Pakistan’s delegation returned on the weekend, after three days of attending the strategic dialogue meeting in Washington. Federal Minister for Information Qamar Zaman Kaira and Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi, were both eloquent in recalling the achievements of the visit. Qureshi claimed that talks were held with the US on an equal footing. “We accepted their points and made them accept our points”. Heartening indeed, but analysis will show that the ministers have been very economical with the truth.
The crowning success of the visit is said to be the $2 billion five-year security assistance package for the army. The aid is primarily to enhance Pakistan’s security profile and capacity to fight effectively against militants. It is basically a renewal of a similar five-year package that expired recently. The package has to be approved by Congress and the indications are that it may not be smooth sailing. Democrats are likely to lose significantly in the November 2 congressional election and that may also seal the prospects of a second term for President Barack Obama. Next year, Obama would be a lame-duck president and every thing would be up in the air. Prudence demands that we restrain our enthusiasm about the security package. Intriguingly, Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani looked disappointed, stating that more than $2 billion have already been spent and hence the security package is no big deal. Any explanation?
Related to the security question is the drone issue. Pervez Musharraf may have allowed drone flights in the tribal areas, as stated by Prime Minister Gilani, but the continuing operations are a constant humiliation and an insult to Pakistani pride. Every strike triggers anger against the Americans. Since June 2004, 1,863 Pakistani civilians have been killed in 184 attacks and there is no let-up. No apology. No remorse. No compensation. Just collateral damage. The US appears, as expected, to show no inclination to honour the territorial integrity and sanctity of its ‘invaluable ally’.
Another core issue that again drew a blank from our American partners is that of a civilian nuclear deal to meet Pakistan’s critical energy requirement. The issue has remained unresolved as the US refuses to accommodate Pakistan’s request. According to a Pentagon spokesman, “it is not on the table and the Pakistani views are well understood and we listened carefully to them.” This is the sum total of the progress on the issue. Not only that, the US declined to consider Pakistan’s request for civilian nuclear cooperation and instead expressed concern and sought an explanation for Pakistan’s growing nuclear cooperation with China.
Foreign Minister Qureshi covered himself with glory when, in the joint press conference in Washington, he made a stirring reference to the Kashmir issue but his appeal to President Obama “to redeem his pledge on Kashmir” failed to strike a responsive chord. We were given the old line that the US will play no role and that the issue is to be settled between India and Pakistan. That is that.
There has been no reference to the much talked about Bilateral Investment Treaty (BIT) and Reconstruction Opportunity Zone (ROZ). The projects seem to have been laid to rest. Similarly, there have been no details on the progress made by the 13 working groups focusing on projects relating to social sectors including energy, health, education and infrastructure etc.
The above assessment clearly brings out the real worth of the strategic dialogue. The talks might have been held on “equal footing” but the asymmetry of the two sides in every sphere could, of course, not have delivered any different results.
Published in The Express Tribune, October 28th, 2010.
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