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Kerry gets the post

December 23, 2012

THE nomination of Sen John Kerry as the next US Secretary of State is a welcome move from the Pakistani perspective. Sen Kerry has demonstrated two key understandings in his dealings with this country: one, that continued engagement and patient diplomacy are essential if fundamental divergences are ever to be narrowed; and two, the civilian political leadership needs the consistent and serious support of the US, which in the past has too quickly and too fully relied on the Pakistan Army as its principal ally. With elections in Pakistan on the horizon, the drawdown in Afghanistan coming closer and a post-war-in-Afghanistan focus on Pakistan likely to grow, Sen Kerry will steer his country’s diplomatic approach to Pakistan at yet another critical juncture in this country’s domestic political evolution and regional security environment. The more pragmatic approach to Pak-US relations over the last year — gone is talk of a strategic relationship and the like — should help Sen Kerry keep his goals narrow and focused, though that still leaves much to do. Take just the aid under the Kerry-Lugar-Berman law that has not flowed in the quantity originally conceived nor has it really had the kind of impact that its sponsors would have hoped for. On the political front, with elections on the horizon in Pakistan, the further away the US stays from ill-conceived ideas like the abortive Musharraf-Benazir alliance of 2007 and just opts to support relatively free and fair elections with the chips falling where they may, the better off Pakistan’s democratic transition will be.

Even in the pared-back relationship, the challenges will be mighty, though. Complicating the scenario for Sen Kerry, and Pakistan, is the reality that under President Obama, foreign policy has been crafted by a small core of presidential advisers inside the White House. Secretary Clinton’s relatively innocuous term, at least with regard to policy, may be the template for Secretary-nominee Kerry, who enters the job as an avowed Obama loyalist. So it is to the White House and changes in the national-security positions there that attention must also turn to understand how the Pakistan policy may be tweaked in the months and years ahead.