WASHINGTON (TIP): Barack Obama is inviting Pakistan beleaguered Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to the White House in October, raising the prospect of a second such visit in two years despite the US President reneging on his pledge to visit Pakistan during his second term.
The invitation is evidently aimed at shoring up US support for Sharif at a time he has been promoting peace with India in the face of depredations of the Pakistan military intent on undermining his moves. The US is also seeking to prevent Pakistan from moving completely out of its sphere of influence, while seeking its continued cooperation in Afghanistan.
”It will be an important visit. It shows that the US supports policies of the
(Sharif’s) government to create peace in the region by defeating militants and strengthening economy,” an unnamed Pakistani official was quoted as saying in Islamabad, where news of the invitation was first leaked. The White House has not confirmed the visit at the time of writing.
Sharif last visited Washington in October 2013 in a effort to lift US-Pakistan ties out a rut after the Obama administration caught Osama bin Laden hiding in a military garrison town of Abbottabad, right under the nose of – and suspected to be protected by – the Pakistani military. Since then, the Pakistani military has continued to undermine sharif, virtually hijacking the country’s foreign policy in a continuation of its disastrous “strategic depth” outlook.
The Sharif dispensation is trying to reclaim some foreign policy prerogatives in the fact of the country’s plunging economic woes. Sharif’s Special Assistant Tariq Fatemi is in Washington this week, meeting with National Security Advisor Susan Rice, Senate Foreign Relations veteran Dianne Feinstein and Bob Casey, among others, to emphasize that the country’s civilian establishment is still very relevant and needs to be supported.
The invitation to Washington is a consequence of the Obama administration recognizing that, even though Washington continues to deal separately with the Pakistani military because of its compulsions in Afghanistan where the Pak military holds the key.
Obama had pledged to visit Pakistan soon after his first visit to India in 2010, but that visit never materialized. In fact, chances of a visit evaporated after bin Laden was found in Pakistan. Obama visited India a second time in January this year as a guest of honor at the country’s Republic Day festivities signaling a dynamic shift in strategic priorities in the region.
The invitation to Sharif to visit Washington is also ostensibly aimed at preventing Pakistan from completely falling over into the Chinese and Russian sphere of influence, a prospect some Pakistani strategists have raised in an effort to cadge US support. Another new card in Pakistan’s bag of tricks is to invoke the threat of the Islamic State (IS) spreading its influence in Pakistan in order to extract further US munificence.
Some US lawmakers have already taken the bait to argue that Washington needs to remain engaged with Pakistan to prevent both these possibilities.