The Pakistani Shadow on Indo-Us Relations
Amb Kanwal Sibal

We should be treating the visits of Pakistani leaders abroad as part of normal diplomacy that all countries engage in. By paying too much attention to them we boost Pakistan’s political importance and diminish our own stature. Unfortunately, we cannot easily ignore the visits of top Pakistani leaders to the US, not because of concerns about what Pakistan may seek but what the US may dispense.

US policies towards Pakistan have always been a source of serious strategic concern to us. Even with the visible improvement of India-US ties, now elevated to a strategic partnership, we have to be watchful of US dealings with Pakistan and their impact on our security interests. Pakistan has always been, and remains, a US blindspot in its relationship with India.

This has been proved again with Nawaz Sharif’s just concluded visit to the US. Prior to the visit, US sources leaked to the media that Washington was contemplating some sort of a nuclear deal with Pakistan that would legitimise its nuclear status despite its known proliferation activities, the rapid expansion of its nuclear arsenal, its development of tactical nuclear weapons and open threats to use them against India. While Sharif’s visit did not produce such a deal, the US ignored all these Pakistani nuclear provocations and transgressions and preferred to focus self-servingly on the success of the Nuclear Security Summit to be hosted by Obama next year and “welcomed Pakistan’s constructive engagement with the Nuclear Security Summit process and its cooperation with the International Atomic Energy Agency and other international forums”. Obama also noted “Pakistan’s efforts to improve its strategic trade controls and enhance its engagement with multilateral export control regimes”. All these were approving chits of Pakistan’s nuclear policies, unfortunately at the cost of India’s security, given that a day prior to Nawaz Sharif’s Washington visit, the Pakistani Foreign Secretary publicly brandished the tactical nuclear threat to India, spoke of full spectrum deterrence and dismissed any talk of Pakistan accepting any restraint on its nuclear arsenal. The un-named US official’s categorical declaration that the US was not contemplating any 123 type agreement with Pakistan or an NSG exemption has come after Sharif’s visit and in the wake of Pakistani defiance.

The recognition by Obama and Sharif in their joint statement of their “shared interest in strategic stability in South Asia” is seriously objectionable from our point of view, even if similar language figured in the Obama-Sharif joint statement in 2013. Such a stance is inconsistent with the import of the India-US nuclear deal which was intended to free India from some strategic constraints while also bringing large parts of its nuclear programme, present and future, under IAEA safeguards in a bid to restrict its scope. There are no such constraints on China’s nuclear programme, or on China’s nuclear cooperation with Pakistan in both civilian and military areas. There can therefore be no strategic stability in South Asia unless China and its cooperation with Pakistan is brought into the equation and India’s strategic needs vis a vis China are recognised. Until the India-US nuclear deal, the US has viewed the nuclear equation in the sub-continent as a purely India-Pakistan affair. Even before India and Pakistan became overtly nuclear the US pressed for “strategic stability” with a view to curbing India’s nuclear programme, in the belief that this would deprive Pakistan of the argument that it must match India’s nuclear capabilities to ensure its security.

The tenacity of such US thinking surfaced during discussions on the “Next Steps in the Strategic Partnership” when the US tried to introduce the concept of strategic stability to offset Pakistani concerns about US tilting in favour of India on strategic matters. Why after the nuclear compromise inherent in the India-US nuclear deal the US continues to stress strategic stability in South Asia and wants all sides to “continuously act with maximum restraint and work jointly toward strengthening strategic stability in South Asia”, is difficult to understand. So is the reference to “the importance of regional balance and stability in South Asia” which unreasonably equates India with Pakistan, including in the sphere of their security interests.

Even if we ignored the reference to strategic stability in 2013, we have less reason to ignore it today. India and the US have in 2015 greatly widened the scope of their geopolitical engagement by releasing a US-India Joint Strategic Vision for the Asia-Pacific and Indian Ocean Region and upgrading the trilateral India-US-Japan relationship relationship in a certain strategic perspective. In this context it makes little sense for the US to still talk of strategic balancing India and Pakistan. This merely send confusing signals about the depth of India’s strategic commitment to India.

Likewise, in January 2015, on the occasion of Obama’s January 2015 visit, the US-India Delhi Declaration of Friendship was issued, which proclaimed a higher level of trust and coordination between the two countries. Furthermore, in the joint statement issued then, Obama and Modi “committed to undertake efforts to make the U.S.-India partnership a defining counterterrorism relationship for the 21st Century by deepening collaboration to combat the full spectrum of terrorist threats”. It “called for eliminating terrorist safe havens and infrastructure, disrupting terrorist networks and their financing, and stopping cross-border movement of terrorists”, besides asking “Pakistan to bring the perpetrators of the November 2008 terrorist attack in Mumbai to justice”. In September 2015, as part of the inaugural India-US Strategic and Economic Dialogue, a U.S.-India Joint Declaration on Combatting Terrorism was issued with expansive provisions.

Pakistan has used terrorism as an instrument of state policy towards India for three decades now. In the Mumbai attack six US nationals were killed by Pakistani state-sponsored terrorists, as the US well knows from, at least, David Headley’s confession. Yet, Obama applauded in the joint statement “Pakistan’s role as a key counterterrorism partner and recognised the sacrifices that Pakistani civilians, military, and law enforcement personnel have made over the years as they confront terrorism and militant groups”. He also “honoured the sacrifices of the Pakistani security forces in Operation Zarb-e-Azb and other operations”. Pakistan, thus, got Obama’s fulsome endorsement for its anti-terrorist credentials. Naturally, India’s terrorist concerns vis a vis Pakistan found no expression, even indirectly. On the contrary, Obama and Sharif renewed “their common resolve to promote peace and stability throughout the region and to counter all forms of extremism and terrorism”. What is more, Obama made the suppression of extremism and militancy the responsibility of all South Asian countries, whereas it is Pakistan that is the fount of such forces. The joint statement affirms that “ the stability of South Asia depended on cooperation among all neighbours to suppress all extremist and militant groups operating in the region”. One cannot but be bemused by such consideration being given to Pakistan on the terrorism front.

For Pakistan, the unresolved Kashmir issue justifies terrorist violence against India, which it conveniently ascribes to non-state actors angered by India’s brutal occupation of Kashmir. If Kashmir provided the political cover for Pakistan’s terrorism onslaught against India, it is all the more necessary for the US not to encourage Pakistan by pandering to its Kashmir fixation. The US well knows that all the principles that Pakistan invokes in justifying its stand on Kashmir are violated by it in internal governance and external action. Yet, the US is unable to shed its pro-Pakistan slant on Kashmir born out of Cold War politics. In 2013, during Nawaz Sharif’s Washington visit, Obama supported a “sustained dialogue process between the two neighbours, aimed at building lasting peace in South Asia and resolving all outstanding territorial and other disputes through peaceful means”. Kashmir was not specifically highlighted. This time, to buttress Nawaz Sharif’s efforts to internationalise the Kashmir issue, Obama and Nawaz Sharif “emphasised the importance of a sustained and resilient dialogue process between the two neighbours aimed at resolving all outstanding territorial and other disputes, including Kashmir, through peaceful means”. The addition of the clause, “including Kashmir” is an unnecessary US provocation knowing India’s sensitivity and its position that the issue has to be dealt with bilaterally under the Simla Agreement. Calling it a “dispute” is also an endorsement of Pakistan’s position., when the word “issue” could have been used instead. Clearly, Pakistan insisted on calling it a “dispute” and the US was willing to oblige. Why highlight Kashmir in this manner? What does the US hope to gain from this in its dealings with India? On top of this, the joint statement repeats in other section the need for an “uninterrupted dialogue in support of peaceful resolution of all outstanding disputes”. Why “uninterrupted”? The unfortunate implication is that the US rejects the Indian line that dialogue and terror cannot go together.

Pakistan has now started levelling outlandish charges against India for supporting terrorism in its territory, whether in Balochistan, FATA or Karachi, and has dramatised this by delivering dossiers on Indian involvement to the UN Secretary General and the US. That the US should implicitly endorse this Pakistani propaganda is unfortunate. The joint statement emphasis the importance of “working together to address mutual concerns of India and Pakistan regarding terrorism”. In other words, the US recognises that Pakistan has terrorism concerns that India should address. Why has all the rhetoric about making “the U.S.-India partnership a defining counterterrorism relationship for the 21st Century by deepening collaboration to combat the full spectrum of terrorist threats” vanished so quickly. In the post visit briefing, the anonymous US official was evasive on this point. Obama has also tilted in favour of the Pakistani position by expressing “concern over violence along the Line of Control” and supporting “confidence-building measures and effective mechanisms that are acceptable to both parties”. Once again, the US will not judge who is responsible for LOC violations, even if it is clear that this is part of the Pakistani strategy to infiltrate terrorists into India. As against this, in September, the US deprecated the Udhampur and Gurdaspur incidents in which Pakistani nationals were involved. This US policy of running with the hare and hunting with the hound when it comes to India and Pakistan does not pay dividends in building much-needed strategic trust between India and the US.

Our spokesman has rightly objected to Obama’s “support for Pakistan’s efforts to secure funding for the DiamerBhasha and Dasu dams” in Gilgit-Baltistan, which is under Pakistan’s illegal occupation. However, his positive reading of Nawaz Sharif’s so-called resolve to take action against the Lashkar-e-Tayyiba is puzzling, as the organisation, as also its parent organisation Jamaat ud Dawa, have been formally banned by Pakistan since many years but continue to operate with the support of the ISI. The manner in which Zaki-ur-Rahman Lakhvi’s bail case was dealt with by Pakistan with China’s support in the UN Security Council involution of Security Council and FATF requirements earlier this year points to the bogus nature of any commitments on this score that Nawaz Sharif may make in a joint statement with the US.

All said and done, we have to live with the reality of US’s ambiguous policies towards India. However, even as we continue to engage the US in our own interest, which we must, we must remain clear-headed about the limitations of the relationship. If we cannot shape US policies to our liking, we must not allow our policies to be shaped to the advantage of the US in a one-sided manner.

Published Date: 26th October 2015, Image Source:
(Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Vivekananda International Foundation)

Post new comment

The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly.
13 + 2 =
Solve this simple math problem and enter the result. E.g. for 1+3, enter 4.
Contact Us