Pivotal Pakistan in political pickle

By Ameen Izzadeen

This article originally appeared in the Daily Mirror (Sri Lanka) of July 23, 2010.

Two high-profile visits last week — one by India’s Foreign Minister S. M. Krishna and the other by US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton — underscored Pakistan’s importance in world politics today.

It is no exaggeration to say that no country at the moment faces so many diplomatic headaches as Pakistan does. On the one hand, it, together with the United States, is fighting a war on terror and, on the other, it is being accused of aiding and abetting terrorism in India and Indian-administered Kashmir. On the one hand, the United States is pressurizing Pakistan, saying it has not delivered enough in the war against al-Qaeda and Taliban elements despite Pakistan having lost nearly 3,000 soldiers and tens of thousands of civilians in this conflict that has been thrust on it by Washington. On the other, the people of Pakistan are accusing their government of being a US lackey and paying little heed to Pakistan’s national interest.

Keeping a close tab on the government’s moves is the military which has staged several coups in the past. It has not given up its authority of being the ultimate guardian of Pakistan’s national interest and plays a powerful behind-the-scenes role even though a civilian government is firmly in the saddle. Government leaders recognize the military’s unwritten role and go along with the advice the generals give from time to time.

Last week’s developments surrounding the visit of Indian External Affairs Minister S. M. Krishna once again brought to light the powerful hold the military has on politicians.

Krishna’s visit took place against the backdrop of US efforts aimed at bringing about peace between South Asia’s two nuclear neighbours.

The US seeks peace apparently not because it loves peace, but because it feels that its interests would be served better if Pakistan and India reach a peace deal. If there is peace with India, the US believes Pakistan could deploy the full force of its military in the battle against al-Qaeda and the Taliban in Pakistan’s North Western Frontier Province and Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA). Even before President Barack Obama assumed office, he promoted peace between India and Pakistan. He even suggested the appointment of a special envoy but abandoned the plan in the face of opposition from India.

But once in office, Obama’s peace efforts have been largely in favour of India. Washington has been pressurizing Pakistan to cooperate with India in combating cross-border terrorism and bringing to justice those involved in the Mumbai terror attacks.

With world opinion favouring India in the aftermath of the Mumbai attacks, Pakistan had little option but to cooperate with India to prove it had nothing to do with the terrorists involved in the incident.

But allegations and counter-allegations by the two countries dealt a blow to US efforts at brining them to the negotiating table. Both India and Pakistan accused each other of supporting terrorism. While India accused Pakistan of conniving with the terrorists who launched the Mumbai attacks and fuelling terrorism in the Indian-administered Kashmir, Pakistan charged that India was aiding separatists in Baluchistan.

Even hours before Krishna landed in Pakistan, India’s Home Ministry Secretary G.K. Pillai made a public statement accusing Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) of “literally controlling and coordinating” the Mumbai attacks. His statement raised questions in Pakistan as to India’s desire for peace. The Pakistanis asked whether India was capitalizing on the absence a peace dialogue to build dams across rivers that originate in Indian administered Kashmir and flow into Pakistan.

It was believed that Pakistan would raise the looming crisis over the river-water sharing, the Kashmiri issue and the question of terrorism with India. But it was India that took control of the talks in Pakistan — with Krishna more keen on extracting a commitment from Pakistan to crack down on Lakshar e-Tayyiba (LeT), the group which India accuses of being responsible for the Mumbai attack, and Jamath-ud-Dawa (JuD), the charity accused of being an LeT proxy.

Pakistan’s passivity was either because it was more keen than India to strike a peace deal or probably it was under intense US pressure. After two sessions of talks, Pakistan Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi and Krishna finalized a joint statement in which Pakistan reportedly agreed to crack the whip on JuD and its leader Hafiz Saeed. This was ahead of their final round of talks. India was upbeat and the Indian media were hailing Krishna’s diplomatic triumph and giving wide publicity to a confession by American suspect David Headley that the ISI was directly involved in the Mumbai attack.

It was at this stage that Army Commander Ashfaq Qayani stepped in. He met President Asif Ali Zardari and Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani ahead of Krishna’s meeting with them. The General is said to have pointed out to the two leaders in separate meetings that the Pakistani side had not raised India’s human rights abuses in Kashmir, New Delhi’s covert support to separatists is Baluchistan and its continued attempts to point the finger at Pakistan’s military establishment. He is said to have made it clear to Zardari and Gilani that they should not allow Pakistan to be bullied by India and unless these issues were included in the talks there should be no further dialogue with India.

So when the Krishna-Qureshi talks resumed on July 16, the Indian delegation was shocked by the sudden change in Pakistan’s tone and tenor. Qureshi upped the stakes and raised the issues that General Qayani wanted to be included in the talks. Needless to say the talks ended inconclusively with the two foreign ministers agreeing to meet in New Delhi.

But later Qureshi told the media he would not go to New Delhi unless India was ready to discuss the core issues, which included Kashmir. He accused the Indian side of bringing in Mumbai as a tactic to delay the resolution of the Kashmiri issue.

If Pakistan had emerged strong in its diplomatic tussle with India, it came a cropper in its handling of Afghanistan. In fact, India scored a diplomatic victory over Pakistan at the Afghan front through the United States.

Soon after Krishna, US Secretary of State Clinton was in Islamabad. She urged Pakistan to deliver more in the war against Taliban and al-Qaeda elements and expressed concern over Islamabad’s close defence ties with China. To further tie down Pakistan, she announced a US$ 500 million development package.

But the highlight of Clinton’s visit was something else. It was the signing of an agreement between Pakistan and Afghanistan to facilitate Kabul’s trade with New Delhi. The agreement will allow Afghanistan to export goods to India via Pakistani ports and borders. Although the agreement, the signing of which was supervised by Clinton, does not allow India to use the Pakistani territory to export goods to Afghanistan, it was widely seen as a first step in India’s move to reach the markets in Central Asia. Pakistani strategists fear India may get the US to pressurize Pakistan to allow Indian traders to use Pakistan’s territory to export goods to Afghanistan and Central Asia. If this happens, Pakistani strategists say their country may lose a vital bargaining lever with India. They say the deal also shows how the United States, India and Afghanistan have teamed up to nail down Pakistan.

About ameenizzadeen

journalist and global justice activist
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