Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Daily Times Editorial Jan 14, 2015

‘Do more’ again US Secretary of State John Kerry has arrived for meetings with the top political and military leadership and to participate in the US-Pakistan strategic dialogue. This conversation between the two countries began in 2010 and saw three rounds before deteriorating relations in 2011 brought it to a halt. In 2013 the dialogue restarted, with the first round in Washington in January 2014. This second round arrives at a critical moment, given the US withdrawal from Afghanistan and concerns regarding the future of that country. It also includes discussions on energy, security, strategic stability and non-proliferation, defence consultations, law enforcement and counterterrorism, economics and finance. Working groups comprising both sides are to delve into these areas to formulate ways and means to further cooperation between Washington and Islamabad. Mr Kerry also wants to sound the US’s concerns regarding the struggle against the common enemy, terrorism on both sides of the Pakistan-Afghanistan border. The US would like to see constraints through action on the ability of groups such as the Haqqani network, the Afghan Taliban and other militant groups including the Lashkar-e-Taiba in the context of Kerry’s stopover in New Delhi before arriving here. While Mr Kerry condoled with Prime Minister (PM) Nawaz Sharif on the tragedy of the massacre of school children in Peshawar, he reiterated the US’s support to Pakistan on terrorism. Meanwhile the US State Department spokesman in Washington, on the eve of Kerry's visit, acknowledged the Pakistan army’s offensive against terrorists in FATA, stressing it had disrupted the enemy’s capabilities. Simultaneously, CENTCOM commander General Lloyd Austin is also here. He met COAS General Raheel Sharif and expressed similar sentiments regarding the Pakistan army’s actions. The US wants Pakistan to continue on this path with even greater vigour and consistency, stressing the indivisibility of the terrorist phenomenon. Pakistan on the other hand, cognizant, as the PM put it, of the importance of its relationship with the US, wants economic aid, market access and US investment to build a future on sound lines and not merely the transactional relationship of the past. But there may be many a slip between the cup and the lip yet. Crucial to the success of the kind of relationship desired by Islamabad will be Pakistan’s willingness to take on board the US’s concerns, including cooperation to nudge the Afghan Taliban to the negotiating table with Kabul, restraint on the eastern border vis-à-vis infiltration of militants into Indian-held Kashmir, leading hopefully to defusing the eastern border while Pakistan tackles the fraught security situation on its western flank. Some positive signs are visible in the relationship. For one, this is reflected indirectly in ISI chief Lt-General Rizwan Akhtar’s dash the other day to Kabul for discussions with an amenable to cooperation President Ashraf Ghani, which resulted in (hopefully not ritual) declamations of intent to cooperate and coordinate against the Taliban that want to overthrow the government in both countries, and two, directly in General Lloyd Austin’s assurance to General Raheel Sharif that Mullah Fazlullah’s days in Afghanistan are numbered. But given the past tensions between Pakistan on the one side and the US and Afghanistan on the other for harbouring the Afghan Taliban on Pakistani soil since 2001, the jury is out how far and fast the declarations of joint cooperation will be translated into practical reality. Pakistan’s hopes for a future relationship of benefit with Washington rest crucially on the role Pakistan plays from hereon in helping things settle down in Afghanistan and curbing, if not shutting shop of the proxies operating against India. In other words, the sooner Pakistan says goodbye to its past adventures with proxies, the better and quicker will the whole gamut of Islamabad’s desires, including economic cooperation, be realised. Pakistan can no more afford to rile up a US in which even Mr Kerry is having difficulties persuading a Republican-dominated Congress to open its coffers to help Pakistan (the Kerry-Lugar-Berman Act disbursements are on hold) and which faces a possible Republican president next to replace President Obama on the run of political currents in the US. That is the context in which the reiterated demand to ‘do more’ needs to be seen.

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