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February 1, 2015



Haunted by new relationships

Islamabad has for the first time shared evidence with the United States of America about its accusations that India has been supporting terrorism in Pakistan. According to information revealed during an on-camera meeting of the Senate Standing Committee on Defence, government officials told senators that Pakistan had handed over a dossier of evidence of this claim to the US. During the meeting, defence officials accused India of using Afghanistan’s soil to undertake attacks in Pakistan.
The US hasn’t commented on the Pakistani accusations against India and it is unlikely to do so publicly. It won’t like to annoy India, more so at a time when relations between India and the US have become close under the stewardship of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and President Barack Obama. In fact, India-US relations have never been so friendly.
Even in the past, Islamabad has raised the issue of India’s growing influence in Afghanistan and the use of the latter’s territory to destabilise Pakistan. However, it rarely came up with proper evidence to back up its claim that anti-state Pakistani militants, including TTP elements and Baloch separatists, were getting support from India with the possible connivance of the Afghan intelligence agency, NDS. It must have felt confident about the new body of evidence in its possession to present it to the US to reveal India’s destabilising role in the region.
The timing of presenting the evidence of India’s anti-Pakistan activities using Afghanistan’s territory to the US was interesting. Also, interesting was the timing of Pakistan Army chief General Raheel Sharif’s recent visit to China. Both came about at the time when Obama was proceeding on his unprecedented second visit to India during his presidency to be the chief guest at India’s Republic Day parade and to oversee the signing of a string of agreements to deepen their bilateral ties.
For obvious reasons, Pakistan was concerned about the

deepening India-US relations, particularly in the fields of defence and nuclear cooperation. It needed to sensitise the Obama administration about its concerns regarding India’s destabilising role at a time when Pakistan was fighting militants belonging to diverse groups as part of the war on terrorism.
Even after the Nato drawdown from Afghanistan by the cut-off date of December 2014, the US has maintained military presence in the country – with 10,800 troops and a huge arsenal of airpower. It has the biggest influence on the Afghan government due to its by far largest military and economic assistance to Afghanistan. It not only mediated the formation of the unity government of President Dr Ashraf Ghani and Chief Executive Officer Dr Abdullah, but will be required to keep it intact and sustain it in power by providing more than $5 billion a year to the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF).
With so much influence in Kabul, the US would be certainly aware if Afghanistan’s soil is being misused by India for attacks against Pakistan. And this is the reason Pakistan has taken its case to Washington as no other country has more influence in Kabul and New Delhi than the US.
Though it seems to be a coincidence, Pakistan Army chief General Raheel Sharif paid a visit to China when President Barack Obama was visiting India. General Sharif’s visit to China was apparently planned earlier but it had a symbolic value as defence and security issues and further military cooperation between China and Pakistan were discussed. The two countries have been cooperating on defence matters and are jointly manufacturing aircraft and heavy weapons. Pakistan is concerned about the US tilt to India in recent years and has been keen to diversify its military relations by increasing defence ties with China, and planning to buy weapons from Russia.
Obama’s second visit to India was clear evidence of his preference to strengthen relations after years of trust deficit. Close ties between Pakistan and the US are now a thing of the past as the relationship has lately become uncertain and often unfriendly. Obama has yet to come to Pakistan despite the latter’s wish, though other high-ranking US officials, both from the State Department and the Pentagon, have been frequently visiting Islamabad and interacting with Pakistani counterparts in Islamabad, Kabul and elsewhere. However, these interactions mostly focus on US interests in the region in the context of its ‘war on terror’ and Pakistan’s role in it.
The accusations by Islamabad against India came amid increased US pressure on Pakistan to continue its military action against the militants and spare neither the Haqqani Network which is considered the most dangerous faction of the Afghan Taliban nor others like the Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) intent on harming India. There have also been renewed Indian demands for action against Jamaatud Dawah, which is headed by Hafiz Muhammad Saeed, for being a front organisation for the LeT. The US also wants action against Hafiz Saeed for his alleged role in the Mumbai attacks in November 2008 in which six Americans were among more than 160 persons who were killed and even placed a $10 million bounty on his head.
Though Pakistan recently announced that it had frozen Hafiz Saeed’s bank accounts and banned him from international travel in line with the UN and US decision to list him and his organisation as terrorists, the fact that he is still able to speak at public rallies and give TV interviews has rankled India and prompted the US to complain to the Pakistan government. On his part, Hafiz Saeed has been arguing that he was cleared by the Pakistani courts and is no longer wanted in any case. He has denied his involvement in acts of terrorism and has been claiming that Jamaatud Dawah through the Falah-e-Insaniyat Foundation is doing charity work with donations given by common people.
Seven other Pakistanis aligned with the LeT and led by Zakiur Rahman Lakhvi were arrested for their involvement in the Mumbai attacks and are presently in prison. However, their trial has moved slowly while India is seeking swifter court proceedings and punishment for the seven men. This issue hogged media limelight recently when the Islamabad High Court granted bail to Lakhvi and Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s government had to arrest him in another case to stop him from being released. His release or acquittal along with the six other jailed LeT members would be unacceptable to India and could cause deterioration in the already tense India-Pakistan relationship.
The relationship appeared to be improving when Prime Minister Narendra Modi invited Nawaz Sharif to visit India for his inauguration ceremony and the latter accepted the invitation despite some powerful voices in the ruling establishment in Pakistan advising him not to go. However, the ties suffered a blow when India objected to the meeting of Pakistan’s high commissioner in New Delhi with leaders of Kashmiri separatist groups and cancelled the planned meeting of the foreign secretaries of the two countries. Subsequently, firing across the Line of Control in the disputed Jammu and Kashmir territory took the uncertain India-Pakistan relationship to a new level of tension and resulted in diplomatic disengagement. It mercifully didn’t lead to any new conflict between the two nuclear-armed neighbours.
With Pakistan-US relations now haunted by the strengthened friendship between Washington and New Delhi, the Chinese factor has entered the equation because the common desire to contain China is now the major binding force of the India-US relationship. The adverse commentary in Chinese official media on Obama’s visit to India, and calling the India-US relationship superficial, shows what Beijing is thinking. These new developments could strengthen further China-Pakistan relations as a counterweight to the growing India-US ties – and widen the rift between Islamabad and New Delhi.
The writer is resident editor of The News in Peshawar.
Email: [email protected]