By Divya Kumar Soti*
The Joint Statement released after Obama-Nawaz meeting in Washington is mostly on expected lines, but Obama’s promise to support Pakistan’s efforts in arranging finances for Diamer Basha and Dasu Hydroelectric Projects in POK has come, for many in India, as a surprise.
It has come at a time when visuals of anti-Pakistan demonstrations in POK and Gilgit-Baltistan have been viral over the Internet. Question then is whether US promise to Pakistan on Diamer Basha and Dasu Hydroelectric Projects is to be seen as a discouraging signal to New Delhi? And whether Americans support Chinese strategic expansion into Af-Pak and Gulf through POK?
US policy stances on Kashmir have always been guided by larger geopolitical considerations concerning Eurasia which often go beyond India-Pak equations. In the current scenario however, they are more pinned on Pakistan in a rather negative sense given the fact that it is increasingly marked as a source of instability and reason for frustration of US military aims in Afghanistan. Ironically, still Pakistan is considered as indispensable for regional peace with hope that it can control its radical instincts.
Over the last year, US has tried to rope in China into Af-Pak as it is the only major regional player which is not distrusted by Pakistanis and at the same time on which US has some policy leverages due to various economic and geopolitical reasons. Thinking in Washington is that allowing China to develop strategic stakes in Af-Pak will make it work towards ensuring that Pak Army somehow roll back its terror sports in Afghanistan.
However, this policy is fraught with risks as Pakistani Army is aware of China’s dependence on it for checking India as well as because of complex situation within Taliban after death of Mullah Omar. Moreover, it is not known whether China is ready to put all its weight to make Pakistan dismantle its terror infrastructure as a substantial portion of it is directed against India.
What needs to be understood by the international community is that Pakistan’s terror infrastructure can not be dismantled in half or one fourth or two-third as it derives its life blood from a radicalized society having a craving for all around religious war and an unitary radicalization infrastructure that provide terror recruits to carry out war by terrorism against both India and Afghanistan.
This Joint statement which looks forward to Pakistan acting as a regional strategic stabilizer comes in the backdrop of statements of US military commanders in Afghanistan who constantly blame Pakistan for supporting Taliban and Haqqani Network,. This creates a contradiction as US considers Pakistan both as a source of regional instability which it fuels through its terrorist proxies like LeT and Haqqani Network and at the same time indispensable for restoring strategic stability by having the very capacity to dismantle them.
Indeed if this is the case, then the US is just hoping like always that Pakistan will become a good boy. There is no guarantee that DBD promise will fructify unless Pakistan delivers on Afghanistan and LeT and actually starts acting as a stabilizing factor in the region. Otherwise there are many chances that it will end up like the promise to deliver a full F-16 squadron which has now been downgraded to eight F-16s.
In a sense, Obama may have also tried to rescue Nawaz Sharif on domestic front. Nawaz Sharif’s US visit in September during UNGA session was being seen as a complete failure in Pakistan in comparison to Modi’s visit.
Pakistani PM had faced some very unpleasant questions from Pak Media persons on the US soil itself. Thereafter, reports surfaced in Pak Media as to how Nawaz Sharif was dumbstruck by scolding from US Secretary of State John Kerry over the failure to deliver on Afghanistan.
Rubbing salt on these deep wounds, a charge of contempt has been filed against the Pakistani PM for having addressed the UNGA in English instead of Urdu. The Supreme Court of Pakistan had mandated this September to make Urdu the lingua franca of Pakistan’s official conduct both at home and abroad.
Amidst all this, the Pakistani Army was able to get Sartaz Aziz replaced by Lt Gen Janjua as Pakistan’s new National Security Advisor (NSA). In such circumstances, Obama may have considered it fit to hand over some gifts to Nawaz Sharif which he could display on returning to Pakistan. It can also be seen as a balancing act by US as it has progressively lost leverages inside Pakistan which has almost fallen into Chinese lap and is inching closer to Russia.
This leverage developed by US through DBD promise is big one given the fact that it is being touted by the Pakistani media as a big breakthrough and an acknowledgement of US to Pakistan’s claim at least on POK if not one whole J&K. So, in case Americans go back on their promise in case of Pakistan failing to deliver on Afghanistan, it will be a big debacle of sorts for any government sitting in Islamabad.
The Murree episode has highlighted the fact that all the choreography by Islamabad and Beijing has certain limitations as it is not only very difficult to bring whole Afghan Taliban on the same page, but also difficult to bring whole of the Pakistani Army on the same page.
The rumors of US-Pak civil nuclear deal doing rounds in US media and policy circles also started on the premise that Pakistan’s fast growing nuclear arsenal is insecure and a major hazard for the World and thus needs to be managed in some way. Though it sounds like awarding Pakistan for being irresponsible, but the fact that no announcement was made in this regard after Obama-Nawaz meeting points out at the hesitation in Washington.
And if there were indeed any modalities of such deal worked out through behind the scene discussions, the Pakistani Army too may have said no to them. Going forward, the Pakistani Army will directly guide the process through its own man Lt Gen Janjua, who is now the new NSA.
There is now a strong lobby in US which wants to apply “first deliver, then desire” rule on Pakistan instead of paying Pakistani bills for defective services or pacifying it for dangerous nuisances it frequently creates. Lisa Curtis of Heritage Foundation who is an influential South Asia voice at Capitol Hill noted recently: “it makes little sense to bring Pakistan into the nuclear mainstream before it has entered the counterterrorism mainstream.”
In such a scenario, the best approach for India is to keep pushing for slow but steady US policy shift whereby it begins to clearly hold Pakistan responsible for instability in the region. Obama is constantly downgrading his Pakistan narrative over the last few years as he looks for some way out from the Afghan mess, there is a great need that New Delhi actively engages with developing school of thought in Washington which is not in favour of writing blank cheques to Pakistan.
Modi government should stick to the policy stand taken by it as Pakistan as a strategic stabilizer charade cannot survive for long and is bound to be falsified by Pakistan itself due to its compulsive basic instincts to spread instability.
*Divya Kumar Soti is an Indian national security and strategic affairs analyst. He can be reached at [email protected]