Saturday, August 6, 2016

Business Recorder editorial Aug 6, 2016

US-India convergence There are indications in the air that Pakistan’s worst nightmare scenario may be unfolding. This development sees the US and India converging in terms of interests as well as a shared vision of their partnership in today’s world going into the future. The bigger picture of course, internationally and regionally, shows Washington increasingly drawing closer to India, both as a counterweight to China and as a country with which the US is comfortable in terms of commonalities of political system (democracy) as well as opportunities for trade, economic cooperation and so forth. Perhaps the US’s support to India in the nuclear field despite India having set off the nuclear arms race in the subcontinent can be read as part of this changing dynamic of relations between Washington and New Delhi. Thus, for example, the US signed an agreement on nuclear cooperation with India during George Bush’s tenure and the outgoing Obama administration is still bending its back to get India concessions from the Nuclear Suppliers Group amongst other favours, ignoring in the process Pakistan’s genuine concerns and apprehensions at ‘rewarding’ India in this manner. One other factor that has, at least since 9/11, caused a gulf of mistrust and suspicion between Washington and Islamabad is Pakistan’s continued policy/stance (unstated or otherwise) on terrorism and proxies. On the heels of the Pentagon deducting $ 300 million from the Coalition Support Fund money owed to Pakistan because of the condition attached by the US Congress that the Defence Secretary must certify that Pakistan is acting against the Afghan Haqqani network before such funds are released, the US State Department spokesman has reiterated Washington’s urging Pakistan to strive for closer cooperation with India in the anti-terrorism fight, close all safe havens for terrorist groups, and ‘do more’ by shedding its discriminatory policy of targeting only groups perceived to be harmful for Pakistan in favour of targeting all groups, even those not inimical to Pakistan’s interests but posing a threat to its neighbours. In other words, the US still sees Pakistan as practicing a duality of policy informed by the ‘good/bad’ Taliban binary. This perception of duality extends to groups fighting in India Held Kashmir or attacking India on that basis. While acknowledging Pakistan’s actions in recent days against some terrorist groups and their safe havens (Operation Zarb-e-Azb in FATA) as positive and having contributed to regional security at the cost of Pakistani lives, it is the ‘selectivity’ practiced by Pakistan that rankles with Washington’s establishment. To soften the Coalition Support Funds blow, the State Department spokesman did point to the fact that it had released aid to Pakistan, including some security aid. But this reassurance effort does not negate the bad vibes being generated by the denial of Coalition Support Funds and the pressure being exerted by Washington on Pakistan to dump all its remaining proxies to west and east and contribute with immediate neighbours Afghanistan and India respectively against all proxy groups operating from Pakistani soil. As a token of encouragement to the partial shift in Pakistan’s policy under pressure of circumstance, the spokesman welcomed the emerging quadrilateral anti-terrorism group of China, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Tajikistan as the path for the future. Whether the State Department statements and the bad outcome of the SAARC conference in Islamabad come together to engender the perception of the US and India ‘teaming up’ against Pakistan in a coincidental, incidental, accidental or more significant mode can be concluded or not, the fact remains that on the global, regional and bilateral stage, Pakistan’s foreign policy woes multiply by the day in the direction of isolation. Whether the Pakistani envoys in important capitals of the world’s conference in Islamabad the other day will translate into concrete measures to tackle this trend or remain futile talking points alone depends crucially in our establishment’s revisiting its long standing reliance on proxies for projecting power and interests in the neighbourhood. That strategy’s sell-by date has long passed. It is now a matter of the establishment’s doing a correct reading of the tea leaves.

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