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Spinning a visit

October 24, 2015


The writer is a former editor of Dawn.
The writer is a former editor of Dawn.

“US CALLS for resolution of Kashmir”, tweeted Pakistan’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations, Dr Maleeha Lodhi, after President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif concluded their meeting at the White House on Thursday.

The obvious question that came to one’s mind was if such a high-ranking diplomat, who reputedly carries as much weight with the Prime Minister’s Secretariat as she does with GHQ and the COAS, was thus tweeting did it represent a new element in Pakistan-US relations or even a dramatic shift in the latter’s policy position or was it just a reiteration of Washington’s consistent and now fairly old stance?

“The leaders 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.”

The Kashmir issue may be the trigger for desperation but much of this pressure has been brought on by Pakistan itself.

A careful reading of the joint statement issued after the talks made it abundantly clear that Dr Lodhi who alternates between careers as a journalist and diplomat was opting for brevity and was not even using a third of the allowed character count on Twitter. Her journalistic writings have always been very detailed and thorough.

Here she chose to include the operational part of the statement in a second tweet which was a reiteration of the US position that Kashmir and all other issues between Islamabad and Delhi be resolved bilaterally. Of course, there hasn’t been room for any third party, including the UN, for long now.

In the recent past, the US has had no issues endorsing India’s concerns about terrorism ostensibly directed from across its western frontiers. After Pakistan made clear it was handing over a ‘dossier of evidence’ of Delhi’s involvement in terrorism on its soil, Islamabad was advised to work together with its neighbour to address “mutual concerns” regarding terrorism.

This is Pakistan’s reality in the world today any which way a diplomat loyal to national security policy architects tries to spin the story. No doubt the long-term outstanding Kashmir issue may be the trigger for desperation but it is equally true that much of this pressure has been brought on by Pakistan itself by not having discarded state-sponsored jihadis long after their expiry date.

This was evident in Prime Minister Sharif’s assurance to President Obama that his country had decided to crack down on all UN-designated terrorist groups and individuals including the Lashkar-e-Taiba and its affiliates and choke their funding sources.

The only evidence of a ‘crackdown’ against LeT founder Hafiz Saeed were reports trickling in from Lahore that he received visitors from officials of the mother of all agencies ahead of the Sharif visit to US and was requested to lie low for a while so embarrassment isn’t caused to the country’s elected leader during his foreign visit.

I remember well another Sharif trip to Washington D.C. during his second term in office in 1998 when Bill Clinton was in the White House. I was working then for the BBC and was sent from London to cover the visit.

Thanks to my then D.C.-based journalist friend (now a familiar face on TV) Amir Mateen’s generosity I was able to gain entry to the Oval Office as only journalists accompanying the prime minister and accredited White House correspondents were invited in.

Being inside a room which has formed the backdrop of hundreds if not more news photographs and TV footage was quite an experience as was seeing the dynamics of the two leaders at hand-shaking distance. Clinton was articulate and exceedingly charismatic and Sharif his usually shy self, speaking haltingly.

As the meeting ended, the Pakistan Foreign Office official announced to the accompanying journalists that he’d brief them about the two leaders’ meeting in the hotel where the delegation was staying. Since I had the luxury of a later deadline, I decided to stay on for the White House briefing, asking a friend to record the hotel briefing.

Later when I compared what was said at the two briefings I couldn’t have been faulted for thinking two different events were being discussed. While the prime minister’s spokesman was giving the impression that the US all but endorsed each one of Pakistan’s positions and raised few, if any, concerns an entirely different story emerged at the other briefing. The White House briefing was conducted jointly by the assistant secretary of state and former TV journalist Karl Inderfurth and the president’s special assistant and a member of the national security staff, Bruce Riedel.

While Inderfurth was a shade diplomatic in narrating what was discussed between the two leaders, clearly riding roughshod Riedel said: “The prime minister was told he had a choice to make” and words to the effect that “one path” led to prosperity and stability and the other to devastation. The context of course was differences over Pakistan’s nuclear programme and its alleged backing of militancy in India-held Kashmir.

Much after 9/11, Gen Musharraf was to detail in his book the ‘we’ll bomb you to the Stone Age’ threat by another US State Department official while he was eliciting the former’s help in hunting down and bringing to justice Al Qaeda leaders responsible for the Twin Towers and the Pentagon attacks.

Regardless of the tough language used by a superpower, it can be said with certainty that all our national leaders, especially the elected ones, have taken decisions in the national interest. And where they have believed national interest at odds with what’s being demanded, they have quietly, even politely, ignored the demand.

One only wishes a greater, wider debate within the country on what best constitutes, and serves, national interest is initiated. Once a demonstrable consensus is evolved no foreign power will see internal differences and dissent as a sign of weakness.

The writer is a former editor of Dawn.

Published in Dawn, October 24th, 2015

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