Kerry in Pakistan

New Delhi, Aug.9 (ANI): Karl Inderfurth, former Assistant Secretary of State and now a fellow at the CSIS, Washington, commenting on U.S.-Pakistan relations said "One has to keep expectations low for any dramatic improvement in the U.S.-Pakistan relationship. We've been in a very deep hole for a long time. At the end of the day, we can't live with them and we can't live without them. That's true on both sides."

The U.S.- Pakistan relationship has been transactional from the very beginning. High expectations on both sides have been matched by bitter disappointments but, neither side has been willing to let go.

Today, Pakistan needs the U.S. to help it tide over the economic and power crisis and the U.S. needs Pakistani cooperation to make an honourable exit from Afghanistan, while Pakistan wants a pliable regime in Afghanistan.

In today's reality, the U.S. is Pakistan's most strategically crucial ally with the most investments in the country. It influences decision-making in many other aspects in Pakistan. For instance, the U.S. threatened that it would impose sanctions if the USD 7.5 billion Iran Pakistan gas pipeline were pursued.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry was the highest American diplomat to have visited Pakistan (July 31 to August 2) since 2011 when relations had hit rock bottom following the Raymond Davis affair, the U.S. Seals raid that got Osama bin Laden in May 2011 and the Salala attack in November 2011 which killed 24 Pakistani soldiers. Anxious to work on a time line up to end of 2014, it is the Americans who seemed to be anxious to kick start the talks after the Doha fiasco. Actually the Americans had been working on Pakistan for some time now and Secretary Kerry had met President Karzai and General Ashfaq Kayani in Brussels in April this year. The meeting was frosty and Karzai had difficulty being civil to the General. However, this was followed by another meeting between Kerry and Kayani in Amman in May just after the elections in Pakistan.

Pakistan remains India-centric in Afghanistan and Kashmir and sees this as a last opportunity to extract its pound of flesh from an increasingly desperate and hapless U.S. Therefore, it has worked on a discourse playing on U.S. perceptions, urgencies and vulnerabilities in the region. The usual Pakistani argument is that it could help the US and global cause much better if India could be persuaded to be flexible and reasonable on the various outstanding India Pakistan issues and reduce cross border tensions. This narrative has resonance in Washington DC. Sections of influential U.S. think tanks and Beltway policy makers have been buying and selling this line - that a successful outcome for the U.S. in Afghanistan depends on Indian concessions to Pakistan, both in Afghanistan and on issues like Kashmir, Siachen.

The mood in DC is vastly different from a decade ago. The "can-do" spirit has been replaced by "can't do" or "don't know how" feeling so let us get the hell out of Afghanistan. The argument now is on the following lines, probably. We do not understand Afghanistan and any way it is of no importance to US. Let the locals sort it out and if they want Taliban, then it is their choice. It would help if India and Pakistan made up with each other, but the U.S. should get out from the mess for which Indian obduracy and Pakistani interests are the basic cause. The U.S. administration and policy circles are now unwilling to see the Indian point of view.

Soon after Kerry left Islamabad there was a suicide attack on the Indian Consulate in Jalalabad on August 3 that killed 12 civilians including children. It was suspected that this attack was carried out either by the Haqqani Network or the Lashkar-e-Tayyaba both of whom are close to the ISI. There were other reports that the ISI had offered prize money for the assassination of the Indian Ambassador in Kabul. Translated it was meant to show the fragility of peace in Afghanistan because of Indian presence.

Around the time of a global of a possible Al Qaeda strike in the Middle East leading to closure of 21 U.S. missions, there was a terror alert in Islamabad as well. This was meant to show perhaps that Pakistan was a victim of terrorism as well camouflaging the fact that these terrorists were their own creation.

Finally, the killing of five Indian soldiers on the Line of Control in Jammu and Kashmir on August 5 was designed to depict how tenuous peace between two nuclear powers was in the region.

Former U.S. Ambassador to India Robert Blackwill's repeated warning about the likely course of events in Afghanistan-Pakistan, should be taken seriously but that is unlikely to happen because facts do not suit the desired outcome. He points out rightly that Afghanistan will be a mess after U.S. withdrawal and attributes this to Pakistan's obsession with wanting to check India's rise in the region. Pakistan finds India's presence in Afghanistan to be unacceptable. For this it continues to need its jihadi option in the east under a nuclear umbrella operating under a low threshold. The U.S. has accepted this discourse - which is that India is Pakistan's enemy twice over in Afghanistan and in Kashmir, India. Besides, the fading story of an Indian economic resurgence that would have benefited U.S. economic interests does not help the Indian cause.

It would be tragic that U.S. and India - two countries whose interests in the region will be most affected by what happens inside Pakistan - are unable to see the situation from the same prism. Once the American forces withdraw, the Taliban backed by Pakistan will take control of the Pushtun belt in the south and east of Afghanistan. The route to Kabul will lie through Kandahar and Nangarhar if the other ethnic groups, the Tajiks, Uzbeks and Hazaras, are willing to accept Pushtun suzerainty. How long the Taliban retain control of Afghanistan and now long Pakistan retains control of the Taliban or even the Pushtun, is a subsequent story but the interregnum is going to be violent and destabilising, even for Pakistan.

The U.S. would be making a grievous strategic error by walking away from Afghanistan and leaving it to be over run by the Taliban at a time when it has no presence in Iran and an increasingly tenuous presence in Pakistan with China peering over the Hindu Kush. This would be happening at a time when Pakistan itself is dangerously teetering towards radicalism.

The views expressed in the above article are that of Mr. Vikram Sood, Vice-President, Centre for International Relations, Observer Research Foundation. (ANI)


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