Interestingly, Washington’s usual ‘do more’ gave way to a more specific list of demands at the 6th ministerial review of the strategic dialogue, even though the gist of the request remains more or less the same. The diplomatic language has changed since Zarb-e-Azb ended the Good Taliban, Bad Taliban drama and Pakistan helped – sincere this time – with facilitating the Kabul-Taliban dialogue. So now the Americans just want visible action against the Haqqani Network, Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Mohammad. In fact, it was Pakistan that played the ‘do more’ card; urging Washington to rush the F-16 deal through Congress.
The Obama administration has been surprisingly appreciative of Pakistan’s position throughout this debate, beating back not just intense Indian lobbying but also mounting pressure from the Republicans, especially since John McCain – current chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee – urged the Foreign Relations Committee to conduct an urgent hearing on the sale. This, along with keeping the Indians engaged after Pathankot, means the US will want quantifiable quid pro quo from Pakistan. The sudden inclusion of JeM in Washington’s list of bad guys, for example, is telling.
So the language may have softened but Pakistan’s policy posture remains under the microscope. Washington sided with Islamabad on the aircraft deal, but it will not alienate Delhi. The budding US-India partnership is central to the Pivot to Asia initiative; hence the JeM demand along with the usual suspects. Pakistan must now decide how target-specific and concrete the remainder of Zarb-e-Azb is going to be in light of fresh demands that, considering the dynamic nature of the conflict, cannot be ignored. There was more than just diplomatic truth in John Kerry’s words that continued existence of LeT, JeM, etc, is not just a security time bomb that cannot be ignored but also undermines Pakistan’s relations with neighbours and other crucial allies. And the internal and international environment has not been as conducive for a thorough push as at present. Pakistan must, therefore, exploit this opportunity to the maximum, not just for internal security but also enhanced regional and international cooperation.