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The general’s DC wishlist

As General Ashfaq Kayani arrives in Washington this week to lead what has been billed as a comprehensive strategic dialogue with the United States...

Written by C. Raja Mohan |
March 23, 2010 1:42:39 am

As General Ashfaq Kayani arrives in Washington this week to lead what has been billed as a comprehensive strategic dialogue with the United States,there is considerable anticipation in Rawalpindi about the goody bag that might await the Pakistan army chief.

With the Army GHQ in Pindi demanding strategic parity with India and primacy in Afghanistan in return for the recent services rendered to Washington,there is some concern in Delhi about where the US-Pakistan relationship is headed and what it might mean for the geopolitics of the region.

Pindi’s expectations from Washington as well as Delhi’s fears about the direction of the US-Pakistan relationship might,however,turn out to be somewhat exaggerated.

If there is always a big gulf between the Pakistan army’s reach and its grasp,the Indian foreign policy establishment has a habit of reading too much into Pakistan’s relations with the US.

While Delhi cannot stop Pindi from overplaying its hand,it must respond calmly to the likely results from the US-Pakistan strategic dialogue this week. Even more important,Delhi must prepare to shape the evolution of the US-Pakistan relationship rather than merely protest against it.

A self-confident India that builds on its own partnership with Washington and works its undervalued levers in Islamabad can explore the many contradictions in the current US-Pakistan partnership and influence its future direction.

For one,both the US and Pakistan say the purpose of their strategic dialogue is to construct an enduring relationship rather than an instrumental one. The Obama administration has indeed apologised for the past American habit of using and discarding the Pakistan army.

Only a bold man will bet that the US-Pakistan relationship will now evolve into something more than the marriage of convenience it has been for decades. After all,there are little commercial or societal ties that bind the US to Pakistan and it might be difficult to sustain the US-Pakistan partnership once the current expediency passes.

To be sure,the American interest in Pakistan will continue so long as it has troops in Afghanistan. This surely will not be a permanent condition.

In Washington,the rhetoric is all about looking beyond the military/ security relationship with Pakistan. The Obama administration wants to channel the expanded American assistance to Pakistan into such areas as agriculture and education. Any amount of money that America and the world might mobilise for Pakistan’s economic development will be a drop in the bucket.

Pakistan’s ruling party — the GHQ — is under no obligation to win political mandate from the people,let alone renew it periodically. It has little incentive,then,to promote economic and social transformation in Pakistan.

For all the American hopes to move the relationship beyond security cooperation,Kayani’s focus in Washington this week will be on geopolitics and not the social sector.

Given his recognition that the American connection might once again be a short-lived one,Kayani would naturally want to extract,quickly,whatever he can from the Obama administration on India and Afghanistan.

Although Pakistan’s leverage in Washington today is real,Kayani might be over-estimating its value. Kayani’s American wishlist is said to have four key demands. First,re-establish strategic parity with India in the atomic domain with a civil nuclear deal of the kind Delhi gained from President George W. Bush.

Second,Pindi wants substantive conventional weapons transfers to redress what it sees as India’s threatening military modernisation. Third,Kayani wants Washington to press India to make major concessions on its disputes with Pakistan,including the old one on Kashmir and the newly minted one on the Indus waters.

Finally,Pakistan wants the US recognition of its case for “strategic depth” in Afghanistan and to have a decisive say in the construction of new political arrangements across the Durand line.

There is no way the US can meet the entirety of Pakistan’s demands. Nor can the administration deliver on them unilaterally; some of them — like the nuclear deal — require congressional consensus as well as unanimity in the Nuclear Suppliers Group. There are others that are simply not possible — force Indian concessions on Kashmir.

On Afghanistan,where the US needs Kayani’s troops,there will be some give and take; but India will have to be super-paranoid to believe Washington will simply hand over Afghanistan to the Pakistan army.

The presumed endgame in Afghanistan will be a prolonged one and no final decisions are at hand in Washington this week. Having already written some big cheques to Pakistan since it came to power,the Obama administration too has demands on Pindi. These include more substantive army action against the Afghan Taliban and its associates and freedom of action for American use of force on Pakistan territory.

Since Kayani cannot return without a going-home present,India must expect that there will be some American rewards for him this week. Expanded supply of arms to Pakistan is certainly one possibility.

The temptation is strong in India to protest against any and all arms sales to Pakistan. Delhi must resist it,because such objections carry little credibility.

India’s main problem with Pakistan is not about a fragile conventional military balance that might be upset by American arms transfers. It is to change Pakistan’s belief that under the nuclear gun it can promote anti-India terror groups with impunity.

As it responds to the US-Pakistan strategic dialogue this week,Delhi’s message must be three-fold — global efforts aimed at a positive transformation of Pakistan are welcome; expanded economic and military assistance to Pakistan must be conditioned on Pindi’s commitment to dismantle its jehadi assets; India is ready to address all of Pakistan’s concerns — including Kashmir — if it gives up violent extremism as an instrument of state policy.

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