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Sushma Spoils Abbasi’s Pence Moment

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ISLAMABAD, Aug. 1, 2017 (Xinhua) -- Shahid Khaqan Abbasi talks to media upon his arrival at the National Assembly before the election of the new prime minister of the country in Islamabad, capital of Pakistan, Aug. 1, 2017. Pakistan's National Assembly on Tuesday elected Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, candidate of the ruling party, as the country's new prime minister. (Xinhua/Stringer/IANS) by .
Pakistan Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi (Xinhua/Stringer/IANS)

Indian foreign minister’s well prepared speech Spoils Pakistan Prime Minister Abbasi’s bid to thaw ties with the US. Americans are less formal in their dress protocol than, say, the British or the French, but would receive a negative vibe from a visitor if he too wanted to convey the anger of his government and his people at the recent steep slide in US-Pak relations…writes Ishaq Mohiyudeen

ISLAMABAD, Aug. 1, 2017 (Xinhua) -- Shahid Khaqan Abbasi talks to media upon his arrival at the National Assembly before the election of the new prime minister of the country in Islamabad, capital of Pakistan, Aug. 1, 2017. Pakistan's National Assembly on Tuesday elected Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, candidate of the ruling party, as the country's new prime minister. (Xinhua/Stringer/IANS) by .
Pakistan Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi (Xinhua/Stringer/IANS)

From all available indications coming from New York, Pakistan’s Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi has failed to break the tough wall the United States has created, charging his country with fomenting trouble and terrorism in the region in and around it and not playing the ball with the US.

The highest meeting Abbasi could manage was with US Vice President Mike Pence, but that was a day or two after Indian External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj had met Pence along with the Japanese Foreign Minister, wherein the US had endorsed the India-Japan parleys when Shinzo Abe was hosted by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

So, one way of looking is that Abbasi was relegated to the foreign ministers’ level. And undisputedly, nothing substantial or significant came out of the Pence-Abbasi meeting.

Temporary, if not technically interim prime minister, Abbasi, a technocrat, would have liked to put on a tie while meeting a senior American dignitary. But he chose to meet open-collared, perhaps to suite the current anti-American mood back home.

Americans are less formal in their dress protocol than, say, the British or the French, but would receive a negative vibe from a visitor if he too wanted to convey the anger of his government and his people at the recent steep slide in US-Pak relations.

US-CLEVELAND-REPUBLICAN NATIONAL CONVENTION-MIKE PENCE by .
US Vice President Mike Pence (Xinhua/Yin Bogu)(zcc)

The photograph of the Abbasi-Pence meeting showed cold handshake and the two not smiling at all. Diplomacy has much to do with smiles and gestures – the body language– that add to the atmospherics that contribute substantially, though not totally, to the success or otherwise of an event.

That the two leader agreed “to remain engaged” in this connected world is no gain to Pakistan and amounts to a certain diplomatic failure.

Although Pence is not the ultimate decision-maker, but is the powerful Number 2. He would convey to Trump and Secretary of State Rex  Tillerwon his impression, positive or otherwise, of his meeting with Abbasi.

The meeting may have been little more than a formality. Yet, it is not clear how US will react to Pakistan in the foreseeable future. The facts and the photos are telling that the US will keep working on the policy that Trump has himself announced tersely last month, aimed against Pakistan,

The meeting was on the sidelines of the 72nd UNGA meeting and was no more than a diplomatic gesture with little warmth.

Abbasi’s Prime Minister’s Office merely said that the two sides resolving “to remain engaged and carry forward the relationship” that has been on a downward trajectory since announcement of the US policy for Afghanistan and South Asia.

Abbasi’s meeting with Pence is the highest contact between the two sides since the policy was announced on Aug 21. Pakistan had after the policy announcement postponed the then planned bilateral interactions.

The meeting was held ‘in a cordial atmosphere’, a handout issued by Pakistan’s Foreign Office said.

“Prime Minister [Abbasi] shared Pakistan’s concerns and views with regard to the US strategy for South Asia,” it said.

Abbasi and Pence agreed to work together to carry forward the bilateral relationship and discussed matters relating to peace and stability in Afghanistan and the region.

“It was agreed that the two countries would stay engaged with a constructive approach to achieve shared objectives of peace, stability and economic prosperity in the region,” the FO statement said.

But it is open to question – the Americans, at least, are questioning it –how the “shared objectives” are being met on the ground.

According to a Radio Pakistan report, Foreign Secretary Tehmina Janjua told reporters after the meeting that a US delegation will visit Pakistan next month to continue the process of bilateral dialogue.

This, at the best, may indicate that Pakistan, that had suspended the bilateral dialogue, is being asked to resume, or face the consequences of a further chill in the bilateral relationship.

It is apparent that the US has other plans. It could not care less if Pakistan is going into Chinese embrace – probably it has, and fully. It is un-retrievable the way its intelligentsia keeps flaunting the Chinese connection and the CPEC as a panacea for everything, the latest being a weapon to fend off American pressures.

The other thing is the likelihood of Pakistan distancing itself, if no longer considered a non-Nato ally and denied various benefits, or even if declared a state supporting terrorism is that it would block US/Nato supplies from traversing through its territory into Afghanistan.

Surely, the US has this very obvious contingency in mind and probably, plans up its sleeves that it is not revealing. It is a matter of time before it can punish Pakistan and implement those plans.

There is little meeting ground, as evident from the meeting since fractious Pakistan-US relations got further strained last month when Trump unveiled his administration’s policy on Afghanistan and South Asia.

Pakistan is angry that the policy requires Islamabad to subdue Taliban militancy in Afghanistan. It is even more angry that it envisions greater role for India in Afghanistan. The American assessment of the overall regional security has been particularly hawkish on Pakistan accusing it of being an insincere partner in the fight against terrorism.

Pakistanis think the new policy as humiliating, disrespectful to Pakistani pride and sentiment. It ignores the ‘sacrifices’ Pakistan has made in the fight against terrorism that the US and the world community feels has been selective and retains support to the forces, like the Haqqani network that targets US interests in Afghanistan, and   is indifferent to Islamabad’s security concerns.

Pakistan is struggling to formulate a response, but remains uncertain and confused. Abbasi meeting with Pence seems confusion worst confounded.

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