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Pak-US strategic dialogue

06 February, 2014

By Dr Qaisar Rashid


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In the post 9/11-phase, it is the year 2014 that is bound to test the veracity of the oft repeated and oft eulogised "strong relationship and enduring partnership" between Pakistan and the US. On January 27, the advisor to the prime minister of Pakistan on national security and foreign affairs, Sartaj Aziz, and US Secretary of State John Kerry met in Washington for the ministerial meeting of the Pak-US strategic dialogue and issued a joint statement. This round of dialogue was the first one after the dialogue process that began in 2010 stalled in 2011 in the wake of the Abbottabad raid. The dialogue focused on five areas, which were dealt with by establishing working groups: first came energy, second security, strategic stability and nonproliferation, third the defence consultative group, fourth law enforcement and counterterrorism, and fifth was economics and finance. As per the joint statement, meetings of the first three working groups have already been convened in late 2013.

Out of these five areas, the first (energy) and the fifth (economics and finance) are those where Pakistan is in immediate need of help. That is, Pakistan requires sufficient energy to run its industries and ease the lives of its people from the clutches of load shedding. Similarly, if not aid, Pakistan requires trade and foreign investment to strengthen its foreign reserves and economy. The US might have added 1,000 megawatts of electricity to Pakistan's national grid system but neither has there taken place any considerable development in offering export opportunities to Pakistani exporters nor has there been any substantial foreign investment by US investors in Pakistan. Nevertheless, these are the two areas that are pushing Pakistan to listen to the US in the other areas.

The common thread that runs through the other three areas is terrorism (or how to deal with terrorism) but the adjunct is the word 'nuclear'. This is where the word 'shared' (emphasised by both countries in their joint statement) is relevant. The word 'shared' is not devoid of (diplomatic) connotations, ranging from "the US wants Pakistan to look after its own security strategies, whether inside the country or in the region, in a certain way" to "Pakistan is enmeshed in a security crisis (whether internal or external) and yearns for an outsider's help." Apparently 'terrorism' is a simple word but when it is seen in the context of a country having nuclear weapons, the concern of anyone becomes serious. The added urgency sprouts from the history of nuclear proliferation. The way terrorism is taking over Pakistan, anyone could become apprehensive of any untoward incident, which may bring the words 'terrorism' and 'nuclear' closer to each other. This is the point where Pakistan has been feeling trapped.

Pakistan feels trapped because the US has declined to embrace it into its nuclear energy fold, like the one offered by the US to India in 2008 through the 123 Agreement. It is now obvious that the US is ready to help Pakistan in any energy harnessing domain except nuclear. Secondly, it is also obvious that the US is unwilling to give any impression of legitimacy to Pakistan's nuclear status. Nevertheless, even if nuclear proliferation is the reason for turning down Pakistan's request for entering into a similar 123 Agreement, the US has not articulated in how many years Pakistan will be able to prove its nuclear nonproliferation resolve. This is the point where the blackmailing option enters the scene. If the US is such a partner and enjoys such a strategic, shared vision with Pakistan, should Pakistan be subjected to any kind of nuclear blackmail, which may be implicit, if not explicit? Pakistan does not deserve this kind of treatment.

In the joint statement, hidden in the sentence "cross-border militancy is a serious threat to both Pakistan and Afghanistan" is the point that the agents of instability and disruption are common in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Nevertheless, it is now obvious that Pakistan has inched closer to fighting its part in the war on terror (or its part in the hammer-and-anvil operation). It is because the situation has reached the point where Pakistan has to prove that it takes care not only of its own security but also of the (part of the) region affected by its strategies. Secondly, it is also because Pakistan has to prove that it is a country that takes care of its nuclear assets on its own and does not need any help from an outsider.

If the direction of cross-border militancy is supposed to be from Pakistan to Afghanistan, the former has to show that it is not exporting militancy. The ripe time for Pakistan's coming into action may be in March. This is because there is a direct relationship between such cross-border militancy and the bleak chances of the smooth conduct of the presidential elections in Afghanistan in April. The success of these elections and that of the ensuing transition of power are not only vital to the future of Afghanistan but are also important to vindicate the worth of the efforts of the US-NATO forces in Afghanistan in the past decade. On the other hand, if the direction of cross-border militancy is supposed from Afghanistan to Pakistan, the latter has to show that it cannot be overrun by the agents of militancy.

In a way, the Pakistan of today is trapped between two forces: first, those who are seeing the future of nuclear capability of Pakistan with doubt and, secondly, those who are inflicting acts of militancy (or terrorism) on Pakistan. Every single act of terrorism launched by the latter brings Pakistan one step closer to get entangled with the former. The earlier Pakistan realises this drift, the better it is. Nonetheless, the future of Pak-US strategic dialogue hinges on the future of Afghanistan. The scepticism of the US about the role of Pakistan in Afghanistan is the major hindrance in the way of Pak-US cooperation in the area of trade and investment.

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