Pak-US Relations: a Work in Progress | Imtiaz Alam

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif is back from his US visit, thankfully unscathed, but to cope with the natural disaster of Monday’s earthquake. He didn’t waste time in reaching out to the earthquake-affected people immediately after his arrival and had to promptly seek endorsement of the outcome of his parleys in Washington at a ‘high-powered’ meeting. Such is the plight of a prime minister living at the mercy of opposite pulls and uncertain times.

Experts of all hues, including our anarchic speculators and those of the retired personnel variety, had a field day casting doubts and aspersions about an elected prime minister’s legitimacy and ability to handle matters of foreign and security affairs. The hawkish narrative was maximalist and isolationist at best, and demonising of civilian prowess at worst. It was not expected that the prime minister of a nuclear power country would see eye to eye with the deceitful Americans on our nuclear programme and our irredentist ambitions against India on Kashmir.

The prime minister, in fact, disappointed his detractors, as they failed to find any way to beat the hell out of the 2776-word joint statement over a possible capitulation on nuclear deterrence and the Kashmir issue – an increase of 286 words not 400 as mentioned in a comment in this newspaper, not entirely dealing with the ‘nuclear issue and Afghanistan’. Indeed, the Joint Statement of 2015 is the continuation, with some improvement, of the statement issued at the end of the prime minister’s 2013 visit to the US.

The concerns regarding “nuclear terrorism” are too old and are mentioned in this and earlier summits’ joint statements. Recognising the “shared interest in strategic stability in South Asia”, both sides agreed to “work jointly toward strengthening strategic stability in South Asia”, which Pakistan has been complaining about, being upset by India’s ambitious designs.

There are stark differences between the two countries over the US’ apprehensions about tactical nuclear weapons falling into the hands of terrorists, long-range missiles that could also target regions far beyond the subcontinent and our desires to enter the mainstream of nuclear regimes.

Both countries have agreed to stay engaged at the level of the Security, Strategic Stability and Non-Proliferation Working Group. A better time may not come later than this for a palpable deal on this explosive issue as we remain a non-Nato ally and are strategically needed in the closing years of the Afghan war.

The sacred word of Kashmir, which was not mentioned in 2013’s joint statement, did find a place in the current statement. Some people – for whom the use of terrorist groups as proxies to pursue certain foreign policy and security objectives is still a matter of faith – should be disappointed on the mention of the Haqqani Network and Lashkar-e-Taiba by a prime minister who is aware of his international legal obligations under the UN mandates. They forget to recall that it was Pakistan’s stated position before Nawaz Sharif became prime minister that, duplicity apart, our soil will not be used for terrorism against any other country.

Do the apologists of terrorist outfits want Pakistan to be declared a state that sponsors terrorism? If not, then what else could the prime minister have said to the US, except reiterating Pakistan’s compliance with the UN mandate regarding designated terrorist outfits?

On India, to the satisfaction of our torchbearers of eternal enmity, the PM has gained some very palpable points due to his moral edge over his Indian counterpart. Both Obama and Nawaz emphasised: “the importance of [a] sustained and resilient dialogue process between the two neighbours aimed at resolving all outstanding territorial and other disputes, including Kashmir, through peaceful means and working together to address mutual concerns of India and Pakistan regarding terrorism”.

Note the substitution of the exclusivity of New Delhi’s complaints against Islamabad about cross-border terrorism with the “mutual concerns of India and Pakistan regarding terrorism”. Nawaz Sharif was originally right in his high moral peace-making approach towards India, but he was pushed back on the beaten track of a tit-for-tat approach.

Even the Ufa beginning was not wrong; it was mishandled and subverted by the hawks on both sides on flimsy grounds. Let’s not match bellicosity with greater hostility if, at least, we want to keep our focus principally on terrorism and across our long border with Afghanistan and its stabilisation.

A ‘sustained and resilient’ Indo-Pak dialogue on all outstanding disputes has to start from somewhere, without neglecting each other’s concerns. It did start, after a prolonged military standoff on the borders, when former Indian PM Vajpayee and Gen Musharraf signed the January 6, 2004 statement in Islamabad.

Now, the Sharif government has Gen Nasser Janjua, confidante of all, as its National Security Advisor (NSA) to match a civilian Ajit Doval to discuss “mutual concerns” regarding terrorism, this time far away from media hype. But, remember, small gestures like the case of angelic Geeta and the holding of the duly agreed cricket series can help create a congenial atmosphere for further confidence-building measures.

As emphasised in the last column, the name of the game is Afghanistan. Pakistan has stubbornly kept its cards, though at unbelievable cost and peril, to play the final rounds – and in the magnanimous company of its western partners that our national narrative detests so much. Aware of the riddle of the kill-and-talk dilemma regarding the Afghan Taliban, the prime minister “outlined the actions that Pakistan is taking under the National Action Plan to ensure that the Taliban- including the Haqqani network – are unable to operate from the soil of Pakistan”.

The US seems to be content with “Pakistan’s willingness to facilitate a reconciliation process that would help end insurgent violence in Afghanistan”. At least caretakers can ask the Afghan Taliban to hold their guns and allow talks to reach some kind of inclusive settlement. For Pakistan, the most important security is the management of a porous border with Afghanistan, which must be permanently settled around the Durand Line, and for the return of peace to the Af-Pak region.

Pakistan’s apprehensions regarding its security-centric relationship with the US, which may yet again come to an abrupt end, were thoroughly addressed by the summit. The first five pages of the joint statement cover pledge for an “enduring partnership”, various initiatives about “economic growth, trade and investment”, including the authorisation of General System of Preferences (GSP) and importance of the US-Pakistan Trade and Investment Framework Agreement, “education and civil society cooperation”, and strong cooperation in “climate and energy” sectors. No less important is the ‘Let Girls Learn’ initiative by First Lady Michelle Obama in partnership with Maryam Nawaz.

What calls for reflection from our maximalists is the fact that they have to shed their delusional ideologies that keep them from taking a rational and pragmatic view of international and regional affairs. They need to avoid their habit of marginalising the civilian part of the power equation. If everyone is on the same page, these Vasco da Gamas need not suffer from the cramps of finding out who is on whose page.

The writer is a political analyst.


Twitter: @ImtiazAlamSAFMA


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