There is no reason for India to be alarmed over the newly launched U.S.-Pakistan strategic dialogue. There is no need to worry, as some have begun to do, that this week's talks in Washington mark the beginning of a new phase in the re-hypenation of Delhi and Islamabad. In the run-up to the dialogue, Indian officials allowed themselves to be blindsided by the well-publicised wish list the Pakistanis said they were taking with them. The demands included American mediation over the Kashmir dispute with India as well as a civil nuclear energy agreement to allow the country to access global nuclear technology and fuel. In the context of the high decibel campaign (within Pakistan) of water theft by India, U.S. intervention was solicited to help effect a better water-sharing arrangement. On all of these counts, Pakistan's delegation will have to return empty handed. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who led the U.S. side in the strategic dialogue, promised help in increasing the efficiency of Pakistani energy and water utilisation; but she was clear and forthright in emphasising the importance of bilateral dialogue between India and Pakistan in the quest for solutions to outstanding issues. As for nuclear energy, Pakistan was told that a deal of the kind India got in 2005 is not on the table.
In courting Islamabad, President Barack Obama has been careful not to squander the gains Washington has made in building up a ‘strategic partnership' with India over the past decade. Mediation and other forms of interference are non-starters and the U.S. knows this. But in its search for an exit route from the quagmire of Afghanistan, the Obama administration is in danger of becoming over-dependent on Pakistan. This is where the danger for India, and, ultimately for the U.S. and the rest of the international community, lies. The presence of Pakistan's army and intelligence chiefs at the strategic dialogue underlined the abnormality of the situation. Terrorism and extremist politics in the AfPak region are mainly the product of the Pakistani military establishment, which nurtured and patronised jihadi groups as a force multiplier. Despite this, a solution is now being sought by valorising and even strengthening the role of this establishment at the expense of Pakistan's civilian structures of governance. If it was clear that the military had learnt its lessons and decided to change course irrevocably, the American approach might have some merit. But the continuing links between the army and the ISI, on the one hand, and terrorist groups like the Lashkar-e-Taiba, on the other, are too well-known to ignore. The U.S. knows this and is using the strategic dialogue as a lever to influence Islamabad. The danger, of course, is that the lever may work the other way.