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Kayani and Qureshi did not go empty handed

By T P Sreenivasan
March 29, 2010 10:34 IST
Senator Jesse Helms, the then chairman of the United States Senate Foreign Relations Committee, introduced the then Pakistan prime minister Benazir Bhutto, to the Senate as the 'prime minister of India'. When everyone laughed, Helms said, 'It is her fault. She has been talking to me for the last one hour and it was all about India, not a word about Pakistan.'

Hillary Clinton might have gathered the impression that Shah Mahmood Qureshi was the foreign minister of India, considering that he too had more to talk about India than about Pakistan.

Qureshi talked about the strategic alliance between India and the United States, the India-US nuclear deal, the use of water in India, the Indian presence in Afghanistan and Jammu and Kashmir.

The dominating presence of a general in full regalia was the only sign that it was not an Indian delegation that was holding a dialogue in Washington.

Hillary Clinton would have exclaimed to her team at some stage how she wished the sub-continent was never partitioned. She must have felt like a mother of twins, having to find two identical toys with different colours each time to keep her children in good humour.

Hillary Clinton would have told Pakistan off with the argument of dehyphenation and different histories and different records, like President Bush did, in happier circumstances. But this time, Pakistan had come not as a supplicant, but as a partner looking for rewards for carrying out the orders of the masters.

Pakistan, which used to protest every time a drone flew over them, had, in fact, begun to guide the drones to their targets to terrorise the terrorists. Having denied the existence of the Quetta Shura for a long time, it had arrested its leader, thus denying a chance for others to strike deals with him. Pakistan had become the kingpin of a dispensation that would enable President Obama to live up to his Nobel Peace Prize by ending one of the two wars he was fighting.

Pakistan had even dropped the fig leaf of democracy and brought along army chief General Ashfaq Kayani to bargain directly for services rendered.

Some years ago, a US Congressman had said that there was no way the US policy towards India and Pakistan would change, because the pressure brought on it by one country for change would be negated immediately by the other.

If the US withstood the pressure and made a change like Bill Clinton did in 2000 and George Bush did in 2005, there would be an unforeseen development, a deus ex machina, to set the clock back.

The Soviet invasion of Afghanistan then and the war on terror now gave Pakistan undue advantages to balance any tilt in US policy towards India.

Obama today is under pressure to remove the blue from the Indian eyes.

The Indian press would like to believe that Kayani and Qureshi left Washington empty handed, except for a made for each other picture that Qureshi got with Clinton. No nuclear deal, no mediation on Kashmir, nothing. But the truth may well lie elsewhere.

The twin of the Indian nuclear deal was conceived long ago, when China insisted that such deals should be criteria based and not country specific. It was more than a year ago that a think-tank study suggested that a nuclear deal for Pakistan was desirable on the same ground that worked in the Indian case -- a partly regulated Pakistani nuclear system would serve the cause of non-proliferation more than a totally unregulated one.

When George W Bush talked about different histories and different records, he was referring, perhaps, to the Chinese role in building up the Pakistan arsenal and the Nuclear Wal-Mart operated by A Q Khan.

India uses the same arguments. But the fact of the matter is that the US has put these two concerns behind them. US presidents had repeatedly certified that Pakistan had no nuclear weapons, when they knew well that China was filling Pakistan cupboards with fissile material.

If Chinese collaboration did not hurt the US then, there is no reason why it should hurt the US now? As for A Q Khan, many people believe that Pakistan passed on a part of its nuclear button to the US in return for clemency not only for Khan, but also for the Pakistan army that had aided and abetted the travelling salesman as he wended his way through North Korea, Libya Iran and, God knows, where else. Otherwise, how would the US forgive Pakistan for its proliferation, when it did not forgive Saddam Hussein for a fraction of the crime?

A nuclear deal for Pakistan is simply a matter of time. When the Pakistan ambassador claimed that such a thing was in the offing, there were loud protests. But when the US ambassador said the same thing, the denial was more muted, if at all. The reaction was that this could be discussed.

The US has nothing to lose by signing a nuclear deal with Pakistan. In fact, it will gain by nuclear trade with Pakistan, which will have no qualms about meeting the American conditions. The US diplomats say that the good thing with Pakistanis is that they do what they are asked to do, while the Indians would give twenty reasons why it cannot be done. the Nuclear Suppliers Group and the International Atomic Energy Agency board would also succumb to the US pressure as they did in the case of India.

There will be no mediation in Kashmir, just because India will have none of it. But pressure there will be on both sides to shelve the issue, if not to resolve it. The US position remains that the solution of Kashmir is 'LoC Plus', with the 'Plus' left undefined.

Bill Clinton demonstrated that at the time of the Kargil conflict. He was as adamant that India should not cross the LoC as he was about Pakistan withdrawing to the LOC on their side. Available reports indicate that this is exactly what India and Pakistan are seeking through the back channels.

The US does not have to do anything more by way of mediation. It gains more by appearing not to intervene as it does not need to take the blame for delay or failure.

The US DNA will be visible all over the place if a solution breaks out. Pakistan will not protest as long as their main instrument of negotiation, terrorism, is not curbed by the revelations of the likes of Headley and Rana.

Pakistan must have been reassured that US cooperation with India will stop short of tracing 26/11 to the ISI.

The biggest gain for Pakistan from the Washington parleys is the road map, which was drawn for the exit of the US from the AfPak region by 2011. This will involve greater Pakistani war efforts, for which Pakistan will be compensated by a speedy disbursement of the Coalition Support Fund.

But more importantly, Pakistan has received assurances that no dispensation in Afghanistan will be inimical to Pakistani interests and that Pakistan will have a say in the determination of the future of the region.

India would definitely not be part of the new order if the US could help it. Pakistan's gains in this area are considerable. This is where the relationship between the US and Pakistan has turned into a partnership and Qureshi has become 'a happy man, a satisfied man.'

Kayani and Qureshi have not gone back from Washington empty handed. It will now be Dr Manmohan Singh's turn to correct the tilt when he meets Obama in April. But the venue of the nuclear summit will not be the most conducive venue for India to work on the bilateral relationship. Obama's agenda for the summit is such that India will find it hard to make deals there.

With the Liability Bill in the doldrums, our prime minister will not have much to offer to pave the way for nuclear trade.

The tilt towards Pakistan is likely to remain intact as long as Pakistan remains crucial in Obama's calculations in the AfPak region.

T P Sreenivasan