Waiting for Hale
US President Donald Trump’s decision to promote David Hale, ambassador to Pakistan, to Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs is clearly meant to wind up the endgame in Afghanistan by ensuring cooperation between Pakistan and India. Indeed, just a few months ago, Trump himself implied that improving the climate between Islamabad and Delhi was central, in many ways, to ensuring success in Afghanistan. And Hale – a known advocate in Washington of better Pak-India relations – would no doubt be the natural man for the job.
There’s a lot to be gained, of course, by a Pak-India thaw – not just for Afghanistan. Peace would mean more contact and, far more importantly, more commerce. And it’s no rocket science that by diverting monumental sums from defence and security to trade and commerce, there’s the chance of the added benefit of lifting millions of people out of poverty, and improving living conditions across the board. Yet with the Indian election due next year, there’s practically zero chance of Delhi softening its rhetoric towards Islamabad in the immediate term. The best that can be hoped, realistically, is for a change of guard in India and then perhaps approach the subject of negotiations should a new dispensation grace Delhi.
That does not mean, however, that no efforts should be made for peace. The best advances towards normalcy, in recent times, came in the Musharraf era; and they were built on painstaking back-door diplomacy, even when main channels were frozen. Also, Pakistan and India need not wait for a David Hale to come and break the ice between them. It is, ultimately, in our own mutual interest to finally overcome differences and enmities that have their roots in a bygone era. And getting together to bring about a sensible end to the Afghan war, too, will benefit everybody.