The United States'
"de-hyphenated" relationship with the two South
Asian rivals, Pakistan and India, is taking a
curious turn. In a dramatic shift of fortunes,
Pakistan is regaining its status as a key ally of
the US in regional security.
At the same
time, Washington is assuring India that it is the
"lynchpin" of the US' Asia-Pacific strategy
directed against China. In sum, the US has
assigned to Pakistan and India their respective
roles to play in its grand strategy of "pivot to
The US-Pakistan deal reached three
weeks ago to reopen the North Atlantic Treaty
Organization's transit routes to Afghanistan was
widely regarded as "a thaw without the promise of
an impending spring" - to quote former Pakistani
Tanvir Ahmed Khan. But
even keen observers of the corridors of power in
Islamabad could go wrong, as the latest
To be sure, the
US-Pakistan security cooperation, which faced a
virtual shutdown following the killing of over two
dozen Pakistani soldiers in a US military
operation in the Afghan-Pakistan border region of
Salala last November, is reviving. Washington
rendered an "apology" to Islamabad over the
incident, which in turn provided the Pakistani
leadership with the fig leaf needed to move on.
Extra league At the invitation
of Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) director
David Petraeus, the Pakistani intelligence chief,
Lieutenant General Zaheerul Islam, has scheduled
his first visit to the US after taking over the
post in Islamabad in March. Islam's visit is
expected to take place as early as next week.
The visit signifies a mutual willingness
on the part of both Washington and Islamabad to
revive security cooperation. Most important, it
also means that the Pakistani military leadership
is putting its weight behind the process.
Furthermore, Islamabad is now inclined to
allow the return of some US military personnel to
man intelligence centers on Pakistani soil after
expelling them following the Salala incident. This
is a dramatic breakthrough for the US.
exclusive report in the Washington Post citing
senior US and Pakistani security officials
anticipates that spy chief Islam will also present
to Petraeus a list of requests, including the
transfer of drone technology and the upgrade of
Pakistan's F-16 fleet with equipment that will
boost the aircraft's accuracy, amongst others.
The US has already agreed to release
US$1.1 billion for the Pakistani military. The two
countries have also proposed to reconvene their
Strategic Dialogue, which was last held in October
2010. The upcoming session in Washington is
expected to provide the occasion for a visit by
Pakistani army chief Parvez Kayani to the US.
On a parallel track, the two countries
have negotiated a formal agreement regulating the
operation of transit routes for North Atlantic
Treaty Organization (NATO) trucks from the port of
Karachi to the Afghan border. Under the terms of
the agreement, Pakistan will continue to provide
transit facilities on a gratis basis but the US
would give Pakistan the money to maintain the
highways used by NATO convoys.
Interestingly, the proposed agreement
allows the transit of lethal equipment, which the
NATO forces propose to withdraw from Afghanistan
following the drawdown of troops through 2013-14.
This will come as a huge relief for the Pentagon
and NATO, since the Northern Distribution Network
(NDN) through Russia expressly forbids the
transfer of lethal equipment.
qualitative terms, Pakistan is extending a
friendly partnership whereas the NDA is based on
commercial considerations. The preferred option
for the US and NATO has always been the Pakistan
routes, for reasons both of economy as well as of
geopolitics. US dependence on the NDN will now
Thus, on the
whole, the Pakistani leadership is going the extra
league to give new verve to the relationship with
the US and the Western alliance, notwithstanding
domestic opposition among sections of Pakistani
opinion. This bold, politically risky push to
revive Pakistan's ties with the US is possible
only with the backing of the military leadership
in Rawalpindi. US commentators estimate that the
negotiations over this swift turnaround were
actually negotiated there in secrecy.
Princely promise The US factors
in that the situation in Afghanistan is dynamic
and Pakistan's cooperation becomes vital. For its
part, Pakistan realizes that the continued US
military presence in Afghanistan would make any
takeover by the Taliban in the post-2014 a remote
possibility. There is also a real danger of the US
forces in Afghanistan confronting Pakistan sooner
The generals in Rawalpindi see
that without an immediate course correction, the
emergent matrix is fraught with the grave danger
of pitting Pakistan against the Western alliance,
which would work to India's advantage. They could
sense that under US prodding, New Delhi lately
hardened its stance on Pakistani support for
In overall terms, Washington's
"pivot to Asia" strategy provides the backdrop for
the restoration of the US' security and military
ties with Pakistan. Getting Pakistan on board is
an imperative need for the US if its efforts to
outflank China in the west are to gain traction.
Looking ahead, Pakistan is also the key to the US'
New Silk Road initiative. Meanwhile, Washington
sees the tactical advantages in keeping Pakistan
on its side at a time of spiraling tensions in the
Persian Gulf and the Strait of Hormuz.
Unsurprisingly, Saudi Arabia has also come
into the picture, proposing that it will help
Pakistan to meet its energy crisis provided
Islamabad cuts back on ties with Tehran. This
offer has been held out at the level of the Saudi
King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz, who will himself
meet the visiting new Pakistani Prime Minister
Raja Pervaiz Ashraf in Jeddah on Monday. The new
Crown Prince Salman bin Abdul Aziz is also
expected to visit Pakistan.
virtually dusting up a US-Saudi-Pakistan
trilateral security matrix that dates back to the
Cold War era. Prior to meeting Ashraf, he received
had another visitor on Monday - US National
Security Advisor Tom Donilon.
crisis in Syria and the rising tensions with Iran
make it a pressing necessity for Saudi Arabia to
revive security and military ties with Pakistan.
Significantly, in his meeting with King Abdullah,
Ashraf was quoted as saying, "[The] security of
the two countries is synonymous and they will keep
on enhancing their cooperation in all fields. The
road map for furthering strategic relations of the
two countries will be completed on faster pace."
With the Saudis coming in, expectations
begin to rise in Islamabad. Against the backdrop
of the gathering storms in the Middle East and the
Persian Gulf (and the US' intensifying its rivalry
with China), Islamabad will expect more than a
mere transactional relationship with Washington
Curry goes sour
Enter India. From the Pakistani viewpoint,
the ultimate litmus test of the US' goodwill lies
in its willingness to curb the US-India strategic
partnership, especially over Afghanistan.
As retired Pakistani general and respected
columnist Talat Masood wrote recently, the
US-India strategic partnership and the "deep
converging interests" of Washington and New Delhi
in Afghanistan and the region "generate
insecurities" within Pakistan. "The India factor
looms large in Pakistan's strategic calculus."
The US and Saudi Arabia will find it hard
to reconcile this contradiction. The
India-Pakistan differences are far too deep-rooted
to be resolved in the near future, even with the
combined US-Saudi muscle. But that will not stop
Washington and Riyadh from trying.
makes sense for Washington to seek King Abdullah's
good offices. The Saudi-Pakistani ties are
traditional and very close. To quote an analyst at
the Washington-based Middle East Institute, "The
Pakistan-Saudi Arabia partnership is the closest
between any two countries that don't have a formal
treaty agreement, says former Saudi intelligence
chief Turki bin Faisal. It's a deeply rooted
security partnership whose importance has grown as
Riyadh-Tehran tensions rise and sectarian
uncertainty increases in eastern Saudi Arabia and
On the other hand, India is also
keen on developing a robust relationship with
Saudi Arabia, and Riyadh made a friendly gesture
recently (with Washington's encouragement) by
deporting to New Delhi a terrorist who was
allegedly involved in the Mumbai attacks in
November 2008. Having said that, New Delhi will
remain averse to any Saudi mediation as such in
settling its differences with Pakistan.
There is a sense of disquiet already in
New Delhi at the curious turn of the tide in the
US-Pakistan standoff. Of course, what is happening
today between the US and Pakistan against the
backdrop of the "new cold war " happened before
too during the other Cold War in history books
and, therefore, it can only bring a sense of deja
vu to the Indian mind.
At the same time,
the qualitative difference today will be that
while Pakistan is a basket case for Washington,
India happens to be the US' latest milch cow. The
US has already sold weapons worth over $8 billion
to India. The US ambassador in New Delhi, Nancy
Powell, has been quoted as saying, "We [US] are
poised to sign an additional $8 billion in direct
commercial and foreign military sales."
Last week, in an unprecedented statement,
President Barack Obama demanded the opening up of
the Indian market for the benefit of the US
industry and business. He singled out India's $430
billion retail trade sector.
"de-hyphenated" relationship with Pakistan and
India is working brilliantly for the US. The
growing US-India understanding on regional
security unnerves Pakistan and in turn strengthens
the US' negotiating hand vis-a-vis generals in
On the other hand, the US
lavishes much rhetoric on India, and encourages it
to keep its eyes riveted on the horizons beyond
the South China Sea in the east, while at the same
time striking lucrative arms deals with New Delhi.
During a visit to New Delhi recently,
Defence Secretary Leon Panetta openly described
India as the "lynchpin" of the US' Asia-Pacific
strategy. Meanwhile, to add to the sense of
insecurity of the Pakistani generals, a prominent
Washington think tank, the Center for Strategic
and International Studies, just brought out a
72-page report exhorting New Delhi to press the
pedal to accelerate "defense trade".
this is great "public diplomacy". But are Indians
such duffers as not to begin to seriously wonder
what is the meaning of the deep rumblings at their
side facing the West where the US-Pakistan
security and military tie-up is getting restored?
The unkindest cut of all for the Indians
will be that Washington also has been instigating
New Delhi on the quiet in recent weeks to raise
the ante on Pakistan's support for terrorism as
part of a "psy-war" to herd the generals in
Rawalpindi toward the negotiating table.
No one likes to stand out like a lemon.
The Indian policymaker is getting that sickening
feeling when the coriander curry has gone sour.
Ambassador M K Bhadrakumar was a
career diplomat in the Indian Foreign Service. His
assignments included the Soviet Union, South
Korea, Sri Lanka, Germany, Afghanistan, Pakistan,
Uzbekistan, Kuwait and Turkey.
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