US-Pakistan equations

Whether it wants to stay in Afghanistan or leave, the U.S needs the Pakistan army's support.

Jul 15, 2011

18-5-2011: After threatening divorce in the wake of the US raid on Abbottabad earlier this month, the Pakistan army and the Obama administration are negotiating the terms for saving their marriage. In the last few weeks, sections of the US Congress, angry at Rawalpindi’s double dealing on terror have threatened to cut off aid to Pakistan. The US Congress has approved aid totalling nearly $21 billion since 9/11.

Caught harbouring America’s enemy number one, Osama bin Laden, the Pakistan army has got its political establishment to direct wounded national pride against the United States and threaten the withdrawal of US access to Afghanistan — both geographical access and intelligence sharing.

John Kerry, the chairman of the powerful Senate Foreign Relations Committee in the US Congress, was in Pakistan on Monday getting the nation’s establishment to count the costs of defying Washington.

At the end of his talks (individually and collectively) with the army chief, General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, President Asif Ali Zardari, and Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani, Kerry said the two sides have agreed on a “roadmap” to restore mutual trust and revisit all aspects of their counter-terror cooperation.

Senior officials from Washington, the special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan, Marc Grossman, and the CIA deputy director for operations, Mark Morrel, will arrive in Islamabad shortly to work out the details. Kerry said the Pakistan army has agreed to take a number of “specific steps” in the coming days to demonstrate its commitment to the war on terror.

Delhi is not surprised that the United States and Pakistan are trying to “reset” their bilateral relations. Whether it wants to stay in Afghanistan or leave, the US needs the Pakistan army’s support. Rawalpindi, in turn, knows that there is no other power, including China, that can fully compensate for a strategic rupture with the United States.

The real question for Delhi is: who’s got the upper hand? For now the Obama administration seems to be on top. During his day-long visit to Pakistan, Kerry did not apologise for the unilateral US military action deep inside Pakistan and made it clear that nice words from Pakistan are no longer enough to convince the sceptics in Washington. Even as political leaders in Islamabad were denouncing the United States, Washington got access to bin Laden’s wives in Pakistan and the drones have not stopped operating in Waziristan.

The next few days weeks will show if Washington’s pressure is enough to get Rawalpindi to act against the remaining leaders of al-Qaeda, the Haqqani network and the Lashkar-e-Toiba. They will also reveal if the US might be prepared to live with a limited response from Kayani and return to business as usual.

US-Taliban talks
As it seeks strong action against the Haqqani network that has been so close to the military establishment in Rawalpindi, the Obama administration is also trying to develop independent access to the Taliban. A report in Tuesday’s edition of The Washington Post on the contacts between the Obama administration and the Taliban suggested that the US wants to reduce its current dependence on Kayani for a peace deal in Afghanistan.

A US diplomat attended at least three meetings in Qatar and Germany, including one “eight or nine days ago” with a Taliban official considered close to the group’s leader, Mullah Mohammad Omar, the report said, citing an Afghan official. While Kayani has offered himself as a broker between the US and the Taliban, US officials have told the Post that the Taliban leaders prefer direct contact with the Obama administration.

The newspaper added that the Obama administration has not walked away from its earlier position that the peace process with the Taliban must be Afghan-led. “Afghans have been fully briefed” on US-Taliban contacts, an American official told the Post, and “the Pakistanis only partially so.”

Sharif, the bold
As Pakistan’s political class meekly surrendered to Kayani in the last few days, the former prime minister and the leader of the PML-N, Nawaz Sharif, stood out as the lone exception. While Gilani was desperate to wipe the egg off Kayani’s face and put it on his own, Sharif forced the government to agree to an independent commission of inquiry into the bin Laden affair as part of the compromise on a unanimous resolution over the weekend in the National Assembly.

Having been a victim of an army coup in 1999, Sharif has been demanding greater civilian control over the army and the ISI, including a parliamentary scrutiny of their budgets. Sharif has also said Pakistan can’t make progress without ending the hostility towards India that feeds into the army’s hold over the nation.

While India likes what it hears from Sharif, the Pakistan army dislikes him intensely. The United States deeply distrusts Sharif whose party and its government in West Punjab are often seen as empathetic to religious extremist groups.

(Courtesy: Indian Express)

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