John Kerry’s fruitful visit

Whether we like it or not, the fact is that the US is Pakistan’s most strategically crucial ally right now.

Editorial August 02, 2013
US Secretary of State John Kerry. PHOTO: FILE

The first meeting between US Secretary of State John Kerry and Prime Minister (PM) Nawaz Sharif appears to have gone well, with both countries agreeing to resume their strategic dialogue. Secretary Kerry arrived in Islamabad on July 31, where he also met the PM’s adviser on National Security and Foreign Affairs, Sartaj Aziz. Secretary Kerry is scheduled to meet the army chief and outgoing President Asif Ali Zardari during his trip.

Nothing especially startling emerged during the dialogue. But, of course, the closely followed issue of drone strikes was taken up. The use of unmanned aircraft to hit targets in the country has long been a subject of much angst at home, with the incursions constituting a violation of sovereignty. Secretary Kerry’s response to discussions on the issue was not entirely discouraging. He said during a news conference with Mr Aziz that an end was indeed envisaged to drone attacks, that a timeline existed for this and he hoped it would be “very very soon”. However, these encouraging remarks, the most positive we have heard from a senior US official, were somewhat dampened by a comment from US officials, with the State Department spokesperson saying in Washington that the recent reduction in drone strikes was linked to a reduction of US troop activities in Afghanistan and to successes against al Qaeda, while no definite time frame existed for action to cease.

From Pakistan’s point of view, the most significant comments possibly came from Secretary Kerry himself, who while answering television questions somewhat changed the line he had taken alongside Mr Aziz, and came back on queries about drones with a sharp counter-question of his own, asking if the presence of al Qaeda figures such as Ayman al-Zawahiri on Pakistani soil was not too a breach of sovereignty. Certainly, this is an issue that we need to think quite deeply about and discuss more frequently at home. While the drone issue is certainly a violation of international law and our own territorial sovereignty, it is, in many ways, tied in to our own success in combating the militant threat and doing so without the help of outsiders.

While Secretary Kerry’s comments on drones offered hope for the future, even if they were tamped down by his other comments, the rest of the trip seems to have proceeded very well. Mr Aziz, during his discussions with the US secretary of state, is understood to have emphasised Pakistan’s need for economic development and access to US markets. Other issues concerning bilateral relations were also brought up. Whether we like it or not, the fact of the matter is that, for now at least, the US is Pakistan’s most strategically crucial ally. It has the most investments in the country and influences decision-making in many other spheres too. While we must strive towards a future which allows us greater independence, for now, the fact is that we are tied to Washington; we cannot immediately break away, no matter how much we wish to do so.

For these reasons, Secretary Kerry’s visit is very important. The manner in which it has proceeded is also rather good news. The US official has hoped for a new, more stable government under Mian Nawaz Sharif, extended an invitation from President Barack Obama to the new PM to visit the US and said he envisages a growth in working relations on many fronts. It should also be noted that in the run-up to Secretary Kerry’s visit, PM Sharif had softened his stance, both on talks with the Taliban and also on the drones, indicating that he may not move in towards negotiations right now. These comments may have helped pave the way for what has been a productive visit, and one that should outline the course for the near future as the Sharif Administration determines the foreign policy issues. The talks with Secretary Kerry give us some idea of what the future is to be on this front as Islamabad’s relations with Washington evolve.

Published in The Express Tribune, August 3rd, 2013.

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Vakil | 10 years ago | Reply

What do we have here? Not even a cursory reference to the (in)famous "K"-word or even "India" being mentioned anywhere! Shows just how much Pakistan (government that is) seems to have moved on! But then again, would that be regarded as a good thing or a bad thing by most Pakistani readers?

V. C. Bhutani | 10 years ago | Reply

Someone needs to call a spade a spade. We in India are convinced that Kerry has been pro-Pakistan from his days as senator to this day. He speaks of a relationship of full partnership with Pakistan. He seems to have forgotten ISAF personnel killed in Afghanistan by the Afghan Taliban with the assistance of Pakistani Taliban and Haqqani Network, both Pakistan-based. There has been no doubt that from day one Pakistan played on both sides of the line in spite of George Bush’s terse warning that you are either with us or against us: Pakistan under Musharraf chose to be both with USA and against USA but at the same time went on professing loudly that Pakistan was acting as frontline non-NATO ally of the coalition in Afghanistan as part of the global war against terror. Numerous US writings on the subject have explicated and underlined Pakistan’s double game throughout. Even Osama bin Laden’s presence in Pakistan from 2001 to 2011 does not seem to Kerry to mean anything. Here is a US secretary state who aims to build a full partnership with Pakistan. It does not seem that this is going to be limited to the end of 2014: the words used by Kerry seem to indicate that he is giving substance to his pro-Pakistan attitude and conviction. We in India should expect that there will be no great India-US relationship during the rest of Obama’s tenure, or maybe even afterwards, good expressions by US leaders notwithstanding. USA is back to its relationship with Pakistan dating from 1949. It is possible that USA hopes to wean Pakistan away from Pakistan’s embrace of China, about which both Pakistan and China have been eloquent since 1963: they do not tire of shouting about their time-tested and all-weather relationship at every conceivable opportunity. Now, 50 years of romance is not going to end on the rocks. It seems this romance will endure. In complete defiance of common sense, Pakistan is going to be friend of both China and USA without having to choose between them. Nawaz Sharif will think that his prayers have been answered. He will have no cause to be reasonable in relations with India or to refrain from attempting to control Afghanistan after 2014. We should expect renewed bouts of terror in India by terrorist outfits based in Pakistan. With China and USA at its back, Pakistan does not need India. There needs to be some juxtaposing of US and Chinese views on Pakistan side by side on the basis of sources that are authentic – Kerry for USA and Global Times for China. Both are available on line and explicate the two views succinctly. China has the advantage of its long-standing relationship with Pakistan from 1963 on which is based on shared concerns and common objectives. And that has gone on for a good 50 years. USA has played ducks and drakes over a long period from 1949 onwards but has not been a consistent supporter of Pakistan in every action that Pakistan took. US view has been an expression of its policies and attitudes over the entire post-war period: Pakistan arrived on the scene rather early and within a couple of years built a defence arrangement with USA. Pakistan has been a consistent upstart through its years of existence: no well considered ideas or choices informed its foreign policy. USA took Pakistan along when it served US policy objectives and dropped it when it did not. In this respect, the question has more to do with Pakistan’s choices than with USA’s. It seems there has been some re-thinking in US policy making echelons. One does not know for certain, but if present US policy is anything more than a means of getting out of the Afghan situation, then it seems it is predicated on insufficient foundation. Both USA and Pakistan must be aware that there is no way of reconciling US and Chinese worldviews or of getting the two to act in cooperation because they have no commonalities or shared aims in world affairs. Then, how does Pakistan expect to be able to juggle these balls like a magician or a circus player? And who ever thought that Pakistan had turned up some extremely able diplomats who could attempt this? At the very least, it is problematic. At the worst, it may produce all round dissatisfaction. In view of some comments appearing here, this is the first time that we have read about a possible tie-up between Russia, China, and India. Several years ago Primakov suggested such an axis. It was publicly debated in India. In the end nothing came of that idea. There is no present dialogue for a possible strategic relationship between the three. V. C. Bhutani, Edinburgh, 2 Aug 2013, 1900 GMT

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