PRESSURE OR NOT, THE US IS BEHIND THE INDIA-PAK TALKS: WHY?
The General who counts: Pakistan General Sharif with Afghan President Ghani
NEW DELHI: Whether the United States nudged or pushed India and Pakistan to finally agree to sit together again to discuss “all” issues is a matter that all sides like to deny for reasons of sovereignty, but the fact remains that Washington has been repeatedly issuing statements in favour of the same. In fact even in Paris where the ice was broken between the two neighbours, the US issued a statement hoping for India and Pakistan talks.
After the Bangkok meeting the US has welcomed the NSA-level talks between India and Pakistan with a State Department spokesperson saying,"We welcome reports of the meeting between Indian and Pakistani officials. We support any and all positive steps India and Pakistan can take to reduce tensions, engage in dialogue, and forge closer relations.”
"The normalisation of relations between India and Pakistan is vital to both countries and the region," the spokesperson added,
"We are pleased that Pakistan is hosting the Heart of Asia Summit. We are also encouraged that President Ghani, Indian Minister of External Affairs Swaraj, and other senior officials will be attending," the official said. "The meeting is an opportunity for the United States and all participating countries to discuss our shared commitment to a stable, peaceful, and prosperous Afghanistan," the spokesperson said in response to a question.The Deputy Secretary of State, Antony Blinken and Special US Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan Richard Olson represent the United States in the fifth meeting of the Heart of Asia process in Islamabad.
The US has worked hard to ensure the presence of both Ghani and Swaraj at this meeting that is crucial to its post withdrawal strategy. Sources said there was considerable pressure by Washington on the Indian government to mend relations with Pakistan, and open doors to ensure that not just the talks but also cooperation on Afghanistan remains smooth and streamlined. The nervousness has been evident in its close monitoring of the Heart of Asia conference, with the regional countries clearly crucial now to the process.
The three basic reasons why Washington has been working to ensure better relations between India and Pakistan are:
1. The old reason for calm on the eastern borders holds, more so as Pakistan is vital to US plans for Afghanistan. This has increased over the months since Pakistan Army chief General Raheel Sharif came to power as he is trusted by Washington, and has been very successful in virtually wiping out the Lashkar e Jhangvi top leadership, decimating the Pakistan Taliban that now finds its fangs pulled out with the concerted military action, in a two pronged strategy directed at Afghanistan, and also against sectarian violence at home. In fact the only extremist who is still being looked after by the Pakistan military is Lashkar e Tayyaba mentor Hafiz Saeed, as part of its Kashmir strategy that the Americans are clearly not interested in currently. Lt General Naseer Janjua who has recently been appointed the National Security Advisor is close to General Sharif but commanded the XII Corps based in Quetta and has hand-on experience of the volatile region.
2. The current determination to stop the Islamic State from moving into Afghanistan and through it to Pakistan at a time when the US administration is looking to reduce its footprint in Kabul. More so, as the domestic American opinion is turning against war and President Barack Obama remains committed to reducing his troops in the region. The entry of IS into South Asia, as sources, would complicate matters intensely for all stakeholders and hence the ongoing effort for cooperation between Afghanistan-Pakistan and India to ensure peace reigns. The sources said that the Americans are worried about the rise in sectarian violence in Pakistan, and the communal tensions within India, as domestic discord provides what has been described by analysts as a playing field for the IS. Besides there is genuine worry in all world capitals about the new trend whereby groups and individuals with access to arms work as IS recruits, such as in California recently, without deep or perhaps even partial access into its hierarchy. A semblance of peace in this South Asian belt is thus more than desirable for Washington that wants to settle Afghanistan without further complications and hurdles.
3. As suggested earlier, Pakistan under the military leadership is viewed in Washington as essential to its plans for Afghanistan. Pakistan has been pushing for talks with India for a while now, but the new dispensation in Delhi has been rigid in its resistance. The rather dramatic change-of-heart followed Paris where, sources feel, it was made clear that the US would “like” India to be present for the Heart of Asia meet. Otherwise, it could find itself factored out of the Afghanistan process almost entirely with the US unable then to restrain Pakistan from revving up the issue of Kashmir. India’s role in Afghanistan is limited, but it has considerable goodwill of the people there and remains essential to the process of reconstruction as well as the training of the Afghan security forces. This role can be expanded with time, more so as and when the US forces start leaving. Military Adventurism of a kind propagated at times in India by the BJP and its affiliates is a clear ‘no no’ insofar as Washington is concerned. In short, the US is clear about ensuring that it is easier, and not more difficult, for Pakistan to continue the crackdown on the extremists operating in and out of Afghanistan---a process that seems to be achieving levels of success for the first time since the military operations in the northern areas started under the former Army Chief General Kayani.
The US is thus not looking at result oriented India-Pakistan talks insofar as the bilateral issues are concerned, but in peace maintaining talks that open channels of communication between the two neighbours, bring down tensions, and thereby ensure that Pakistan and Afghanistan work together in what is going to be a tough transition, and India brings in the necessary gravitas as the big neighbour with an over arching reach.