NEW DELHI: A day after United States President Barack Obama concluded his three-day visit to India, neighbouring Pakistan that has been keeping a close eye on the visit reiterated its commitment to pursuing “normal” ties with India. "India is an important neighbour for us and we would like to have normal relations with the country on the basis of mutual respect and sovereign equality," Pakistani Prime Minister reportedly told Pakistan's High Commissioner to India Abdul Basit at a meeting.

Sharif’s statement follows a contrastingly sharp statement issued by Pakistan’s Foreign Ministry. The FM statement said that Pakistan had “taken careful note of statements made and agreements reached” in New Delhi during Obama’s visit. Referring specifically to a reported breakthrough in discussions regarding a civilian nuclear deal, Pakistan said that it “is not averse to civil nuclear cooperation … provided it is based on the principles of nondiscrimination and objective nonproliferation criteria.”

The statement accused the US of “selectivity and discrimination” favouring India, and said that the agreements “would have a detrimental impact on deterrence stability in South Asia.” “Pakistan values its relations with the United States and expects it to play a constructive role for strategic stability and balance in South Asia,” the statement said.

Pakistan also reacted to a statement issued by the US and India during Obama’s visit that called on Pakistan to do more to fight terrorism in the region. “Pakistan rejects any insinuation or aspersion over its commitment to fight terrorism,” advisor to the Prime Minister, Sartaj Aziz said in the statement issued by the Foreign Ministry. “Condemnation of terrorism in all its forms and manifestations should not be based on selectivity or double standards.”

The statement also said that India “by no means qualifies for a special status in the Security Council,” citing breaches of UN resolutions in Kashmir.

Whilst it may be tempting to project these developments as a rapprochement of India-US relations at the expense of Pakistan, the reality is perhaps closer to an attempt to transcend the zero-sum dynamics that have often plagued the region (and US policy) in the past. The US seems to be willing to engage with both countries independently, with India acquiring importance to offset China, arrive at climate change targets and for defense, civilian nuclear and economic engagement. Pakistan on the other hand remains important given the US’ strategic interests in Afghanistan and counter-insurgency efforts.

This is evinced by the fact that the US continues making statements that have a dual purpose. For instance, when US Secretary of State John Kerry visited Pakistan earlier this month, he praised Operation Zarb-e-Azb in North Waziristan, but added that "This task is obviously far from finished.” The current operations “in the northwest have disrupted militant activities in the tribal areas and resulted in important seizures of weapons,” Kerry said, speaking during a press conference in Islamabad with Sartaj Aziz. “The operation is not yet complete but already the results are significant. Pakistani soldiers and their commanders deserve enormous credit,” Kerry said.

Praising Pakistan for its efforts -- in addition to clearing $250 million in aid -- is indicative that the US has no intention of not keeping Pakistan close. The difference, however, is the addition of comments specific to the concerns of India. Kerry had made specific mention of terror groups operating in India -- in a statement that seems to be intended to cater to India’s concerns. “Groups like the Pakistani and Afghan Taliban, the Haqqani network, Lashkar-e Taiba, and other groups, continue to pose a threat to Pakistan, to its neighbours, and to the United States, and we all of us have a responsibility to ensure that these groups do not gain a foothold but rather are pushed back into the recesses of (Pakistan’s) memory," Kerry had said.

The controversy over the Kerry-Lugar bill funding is another example of the US’ dual motives. Reports suggested that the US had cleared $532 million aid for Pakistan under the Kerry-Lugar bill. As part of this clearance was directly linked to Pakistan’s having taken “action against” anti-India terror groups Laskhar-e-Taiba (LeT) and Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM), India immediately raised objections. This prompted the US to deny that any such funding had been cleared -- thereby appeasing India and achieving a tactical purpose as Kerry completed his trip to India and laid the groundwork for Obama’s visit. However, once in Pakistan, Kerry noted that significant successes against militancy had been achieved and cleared $250 million in aid -- thereby appeasing Pakistan that had began accusing India for stalling promised aid.

The US, therefore, is now walking a tightrope between India and Pakistan, and for the first time, is attempting to pursue relations with both countries independent of their mutual dynamic. Whether it has achieved the perfect balance, it is too soon to tell.