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September 16, 2018

India-US statement


September 16, 2018

The US has never hidden the fact that its turn away from Pakistan was precipitated in some part by its desire for closer relations with India. In its Afghanistan policy review, where Pakistan was first put on notice for its alleged support of the Afghan Taliban and Haqqani Network, the Trump administration said it wanted greater Indian involvement in the country. Now, the joint statement released by the two countries after US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Defence Secretary James Mattis’ official visit to India makes their intentions explicit. The statement called on the Pakistan government to “ensure that the territory under its control is not used to launch terrorist attacks on other countries.” Putting Pakistan on notice so publicly serves two purposes. For the US it is a reiteration of its belief that Pakistan is actively helping militant groups stage attacks in Afghanistan, which has been used to justify the virtual elimination of all security assistance to us. It is even more of a coup for India since the Modi government has been on a mission to link the Kashmiri movement for liberation to Pakistan and to blame all attacks by Kashmiri militants on us. This joint statement will give the government an opportunity to claim that the US shares its belief.

The Foreign Office has naturally responded indignantly to the joint statement, with spokesperson Muhammad Faisal saying that the allegations are baseless and that to mention a third country in a formal statement is a breach of diplomatic norms. The problem is that there is little Pakistan can do beyond issuing a ritual protest. Just as the US no longer has much leverage over us after eliminating military aid, we too have little to offer a country that is trying to disengage from Afghanistan and Pakistan. The reality of power relations in the region, with Pakistan closer than ever to China – the main rival for global and regional supremacy of the US and India, respectively – means that the US and India countries will automatically be drawn closer to each other. That India is now such an important economic partner of the US makes their relationship that much closer. What this statement should do is provide Pakistan with some clarity about Indian intentions. The government has been mulling talks with India – and US State Department official Alice Wells has come out in favour of them – but we should be under no illusions about achieving peace immediately. Greater diplomatic engagement should definitely pursued but perhaps Pakistan needs to go in with a clear-headed assessment of the likelihood or not of Modi’s interest in peace.

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