funding?" Haqqani argued.

"Decades of positive reinforcement, massive doses of economic and military aid and support in the international institutions has not led to any change in Pakistan's policies. The US now believes that maybe reversing these policies will force Pakistan to rethink its worldview and recalibrate its policies," he added.

Haqqani also said that the US' strategic dependence on Pakistan has declined as India, Afghanistan and Gulf countries have become US military and intelligence partners.

"There was logistical, technical or bureaucratic dependence on Pakistan in the decade after 9/11 as the US used Pakistani territory for supporting its troops inside Afghanistan. However, there was no strategic synchronization or dependence. Both sides had different goals and interests and this divergence has only increased. Decline in the number of US troops in Afghanistan means the US needs for supplying them through Pakistan have also diminished," the former ambassador told DW.

Militant Haqqani Network - a brief history

Remnants of the Afghan war against Soviets

The Haqqani Network was formed by Jalaluddin Haqqani, who fought against Soviet forces in Afghanistan in the 1980s. In 1995, the Haqqani Network allied with the Taliban and the two groups captured the Afghan capital Kabul in 1996. In 2012, the US designated the group a terrorist organization. On September 4, 2018, the Taliban announced that Jalaluddin passed away after a long illness.

Madrassa Jamia (AP)

Militant Haqqani Network - a brief history

An Islamist ideologue

Jalaluddin Haqqani was born in 1939 in the Afghan province Paktia. He studied at Darul Uloom Haqqania, which was founded in 1947 by the father of one of Pakistan's most prominent religious leaders, Maulana Sami ul Haq. Darul Uloom Haqqania is known for its alleged ties with the Taliban and other extremist groups.

Militant Haqqani Network - a brief history

Jalaluddin Haqqani as Taliban minister

Jalaluddin was made minister for Afghan tribal affairs under the Taliban rule. He remained in the post until the US toppled the Taliban regime in 2001. After the Taliban leader Mullah Omar, Jalaluddin was considered the most influential militant figure in Afghanistan. Jalaluddin also had close links with the former al Qaeda leader, Osama bin Laden.

Militant Haqqani Network - a brief history

Where is the Haqqani Network based?

Security experts say the command center of the group is based in Miranshah city of Pakistan's North Waziristan region along the Afghan border. US and Afghan officials claim the Haqqani Network is backed by the Pakistani military, a charge denied by Pakistani authorities. Washington says the group's fighters launch attacks on foreign and local troops and civilians inside Afghanistan.

Militant Haqqani Network - a brief history

The Haqqani heir

It is believed that Jalaluddin Haqqani died in 2015, but his group denied those reports at the time. The network is now headed by Sirajuddin Haqqani, Jalaluddin's son. Sirajuddin is also the deputy chief of the Taliban.

Superteaser NO FLASH Pakistan Terror Jalaluddin Hakkani (picture-alliance/dpa)

Militant Haqqani Network - a brief history

Who is Sirajuddin Haqqani?

Although there isn't much credible information available about Sirajuddin Haqqani, security experts say he spent his childhood in the Pakistani city of Miranshah. He studied at Darul Uloom Haqqania, situated in Peshawar's suburbs. Sirajuddin is believed to be an expert on military affairs. Some analysts say Sirajuddin's views are more hard line than his father's.

Militant Haqqani Network - a brief history

Anas Haqqani's death sentence

One of Jalaluddin's sons is Anas Haqqani, whose mother hailed from the United Arab Emirates. He is currently in the custody of the Afghan government and is facing the death penalty. The Haqqani Network has warned Kabul of dire consequences if Afghan authorities hang Anas Haqqani.

Militant Haqqani Network - a brief history

How big is the Haqqani Network?

Research institutes and Afghan affairs experts say the group has between three and ten thousand fighters. The network allegedly receives most of its funding from the Gulf countries. The Haqqani Network is also involved in kidnappings and extortion through which it funds its operations.

Militant Haqqani Network - a brief history

Ties with other militant groups

The Haqqanis have close relations with other regional and international terrorist organizations such as al Qaeda, the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), Lashkar-e-Taiba and Central Asian Islamist groups. Jalauddin Haqqani was not only close to bin Laden, but also had ties with al Qaeda's current chief Ayman al-Zawahiri.

Khan's dilemma

Prime Minister Khan has long advocated a political solution to the Afghan conflict. Like Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, Khan also wants a role for Islamists in the Afghan government.

The conservative politician also enjoys a degree of influence over the Taliban, as in the past, the militants had nominated him to talk to Pakistani authorities on their behalf.

But the Afghan situation is far more complex than how Khan has so far perceived it; the military's security briefing ahead of Pompeo's Wednesday visit must have made it clear to an inexperienced premier, say observers.

"Pompeo came with a tough message. If Pakistan does not pay heed to the demands of the international community, it will be further isolated," Tauseef Ahmed Khan, an international relations expert, told DW.

"Pakistan's economic situation is dire and the country urgently needs $12 billion for debt servicing. If Islamabad refuses to cooperate with Washington, it will not be able to get the loan from the International Monetary Fund. This will make it very difficult for Imran Khan to run the country," underlined Khan.

Read more: Pakistan's bailout becomes a pawn in US-China tensions

Additional reporting by Wesley Rahn, and Sattar Khan, DW's correspondent in Islamabad.

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