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Pak-US: An opportunistic tactical dialogue

By B Raman
March 26, 2010 15:23 IST
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The Pakistanis play quid pro quo diplomacy better than India does. They know how to promote their national interests while taking advantage of the needs of the US in the Afghaistan-Pakistan region, notes strategic expert B Raman.

The US currently has three tactical needs, which it thinks only Pakistan can meet. The first is the maintenance of logistic supplies to the North Atlantic Treaty Organistaion troops in Afghanistan through Pakistani territory.

These supplies are presently brought to Karachi by ship and then transported by road to Afghanistan. It is estimated that about 80 per cent of these supplies continue to reach Afghanistan safely, and the remaining 20 per cent are destroyed or captured en route by the Taliban.

There have been unconfirmed reports that the US is examining the possibility of developing the Chinese-built Gwadar port in Balochistan as an alternate for landing supplies. The US had reached an agreement with Russia and some of the Central Asian republics to provide an alternate logistics trail, but no alternate route can be as satisfactory as the one through Pakistan.

The second need is continued Pakistani complicity in the drone strikes in the Waziristan area directed against the Al Qaeda and the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan militants.

These strikes have been increasingly successful. The US is hoping that if it is able to maintain the present intensity of these strikes, it could permanently weaken the capabilities of Al Qaeda and the TTP.

The third need is Pakistani help in creating a split in the Afghan Taliban, which might facilitate an honourable exit of the US troops before the next US presidential elections due in 2012.

The Pakistani delegation headed by its Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi, which went to Washington for the first ministerial-level Strategic Dialogue (March 24 and 25) with a US delegation headed by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, carried with it a bargain list of what it would expect from the US in return for its meeting these needs of the US.

Apart from the usual demands for more economic and military assistance and a more active US role in facilitating the resumption of the composite dialogue between India and Pakistan, the bargain list contained two old demands and one fresh one.

One of the old demands related to the grant by the US of nuclear parity to Pakistan by taking the initiative in having the restrictions on civilian nuclear co-operation with Pakistan removed by the Nuclear Suppliers' Group as the US had done in the case of India.

China has been willing to assist Pakistan in the construction of more Chashma-type nuclear power stations, but it has not been able to do so due to these restrictions.

The other old demand related to US pressure on India to scale down India's presence in Afghanistan. The new demand related to greater US interest in Pakistan's water problems for which Islamabad has been increasingly blaming India.

In recent months, one could see a vigorous Pakistani attempt to project the Kashmir issue not only as a territorial dispute and as a dispute ('unfinished agenda of the Partition') arising from its majority Muslim population, but also as an economic dispute arising from India's control of the river waters flowing into Pakistan from Jammu & Kashmir.

This is a revival of the old Jinnah's projection of J&K as the "jugular vein" of Pakistan.

The Pakistanis have a penchant for blaming India for all their problems -- whether these problems relate to the bad internal security situation, the scarcity of conventional sources of energy and of water for irrigation and hydel power.

The internal security problems are due to their bad governance and the total lack of development in Balochistan and the Pashtun areas, and due to Baloch grievances over the Punjabi dominance of the Baloch economy.

Instead of addressing the Baloch grievances, they divert attention from the real state of affairs in Balochistan by blaming the Indian presence in Afghanistan as contributing to the revolt of the Balochs.

Their energy problems are due to the fact that their indigenous energy sources are located in the Baloch and Pashtun areas and they are not able to use them due to the Baloch revolt and the activities of the Pakistani Taliban.

Instead of admitting this, they blame the Indian presence in Afghanistan.

Their water-related problems are due to continuing differences and tensions between Punjab on the one side and Sindh and the North-West Frontier Province on the other over water distribution. They have not been able to reach a satisfactory inter-state agreement on river waters, but they blame the Indian presence in J&K for the scarcity of water for irrigation.

While taking cognizance of the Pakistani demands -- old and new -- the US has evaded a positive response to the Pakistani demands in respect of nuclear parity, river waters and a more active role by it in facilitating the resumption of an Indo-Pak dialogue.

At a time when the security of Pakistan's nuclear arsenal and Al Qaeda's quest for nuclear material are likely to come up before the nuclear security summit being convened by the Obama administration next month, it would have been wishful-thinking on the part of Pakistan to believe that it had acquired such an importance in view of the keenness of Obama for an exit from Afghanistan that the US would find it difficult to continue to say no.

What Pakistan got at Washington was a promise of more of what it was already getting -- namely, economic and military assistance. Nothing more.

There are sections in the Obama administration who are sympathetic to Pakistani demands for a reduced Indian presence in Afghanistan, but they have not yet been able to decisively influence policy-making.

There was a lot of undeserved pat on the back for Pakistan and an unconcealed lionising of Gen Ashfaq Pervez Kayani, the chief of the Pakistan army staff, by US policy-makers before and during the strategic dialogue without realising that the newly-accorded importance to Kayani and the army could further weaken the process of the revival of democracy in Pakistan.

The dialogue was projected by Clinton and others as the first major strategic dialogue between the two countries, but it was nothing but an opportunistic tactical dialogue by two countries, which hardly share any common values, whose civil societies have no respect for each other and whose relationships are governed more by distrust and suspicion than by genuine mutual admiration.

Whatever Obama and Clinton might say, to the ordinary American, Pakistan is the country from which terrorists come and will continue coming.

Whatever Qureshi and Kayani might say, for the ordinary Pakistani, the US is responsible for the ills of the Ummah just as India is responsible for the ills of Pakistan.

To talk of a strategic relationship between two states and societies so lacking in shared values, a common vision of the world and mutual respect is to live in a make-believe world.

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B Raman