Pakistan-US strategic dialogue

Pakistan and the US are all set to meet for an important strategic dialogue on March 24 in Washington. “The objective of strategic dialogue is to enhance people-to-people relationships, which can bridge the trust deficit,” was how Prime Minister Gilani described the upcoming meeting. The Washington ‘meet’ will be of utmost importance for both the US and its frontline ally in the war on terror. A high power delegation from Pakistan will be meeting its American counterparts. The significance of this meeting can be assessed from the fact that apart from the prime minister, the foreign minister and other ministers and government officials, Pakistan’s Chief of the Army Staff (COAS), General Kayani, will also be part of the delegation. General Kayani has already held a meeting with Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi to discuss the agenda for the Pak-US strategic dialogue. In the said meeting, the COAS exchanged views on matters related to Pakistan and India. If read between the lines, this exchange is actually going to be the central point of the agenda at the meeting in Washington.

With their war phase coming to an end, the plan to leave Afghanistan is very much on the cards for the US-led NATO forces. The Americans are seeking an honourable exit from Afghanistan but they do not want to leave without ensuring that a stable government and properly trained security forces are in place. For this they need the help of Afghanistan’s most important neighbour, Pakistan. But it seems that Pakistan is not very happy with the Karzai government’s one-on-one negotiations with the Afghan Taliban or Saudi mediation in Afghanistan. Cutting out Pakistan and the ISI has not gone down well with the military establishment in the country. It has been reported that President Karzai expressed his displeasure at the arrest of top Taliban leadership from Pakistan. In not so many words, Karzai has said that these measures were taken to sabotage the reconciliation process in Afghanistan and that Pakistan is manoeuvring to stay centre-stage in a post-US dispensation in the country. The Afghans are also wary of a proxy war between India and Pakistan on their soil. In the past we have witnessed terrorist attacks targeting Indians and Pakistanis in Afghanistan. Retaliatory attacks then follow as we can see from yesterday’s attack in Kandahar near a Pakistani consulate. This could be a retaliatory attack considering that India had earlier blamed Pakistan for an attack at a guesthouse in Kabul where several Indians were killed.

It is rather unfortunate that after 40 years of warfare in the country, instead of healing the wounds of the Afghan people, subcontinental rivalry is poised to cause even more damage to an already war-torn country. Pakistan insists that India be cut out from playing an active role in Afghanistan. Well, we should have thought about it before adopting a dual policy after 9/11. During the Soviet invasion and even after that, Pakistan had great influence in Afghanistan. Instead of retaining that advantage, we tried to outwit the Americans, which opened the door for India to make an entrance with its aid, reconstruction and rehabilitation programmes in Afghanistan. A proxy war between India and Pakistan would only lead to an increase in tensions, conflict and arguably a delay in the withdrawal of foreign troops. This is certainly not a good strategy. In the interest of continuity, Pakistan has recently adopted a policy of extensions, but there should be no extension of our Afghan policy. We should be rallying for a broad political consensus in Afghanistan so that peace can return to the region, and the world.

(my editorial in Daily Times)


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