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More of the same by Arif Nizami
Posted By shafeeq On July 24, 2010 @ 10:10 am In Arif Nizami,English Columnists | No Comments
Saturday, July 24, 2010
Pakistan has been at the epicentre of hectic diplomatic activity in the past few weeks. However, as they say, no matter how much things change they remain the same. Parleys between Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi and his Indian counterpart, S M Krishna, failed to break any fresh ground.
Talks with Ms Hillary Clinton resulted in the US secretary of state arm-twisting Islamabad into signing an unequal transit trade agreement with Kabul and the sop of $500 million’s project assistance. The fine print that this money was part of the assistance already pledged under the Kerry Lugar Bill was conveniently swept under the carpet.
Shorn of diplomatic verbosity, the wide gap between Islamabad’s wish list and the demands of the West, with India Pakistan’s perennially estranged neighbour, has not narrowed a bit. The only silver lining is Islamabad’s markedly improved relations with Kabul.
Shah Mehmood Qureshi, visibly disappointed and sombre at the joint press conference with his Indian counterpart, looked more like a jilted lover than the foreign minister of Pakistan. Had he taken too seriously the bombastic claims of his predecessor, Khursheed Mehmood Kasuri, that a Kashmir solution had virtually been clinched under Musharraf?
It is naive on our part to expect New Delhi to start meaningful talks on Kashmir on Washington’s prodding. Striking a sympathetic chord with the West, India’s priority remains engagement of Pakistan on terrorism and trade. S M Krishna or any member of his team need not have been on the cell phone with New Delhi during the talks, as claimed by Mr Qureshi, for instructions on this count.
On the contrary, in the talks it was Islamabad that was ill prepared and was caught on the wrong foot. New Delhi has exploited to the hilt the testimony of David Haedley, a maverick of half-Pakistani, half-American descent who has been working as a mole for the Americans and later ostensibly for the Taliban. In sharp contrast, Islamabad failed to walk the talk by providing any concrete evidence on RAW’s alleged involvement in Balochistan.
The much-hyped second round of strategic dialogue with the US also proved to be a damp squib. It ended with a litany of oft-repeated demands and statements from the US secretary of state. As on her previous visit, she repeated her claim that Osama bin Laden is in Pakistan and elements in the Pakistani government are aware of his whereabouts, a charge predictably denied by the prime minister. Ms Clinton also wanted tougher action from Pakistan to combat militants and expressed her apprehension that another terrorist attack on US soil will be devastating for Pakistan-US relations. Who doesn’t know this?
Predictably, the US secretary of state reiterated Washington’s stance that Islamabad is not entitled to civilian nuclear technology a la New Delhi, on the pretext that it was not a responsible nuclear state, thanks to the so-called A Q Khan network. Similarly, market access that is available to some other South Asian countries and is a long-standing demand of our textile industry remains unavailable to Islamabad.
It is obvious that the “trust deficit” between the US and Pakistan acknowledged by both sides remains high. On one side, Washington wants Islamabad to “do more” while on the other it implicitly blames elements within the Pakistan military of being complicit with the terrorists.
It wants Pakistan to forgo its present strategic paradigm and launch an attack against Taliban sanctuaries in North Waziristan. However, it is unable to play any mediatory role between India and Pakistan, apart from facilitating a fruitless dialogue between the two adversaries. The collateral damage inflicted in the tribal areas, owing to the constant drone attacks has made the onerous task of winning hearts and minds even more difficult with US approval ratings in Pakistan stubbornly remaining at an all-time low.
The country’s economy is in dire straits, and our policymakers have little option but to follow US diktats. The only stumbling block, or, rather, a balancing element, is the military that adheres to its own version of India-centric policies.
Pakistan Afghanistan transit trade deal signed under the matronly gaze of the US secretary of state is an unequal treaty. While advantageous for Kabul, it has few benefits for Islamabad. Getting access to Central Asia is easier said than done, thanks to the large swaths of Afghan territory controlled by the Taliban.
Access to Central Asia through war-torn routes in Afghanistan is also expensive, if one has to pay all the warlords on the way. Afghan trucks plying to Wagah and Karachi would not only be financially detrimental to the local trucking industry but could also serve as a fresh source for drugs and arms smuggling.
Ominously, on the eve of the strategic dialogue, speculative stories appeared in the media about COAS Gen Kayani, whose term was to end in November this year, being granted an extension by the prime minister. One newspaper came up with the fantastic claim that the US secretary of state has pleaded for the army chief’s tenure be extended for the sake of continuity in the war on terror.
Such a demand coming from Washington would be construed as a blatant interference in the internal affairs of Pakistan. Despite the closeness of relations between Islamabad and Washington the decision to grant an extension hopefully has been taken because of the pivotal role Pakistan is playing in the war on terror, rather than on the basis of US demands.
Now that Gen Kayani’s term as COAS has been extended for another three years for the sake of “wider national interest,” more speculation in the media will be counterproductive. Although military strongmen giving themselves extensions has been he norm, it is the first time that such a step has been taken by a civilian government.
President Mohammad Ayub Khan promoted himself from general to field marshal, whereas Gen Zia and Gen Musharraf as presidents gave themselves extensions as army chiefs.
Islamabad’s regional security environment has markedly improved as a result of better relations with Kabul. The process started after Musharraf’s exit from power, has now culminated in Gen Kayani and his ISI chief facilitating a dialogue with the Taliban. Pakistan’s neutrality in the controversial presidential elections held last year in Afghanistan and Karzai losing faith in the Nato forces’ ability to defeat the Taliban has helped tip the balance in Islamabad’s favour.
Relations with Afghanistan have improved to the extent that Kabul has agreed to send Afghan military officers for training to Pakistan–a proposal which Karzai had been vehemently resisting till recently. India, which has invested heavily in Afghanistan and has a vast intelligence network along the border with Pakistan, is visibly upset over these developments. The virulent anti-Pakistan propaganda in the Indian media on this count is clear indication of New Delhi’s withdrawal symptoms.
A key conference on Afghanistan led by Hillary Clinton and chaired by UN secretary general Ban Ki Moon and attended by 80 countries and organisations, including India and Pakistan, has endorsed Karzai’s plan for talking with those Taliban who are willing to renounce violence. Obviously, this is a window of opportunity for Pakistan. But it has to tread cautiously, lest it is accused of treating Afghanistan as its backyard.
The writer is a former newspaper editor.
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