Not much comfort

The revelation that the Pakistan establishment not only knew in advance but had also endorsed drone strikes by the U.S. on its territory has knocked the stuffing out of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s U.S. visit. It is fairly obvious why classified Central Intelligence Agency documents on the strikes were leaked to the Washington Post while Mr. Sharif was in the U.S. This was his first meeting with President Barack Obama after assuming charge as Prime Minister in June. Mr. Sharif would have used this visit to demand greater parity in U.S.-Pakistan relations. Drone strikes along Pakistan’s north-western border were a hot-button issue during the parliamentary elections, and there was enormous pressure on the Prime Minister to call out this “violation of sovereignty”. In addition, Mr. Sharif hoped to elicit a favourable statement from the Obama administration on Kashmir. While the U.S.-Pakistan Joint Statement does allude to the need for “uninterrupted” dialogue on “all outstanding issues” between India and Pakistan, there is little else that Mr. Sharif can take comfort from. If anything, the Post’s exposé allowed the U.S. to blunt criticism from the Prime Minister and make it appear that drones were a “mutually determined” counterterrorism measure.

The leak of CIA documents has ensured the U.S. retains the upper hand in its strained relationship with Pakistan ahead of NATO’s troop withdrawal from Afghanistan. Drone strikes and covert military operations — which require a pliant administration in Islamabad — will continue to be a key instrument of U.S. policy after 2014. The U.S. would also like to see the Sharif government rein in its plans to pursue “peace talks” with the Tehreek-e-Taliban-e-Pakistan. The proposal to negotiate with the TTP has found support across Pakistan’s political spectrum but serves little purpose other than to strengthen extremists’ hands. President Obama’s seeking an explanation from Mr. Sharif on the delay in trying the 26/11 Mumbai attack suspects must be viewed in this context. Although India and the U.S. share a goal in nudging Pakistan to fight terrorism, New Delhi should not hedge its bets on President Obama’s words. Mr. Sharif’s visit passed by without so much a murmur from the U.S. on the killing of Indian soldiers at the Line of Control this August. Whether on Kashmir or counterterrorism, the subcontinent’s interests are best served by sustained bilateral dialogue: if Pakistan would do well to stop pretending the U.S. is an honest broker, India must not base its policies on Washington’s.

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Printable version | Jan 17, 2021 9:40:44 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/editorial/not-much-comfort/article5278608.ece

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