After F-16 deal, Pak general Bajwa meets top American defence officials - Here's why US might be warming to Pakistan

As Pakistan’s Genaral Bajwa meets defence officials of the Biden administration in Washington after the F-16 assistance, the thawing of US ties with Islamabad is obvious. But why is the US rekindling its bumpy relationship with Pakistan after being disappointed in the past?

Days after the US signed a $450 million package to upgrade Pakistan’s F-16 fleet, Pakistan Army chief General Qamar Jawed Bajwa called on US Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin, National Security Adviser Jacob Sullivan, and Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman on his recent visit to Washington.

The media and PR wing of the Pakistan Army said, “Matters of mutual interest, regional security situation and bilateral cooperation in various fields were discussed during the meetings.”

The US department of defence, in a readout, said that the meeting between Bajwa and Austin was held “during the 75th anniversary of relations between the United States and Pakistan” and "this long-standing partnership continues today with discussions focused on opportunities to address key mutual defence interests.”

Why Is Bajwa Meeting Biden Admin Officials Now?

Pakistan’s General Bajwa confirmed at an event in Washington that he will retire in November when his current extended tenure ends. During the army chief's address at a luncheon at Pakistani embassy in Washington, he stressed that no nation can achieve its targets without a strong economy and urged all stakeholders to contribute. This perhaps gives few hints about why the Pakistani general was in the US.

While he did insist that the armed force has distanced itself from politics, it remains an open secret that the military has a major role in the civilian administration in Pakistan.

Bajwa’s visit comes at a time when Pakistan is fighting its worst economic crisis and a climate emergency. He thanked US officials for their support for the flood relief in the country. Also the US defence aid to Pakistan comes at a time the country needed support for millions whose lives and livelihoods have been destroyed by the floods.

Pakistan also needed US help to secure a multi-billion IMF loan to pull the nation out of its balance of payments crisis, much of which was incurred by financing bad loans from China for stalled infrastructure projects.

How Will Pakistan Balance China And US?

Pakistan has always been able to balance its US and China ties to achieve its short term goals.

Despite known to be an all-weather ally of China, Pakistan is cosying up to the US after its former Prime Minister Imran Khan launched a belligerent campaign against Washington for allegedly removing him from power.

Khan claimed he was pursuing a goal of national interest when he alleges that the collapse of his government was engineered by a “foreign hand”. Khan was meeting Russian president Vladimir Putin the day the latter launched his “military operation” in Ukraine. The pre-scheduled meeting happened at the worst possible time and was reportedly about economic and energy cooperation.

While China and Russia have announced a no-limits partnership, the war is dragging on for far too longer than the Kremlin anticipated. Even China has indicated it wants a speedy end to the conflict as the Communist ruled nation is dealing with its own domestic economic headwinds .

Amid the geopolitical turmoil, Pakistan was forced to turn to US for aid that only China could not have provided and Russia, of course, is out of the question.

How Will US Leverage Pakistan Ties?

Analysts believe that the assassination of al Qaeda terrorist chief Ayman Al Zawahiri in the heart of Kabul on July 31 happened by Pakistan’s assistance.

The US needs a pragmatic relationship with Pakistan due to its strategic location and possession of nuclear weapons.

US ties with the country have been bumpy - Osama bin Laden was found holed up in Pakistan’s town of Abbottabad even as the non-NATO ally promised to cooperate on US’s ‘war on terror’ – Washington cannot afford to ignore Islamabad.

Pakistan may eventually exit the UN FATF grey list with US help. It recently claimed that JeM chief Masood Azhar was in Afghanistan, a claim promptly dismissed by the Taliban government. This was seen as a tactic to show Pakistan’s intent at combating terror outfits and their leaders. However, the apparently unfounded claim seems to have exposed a rift between the Afghan administration and Islamabad as well. The latter may not wield as much influence over the country’s new administration as was previously thought. In the 2000s, the US had relied on Pakistan assistance to aid its Afghanistan operations, however, Pakistan’s role had been ambivalent.

Reports also suggest that Pakistan has been supplying weapons to Ukraine. Several media reports have corroborated evidence first unveiled by the ‘Ukraine Weapons Tracker’ website that showed Pakistan-made ammunition in possession of Ukrainian fighters.

This blows the cover off Pakistan’s “neutral” stance in the conflict.

How Does India View The Developments?

India understands that the US needs the world’s fifth largest economy as a bulwark against China in the Indo Pacific. No doubt, the India-US relationship has been robust, and based on shared values of democracy and a rules-based international order.

However, India continues to pursue an independent foreign policy as far as its national interest is concerned. Pakistan is mutable that way. India’s rival neighbour also continues to view relations with New Delhi as a zero sum game even though Pakistan’s weak institutions and poor governance have ensured that the gap between the two nations has only widened with time.

Indian Defence Minister Rajnath Singh had conveyed concerns to Washington over the F-16 deal and External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar had shredded claims that the assistance was to combat terror, saying that: “You’re not fooling anybody by saying these things”.