After Nuke Party

Greater Kashmir

Would India and Pakistan now engage?

The Nuclear Security Summit held in Washington last week is significant for many reasons for our region.

One, it saw participation of India and Pakistan as two recognized nuclear powers. Two, it again underlined intense US interest in easing the existing tension between the two countries. Though not too publicly, US officials are said to have pressed both New Delhi and Islamabad to engage meaningfully to resolve their outstanding differences. The US administration is said to be little uncomfortable with New Delhi’s reluctance to engage with Islamabad at this juncture. Both are under pressure.

A report in Pakistan’s Dawn newspaper last week, quoting US officials, said that ‘though the Americans would prefer to arrange a proper meeting between the two Prime Ministers on the margins of the nuclear summit, New Delhi’s continued refusal to hold political-level talks with Islamabad makes it look impossible.’

Wall Street Journal on April 6 reported that in a secret directive, President Barack Obama has asked his administration to intensify efforts to make India resolve its tensions with Pakistan, which it sees a ‘priority’ for progress of US goals in the region.

According to the report, he has also asked his officials to intensify American diplomacy aimed at easing tensions between India and Pakistan, asserting that without detente between the two rivals, the administration’s efforts to win Pakistani cooperation in Afghanistan would suffer.

The directive, issued in December, concluded that “India must make resolving its tensions with Pakistan a priority for progress to be made on US goals in the region. The Pentagon, in particular, has sought more pressure on New Delhi, the report said.

Despite a lot of talk about the ‘warm handshake’ between Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and his counterpart Yousuf Raza Gilani at the Nuclear Security Summit in Washington last week, the fact that the two countries did not meet formally on the sidelines of the summit underlines that the current level of differences is intense. 26/11 issue seems to have become a classic chicken and egg story.

In such a backdrop, the prospects of a meaningful Indo-Pak engagement in a near future seem to be dim for now. The earlier reports that the two countries may meet on the sidelines of the SAARC summit to be held in the Bhutanese capital, Thimpu, on 28-29 April seem to be negated now. Pakistan on Thursday made it clear that no meeting has been scheduled so far between Prime Ministers Yousuf Raza Gilani and Manmohan Singh on the SAARC sidelines. Its Foreign Office spokesman Abdul Basit told a weekly news briefing that no meeting between the two premiers was on cards though a proposal for such a meeting was part of a roadmap provided recently by Islamabad to New Delhi.

On his part, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Wednesday was evasive when he was asked whether he would meet Gilani in Bhutan or not. When asked by reporters, Dr. Singh had said that he thought there was still time to think about the meeting in Bhutan.

The balance of nuclear deterrence has also lately emerged as an issue of concern for the US. On April 10, the US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in her speech on nuclear non-proliferation at the University of Louisville made it clear that ‘the manner in which India and Pakistan have pursued atomic weapons has upset the balance of nuclear deterrence.’ She also said that the Obama administration was working hard with both countries to try to limit their number of nuclear stockpiles.

India’s planned strategy at the Summit to galvanize support for its argument that ‘nuclear weapons in its neighborhood may fall into the hands of terrorist groups’ doesn’t seem to have worked. Contrary to certain extreme-case predictions, it was clear that major global powers have expressed confidence in the security of Pakistan’s nuclear assets. As such, it is time for both India and Pakistan to think brinkmanship to achieve short term objectives are bound the hurt their longer term interests. It is time to take a new path and talk.

It needs to be understood that despite tremendous pressure from India, Washington has chosen to take a course on Pakistan that suits it sees in line with its own geo-political interests in the region, particularly its stakes in Afghanistan. Although ‘terrorism’ remains a matter of concern for Washington, the fact is that despite New Delhi’s disapproval, it has persisted with military aid to Pakistan, which India believes could be used for dual purposes.

In the last three years alone, the US has provided 14 F-16s, five fast patrol boats, 115 self-propelled howitzer field artillery cannons, over 450 vehicles, hundreds of night- vision goggles, day and night scopes, radios, protective vests and first aid items to Pakistan’s security forces.

Late March, a Pentagon official said that Pakistan was due to get 18 of the Block 52 F-16s, Oliver Hazard Perry Class frigate by autumn and is expected to receive Shadow Drones within a year. Islamabad is set to receive all this military help under the enhanced US-Pakistan Strategic Cooperation.

In fiscal year 2008, the US provided in excess of USD 1 billion as grants to Pakistan in security assistance and training. It, then, doubled in the last fiscal to just over USD 2 billion, and the figure is now projected to surpass this year.

India’s Air Chief Marshal P V Naik soon after taking over as the Chairman, Chiefs of Staffs Committee said the US military aid to Pakistan was a matter of concern for India, which has been conveyed to the Obama administration as well. However, things have moved their own course on Pakistan.

In the current environment it is clear that the fulfillment of critical American objectives in Afghanistan heavily depends on Pakistani support. A withdrawal from Afghanistan for the US and its western allies without achieving their set objectives is fraught with serious consequences for their global interests. Naturally, Pakistan is very unlikely to be pushed to the corner.

The best way today for both India and Pakistan is to recognize that no foreign alignments are going to help them achieve their geo-political interests in the longer term.  There is no short cut to what has been said quite often: address Kashmir, disengage from the shadow war in Afghanistan. And embrace.

(The Columnist is Online Editor with Greater Kashmir/Kashmir Uzma. Email: arjimand@greaterkashmir.com)