WEB DESK: Given the growing tension with increasingly pro-US India; abounding misperceptions about Pakistan’s nuclear programme; and rapidly deteriorating security situation in Afghanistan the pre-departure narrative about Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s Washington visit was an admixture of more reservations and less expectations.
In that India was deeply involved in promoting terrorism in Pakistan – detailed in the dossiers handed over to the United Nations and now to the Obama administration – the persisting discourse in Washington was not favourably disposed towards Pakistan.
Not many were ready to accept the fact that India wants its border with Pakistan to explode to help trigger play out its ‘Cold Start’ war doctrine. That the latest spurt of an intifada in occupied Kashmir was resultant to its people’s determined struggle, and not because of infiltration from across the border, was something that the US government didn’t appear to be accepting also. The country’s nuclear programme was under negative spotlight in Washington as well, possibly by design to deny Pakistan its equal and non-discriminatory right of access to civil nuclear technology and membership of the Nuclear Suppliers Group.
There was even a talk of President Obama asking his guest at the White House to accept “brackets” on the size and potency of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons and the reach of its missiles. And then there was this spectacular fall of Kunduz to Afghan Taliban, forcing the US president to shift forward his troops pullout deadline, and that too was being blamed on Pakistan – so much with malice that even justification for bombing of the Doctors Without Borders’ hospital by the American planes was ‘traced’ to Islamabad.
These were huge challenges awaiting Nawaz Sharif and his team in America, breeding more reservations than expectations about the outcome of his visit. But unlike the Ufa episode, when the Pakistani leadership was caught unaware, as there was no mention of Kashmir in the joint statement issued following his meeting with his Indian counterpart Narendra Modi, and the albatross of this lapse had hung heavy around his neck. The ground lost at Ufa was to be recovered, and that he did, to some extent, by proposing to India quite a workable framework for resumption of talks in order to resolve all outstanding disputes including Kashmir.
As for the nuclear “brackets” Washington was conveyed in advance in so many words that such a demand would be counter-productive to its desire for a constructive engagement, because whatever be the reward or penalty there can be no caveats against the country’s nuclear programme.
And to a considerable extent this strategy worked, reflected as it is from the joint statement issued after the prime minister’s nearly two-hour meeting with President Obama at the White House on Thursday. Bereft of ‘do more’ parroting, the statement is couched in a conciliatory tone and if there are some reservations these are dressed in diplomatic jargon blunting the sharp edges.
More active bilateralism in fields of economy, energy, education and climate change is envisioned, with the help of six working groups. Interestingly, it is through US First Lady Michelle we have come to know that Pakistan has agreed to double spending for education from present 2 percent of GDP to 4 percent by 2018, and to this cause her government would make additional contribution of $70 million. That political and strategic matters appeared towards the end of the joint statement doesn’t mean that these have been put on the backburner. Both sides have stated their positions, both mutual and independent, quite emphatically. On Kashmir, the United States says, what it had not said for a long time now – that there is the “need for sustained and resilient dialogue aimed at resolving all outstanding issues/disputes, including Kashmir”.
Terrorism is also included among the issues the United States wants to be part of the dialogue between India and Pakistan, and if so why not to take up the dossiers that record involvement of the Indian agency RAW in fomenting terrorism in Karachi, Fata and Balochistan. Both Pakistan and the United States expressed their “concern over LoC violence and supported need for confidence-building measures and an effective mechanism acceptable to both sides”.
The United States has offered to upgrade defence co-operation with Pakistan, though there is no mention of eight F-16s that media says would be sold to Pakistan. On nuclear the joint statement is quite opaque. There is no mention of any ‘bracket’, but of hope that the two sides can work towards a Nuclear Security Summit to be hosted by President Obama next year.
Afghanistan stands out, perhaps, as the only foreign policy matter between Islamabad and Washington, and therefore of their serious bilateral concern. They want urgent resumption of largely Pakistan-prompted Kabul-Afghan Taliban talks, and the ball is in Islamabad’s court once again. But there are some mismatches over the Afghan imbroglio also and find mention in the joint statement.
Obliquely but unmistakably the US side wants action against the Haqqani network, to which Pakistan insists it is not here; it lives and operates from Afghanistan and therefore it’s Kabul’s baby. President Obama has also invited Pakistani companies to participate in the US defence procurements related to Afghanistan. For enhanced regional growth he is in support of Afghanistan-Pakistan transit trade agreement, CASA-1000 and Tapi and “other means”, but the statement makes no mention of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor.
Is it then the case that while Washington would like to revive and upgrade its enduring relationship with Pakistan, but only through economic partnership now, but no more as a strategic ally – as if forbidden by fear of running afoul of its growing relationship with India. At this point of time perhaps Pakistan too is not much inclined to take another turn of strategic partnership with America, as the region undergoes dramatic geo-strategic and geopolitical transformation.