After what can reasonably be described as several fraught months in terms of the relationship between Pakistan and the US, tension is on the decline. Soothing balm has been applied by both sides. Washington has said that it has no desire to sever ties or to conduct military strikes inside our territory, a message delivered by US Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan speaking to Afghan but not Pakistani leaders in Kabul during his visit last week. The Afghan side raised the question of Pakistan yet again in terms of pointing the finger of Pakistan involvement in attacks most recently in Kabul (for which no evidence was offered at least in public) — and made no mention of its own deficits in terms of hunting down terrorists.
The US side again emphasised the importance of its bilateral relationship with Pakistan and its intention to maintain that, which is perhaps not what the Afghans wanted to hear. For its part Pakistan in the form of PM Abbasi was rather more grudging in his acknowledgement of the necessity for stable Af-Pak relations in an interview he gave to Bloomberg. He said there was no military solution to the problem and that the Taliban have to be bought to the table eventually, much the same as Sullivan said. Both sides more or less on the same page.
The take-away is that neither side built on the antipathy and sabre rattling that so poisoned the narrative as recently as six weeks ago. The Trump plan for Afghanistan is no longer being touted as a panacea and nobody is talking about defeating the Taliban on the battlefield beyond Trump in his more fevered Twitter moments. Indications are that relations have moved more to ‘simmer’ than ‘rolling boil’. The Taliban are no nearer to talking than they ever were and are rolling back Afghan central governance. Pakistan continues to pivot towards Russia and China and is increasingly exasperated with militant India under Modi who is also dancing a careful gavotte with the Americans. For now a return to the status quo. Any improvement on that would be a distinct bonus.
Published in The Express Tribune, February 7th, 2018.
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