CONTINUING the recent trend of workmanlike and somewhat productive meetings between Pakistani and US officials, US Secretary of State John Kerry’s visit to Islamabad has gone off smoothly. There were no histrionics, no surprises and, thankfully, no American demands for Pakistan to ‘do more’.
The two countries appear to have found a recipe for relatively stable relations: focus on security matters; keep American aid — military and civilian — flowing; and recognise the economic importance of the relationship in terms of Pakistani exports to the US and American influence over IFIs that Pakistan is indebted to.
In Islamabad this week, that three-part recipe was again in evidence as America’s top diplomat met the senior political and military leadership here. While the civil-military imbalance in Pakistan may have worsened, at least both sides appear to be on the same page when it comes to keeping ties with the US stable and productive.
Also continuing the trend established in recent interactions between senior Pakistani and American leaders was the focus on two countries in particular: Afghanistan and India.
On Afghanistan, with the US having a significantly different military mission there beginning this year, Washington appears keen to nudge the Pakistani and Afghan states closer and to ramp up the bilateral relationship.
This makes sense for it is Pakistan and Afghanistan that must directly bear the consequences of each other’s security decisions and so routing substantive relations through a distant superpower is not necessarily the desirable formula.
However, given the long-running divergences in the security interests of the two countries (as articulated by the Afghan and Pakistani security establishments) and the old suspicions that plague the bilateral relationship, an American role is necessary to try and make the most of the new beginning that the post-Karzai era in Afghanistan and the Pakistani military operation in North Waziristan may represent.
Surely, reconciliation between the Afghan government and the Afghan Taliban and the bi-directional cross-border militancy problem should be at the top of the security agenda and it is there that a delicate three-way dance between Afghanistan, Pakistan and the US will have to play out if results are to be achieved.
While the US does appear interested in actively working on the Pak-Afghan relationship, it appears far cooler to the idea of intervening in the Pak-India relationship.
From army chief Gen Raheel Sharif’s visit to the US late last year to the Prime Minister’s Adviser on Foreign Affairs Sartaj Aziz, Pakistani officials have tried to nudge the US into suggesting to India that now is not the time to stoke tensions on Pakistan’s eastern border, given the internal fight against militancy here.
But thus far the US appears unwilling to do more than offer carefully worded phrases of support for stable Pak-India ties. That is not enough, as surely the American side must know.
Published in Dawn January 14th , 2015