Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Daily Times Editorial Jan 15, 2015

Kerry’s parting gift After the two-day talks in Islamabad under the Pakistan-US strategic dialogue, US Secretary of State John Kerry held a joint press conference with Foreign Affairs Advisor Sartaj Aziz. Reading between the placatory homilies on either side of rosy relations between the two countries going forward, there was unmistakably the stink of something rotten in the State of Denmark. It seemed as though, having failed to get the assurances he wanted, Kerry was at pains to reiterate the US’s position on Pakistan’s policy on terrorism and his reservations on the same. On the other hand, Sartaj Aziz seemed bent upon underlining Pakistan’s commitment to the desired non-discriminatory treatment of all terrorist groups and bent his back to assert this. The other side, however, in the person of John Kerry, seemed singularly unimpressed with these verbal gymnastics and perhaps even a little irritated. While Kerry emphasised that Pakistan must fight out the enemies of the US, Afghanistan and India, who does not remember the interview not so long ago by none other than Sartaj Aziz in which he argued it would not be in the interests of Pakistan to take action against and make enemies of the enemies of the US. The context of course was Afghanistan and the ‘enemies’ referred to the Afghan Taliban that Pakistan has been harbouring and allowing to operate inside Afghanistan since 2001. Kerry’s wish is that the Afghan Taliban, Haqqani network, Laskhar-e-Taiba and other such groups should be pushed back into the recesses of Pakistan’s memory. Pakistan on the other hand has a slightly different take on this. Sartaj Aziz boasted in the press conference that the Haqqani network’s infrastructure had been “totally destroyed” and its operational ability had virtually disappeared. Should one take this on faith? It did not seem Kerry did, since he countered the assertion of a non-discriminatory action against all terrorist groups by saying, “the proof is going to be in the pudding”. While Kerry sympathised with the victims of the Peshawar attack and promised $ 250 million for the internally displaced persons in Pakistan, this should be contrasted with the provisions of the Kerry-Lugar-Berman Act’s generous commitment of $ 7.5 billion over five years, which is by now bogged down in delays because of Washington’s uncertainty about Islamabad saying what it means and meaning what it says. Kerry, the main moving sprit behind the Kerry-Lugar-Berman Act, must have found it extremely frustrating to be regaled by ‘stories’ about the Haqqani network being virtually put out of action while there was a pregnant silence on the Afghan Taliban or the jihadi groups girding up their loins against India. Even friend of Pakistan Kerry will find it impossible to sell Pakistan’s dissembling approach to the burning question of dumping the good/bad Taliban binary. As Sartaj Aziz put it in the press conference, our defence forces are going to be engaged for the foreseeable future in operations against the domestic terrorists (almost entirely the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan) and would welcome coalition support funds from Washington for the same. Such demands ignore the dynamics of how the situation in the region and bilateral relations with the US are playing out. The US is in retreat from its failed intervention in Afghanistan, not the least because of Pakistan’s role in providing safe havens and rear bases to the Afghan Taliban to operate from, and the wounded superpower will not take kindly to Pakistan’s continued attempts to pull the wool over its eyes over the discriminatory policy of distinguishing between good and bad Taliban, statements to the contrary notwithstanding. Pakistan’s turning a blind eye to the Afghan Taliban and jihadi groups oriented towards a struggle against India is not about to win any brownie points in Washington, especially since the US’s residual role in Afghanistan means it can no longer be held over a barrel by Islamabad. Pakistan is on tricky ground here, with talk about cooperation amongst Pakistan, Afghanistan and the US camouflaging the real alignment in which Pakistan still sees its strategic interests tied up with the Afghan Taliban and other proxies operating eastwards. Islamabad should be cautioned that it risks an adverse reaction from Washington if it fails to take on board the US’s concerns.

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