The United States and Pakistan just concluded a strategic dialogue in Washington, third in the series this year. Frequent diplomatic and military discourse in the back drop of operations ongoing in Af-Pak is not unusual. However underlying the two way talks is a vicious cycle of self interest which belies claims of a strategic partnership. For the commonality of aims and objectives that underpin such an arrangement were not evident going by the deliverables that can be gleaned from various transcripts.
|A review of the main issues however denotes overriding self interest by both the sides which may undermine the long term trajectory of the relationship. Firstly the United States focused on what it would like the Pakistan Army to do at the earliest that is commence operations in North Waziristan. For that seems to be the next centre of gravity of the joint military strategy which though is not an articulated policy per se. Some analysts claim that hot pursuit by the NATO attack helicopters was intended to egg on the Pakistanis to action, if that be so then the same has not achieved any immediate results.
Given the recent differences over incursion and targeting of some Pakistani soldiers who were seen in a compound, and reportedly were also firing back at the attack helicopter, holding of the dialogue would have reduced tensions to an extent. The US has also established a multi level dialogue rather than touching only on security attempting to engage Pakistani civil government in all its facets including important issues as education and agriculture. Never the less the military component of the dialogue cannot be ignored and therefore it is apparent that the presence of General Kiyani at the table remains ominous. The US has possibly acknowledged that he remains the key stake holder on this front.
To its credit the Obama administration has approached the process through a much broader framework than the previous US government. There are multiplicities of issues being discussed in a broad ranging engagement between the two countries to include 13 Working Groups on a wide variety of subjects ranging from Water, Communications, and Agriculture to the most important Defence. This has expanded the range of the dialogue enormously and would enable building a long lasting relationship with the caveat of identifying common interests.
US flood relief aid and assistance to Pakistan is over $ 400 million which is certainly the largest the country has received despite many promises by others as Saudi Arabia and China and will firm in United States intention to support Islamabad. The key issue should be delivery of the same to the grass roots; hopefully all of it will reach the millions of needy in the country in which the Pakistani government will have a key role.
A review of the main issues however denotes overriding self interest by both the sides which may undermine the long term trajectory of the relationship. Firstly the United States focused on what it would like the Pakistan Army to do at the earliest that is commence operations in North Waziristan. For that seems to be the next centre of gravity of the joint military strategy which though is not an articulated policy per se. Some analysts claim that hot pursuit by the NATO attack helicopters was intended to egg on the Pakistanis to action, if that be so then the same has not achieved any immediate results.
Pakistan has its own reservations for launching operations. Rawalpindi the headquarters of the Pakistan Army’s General Headquarters claims that it does not have the forces on the ground to manage a counter insurgency campaign which is ongoing in South Waziristan as much as in other parts of the tribal region. On the other hand it is seen by many to protect the main protagonist, the Haqqani group lodged in this area along with groups of the Pakistan Taliban with whom the government has made peace. What ever it be, it is possible that there has been no firm commitment by Rawalpindi and some more persuasion may be necessary to ensure that a joint campaign astride the Durand Line both in Afghanistan and Pakistan is launched.
US focus on inducing the Pakistani military leadership to launch operations in North Waziristan has resulted in the bait of over $ 2 billion of military aid promised during the talks. This will supplement over $ 12 billion aid that has already been provided to the Pakistani military since 2001. The Pakistani military has already got a large tranche of $ 1 billion plus as was indicated to the IMF recently over and above the Defence Budget for 2010-11 that was announced in the Parliament by the government. So the surpluses on the defence account this year are likely to be substantial.
Pakistan on its part seemed to be more interested apart from the military aid in flagging the Kashmir issue and get the United States as an interlocutor despite knowing fully well that Washington was not keen to indulge in what it sees as a bilateral case. Yet as the Pakistani Foreign Minister Mr Qureshi seemed to imply he will persist and expect that his persistence will be rewarded one day.
The second dimension of Pakistan’s interest was to get a similar nuclear deal as India, but the United States knows that there is no legal possibility of such a deal coming through either by the US Congress or international agencies given Pakistan’s image as a proliferator. What Qureshi could get however is a promise of a visit by President Obama in 2011 as close as he would have liked it to be with that to New Delhi.
While there were a number of issues, the key ones have been flagged herein and should provide the nature of self interests that drove the dialogue process. Given the narrow perspectives with which both sides have approached the core issues, will the strategic dialogue process move forward into something more tangible remains to be seen?