A lot of ground was covered in a very short visit to Pakistan by American National Security Adviser (NSA) Dr Susan Rice on August 30. It is the first time since the Zardari years that an American NSA has visited these shores and much has happened since the last visit. Ms Rice has a reputation as a tough talker, and her exchanges with the prime minister, her Pakistani counterpart Sartaj Aziz and Chief of the Army Staff General Raheel Sharif — were said to be “frank”.
It is reported that Pakistan has sought American intervention in an attempt to de-escalate the tensions along the Line of Control (LoC) and the Working Boundary (WB) with India, which in the last three months have risen sharply. There has been some cautious support for Pakistan in the current conflict from a previous American ambassador to Pakistan, Cameron Munter, and the diplomatic environment appears to see Pakistan as the aggrieved party in this instance.
America has always been wary of anything but the most tangential of interventions in the Pakistan-India imbroglio, but time and circumstances change, and the US cannot simply walk away — as it has done in the past with Pakistan — and avoid the consequences of its own interventions in the region. The spectre of a limited war is being touted in some Western countries, a spectre that fills them with the deepest of fears. Neither India nor Pakistan would stand to gain anything by going to war, but the furnaces of nationalism are burning bright in India, fanned by a Modi administration that is giving contradictory messages — speaking peace from one side of its mouth and something other than peace from the other. If current levels of conflict escalate beyond protracted artillery duels, then external concerns may be justified.
This is not in American interests, and a tidy pivot towards the Pacific is looking less and less likely. American help is being sought to bring India to the table. The proposed talks at the NSA level collapsed, and in truth never looked to be much of a possibility anyway. Neither side had anything to offer the other and preconditions ultimately killed them off. Pakistan will be hoping that India can be brought to the table without preconditions, but India has a fresh concern — the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) which may not work to its own interests. The CPEC, if accomplished, is going to significantly raise Pakistan’s game regionally and potentially bring about a latter-day economic revolution. A strong and vibrant Pakistan is not in the Indian playbook. It is (probably) in the Americans’. Whether they can broker — or strong-arm — India into adopting a less aggressive position remains to be seen but Dr Rice is not a woman to waste her time on a tea-and-biscuits visit. She is reportedly keen to broker an on-the-sidelines meeting between the prime minister and Mr Modi in the upcoming UN General Assembly meeting. We await, but with low expectations.
The second agenda item for Dr Rice was the Haqqani network, about which America is less than impressed by the Pakistan efforts to suppress it. There have always been American doubts in this area despite protestations to the contrary by both the prime minister and the army chief. The Haqqani network is clearly alive and well, and at stake in this face-off is the $300 million that America is due to pay into the Coalition Support Fund and which the American Congress has the power to veto if it is not satisfied that the Haqqani network is being hammered sufficiently hard. Allied to that issue is the Afghan peace process, currently off the rails while the Taliban sort out issues of succession in the wake of the death of Mullah Omar. The table is crowded with ‘to do’ items ideally before the prime minister meets President Barack Obama, and not all are going to get done.
Published in The Express Tribune, September 1st, 2015.
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