A matter of diplomacy

October 23, 2016

The distrust between Pakistan and the US clearly exists. Is it because of the lack of outreach from the Pakistani side to improve the deteriorating relations?

A matter of diplomacy

Pakistan’s Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif came to New York to attend the United Nation’s annual General Assembly session last month. In his speech, the prime minister talked about, "evidence of the gross and systematic violations of human rights committed by Indian forces in occupied Jammu and Kashmir".

He demanded an independent inquiry into the extra-judicial killings, and a "UN fact finding mission to investigate brutalities perpetrated by the Indian occupying forces, so that those guilty of these atrocity are punished".

The PM stayed in the US for almost a week. During his stay, he met other world leaders, urging them to hear him out on Kashmir and Zarb-e-Azb. This was a rather daunting task, for his arguments were suppressed with allegations of supporting terrorism and harbouring jihadi networks.

Consider. When the PM was delivering his hearty speech on Kashmir in New York, two known US lawmakers moved a bill in the Congress to declare Pakistan as a ‘state sponsor of terrorism’. The bill, titled ‘The Pakistan State Sponsor of Terrorism Designation Act’, was drafted by Congressman Ted Poe, Chairman of the House Subcommittee on Terrorism, along with Congressman Dana Rohrabacher.

Both congressmen were stiff and categorical in their statement. "Not only is Pakistan an untrustworthy ally, Islamabad has also aided and abetted enemies of the United States for years. From harboring Osama bin Laden to its cozy relationship with the Haqqani network, there is more than enough evidence to determine whose side Pakistan is on in the War on Terror. And it’s not America’s," Poe alleged in his statement after introducing the bill.

He added, "It is time we stop paying Pakistan for its betrayal and designate it for what it is: a State Sponsor of Terrorism."

The bill required that President Barack Obama must issue a report within 90 days of passage of the bill, detailing whether Pakistan has provided support for international terrorism. Thirty days after that, the Secretary of State must issue a follow-up report containing either a determination that Pakistan is a ‘State Sponsor of Terrorism’ or a detailed justification as to why Pakistan does not meet the legal criteria for designation.

Pakistan has drifted into global isolation over the past many months. The Obama administration has scaled back from asking Pakistan to do more to pushing Pakistan to do what it has promised.

The bill, its strong wording and timing, has a symbolic value -- even if it has no future otherwise.

Soon after the PM’s visit to New York, another Pakistani delegation followed. Senator Mushahid Hussain, Prime Minister’s special envoys on Kashmir, and member National Assembly, Shizra Kharal, visited Washington for over a week. However, the Pakistan Embassy failed to arrange a meeting with any significant member of the Congress. The duo did manage to see President Obama’s special assistant, Dr Peter Lavoy.

The presser released later claimed that the administration official was apprised about "the grave situation of human rights in Kashmir, the deteriorating security situation in South Asia due to India’s aggressive posture".

Senator Mushahid stated that the road to peace in Kabul goes through Kashmir. Interestingly, as the delegation left for Pakistan, Dr Peter Lavoy delinked the two conflict zones in the region, and said, "We certainly do not believe that the situation in Afghanistan is linked with Kashmir".

Pakistan’s stance got dismissed yet again. Not just that, Lavoy also supported India’s claim of surgical strike. He said, "Every country has a right to self defense", and called the Uri attack a clear case of cross-border terrorism.

Similarly, the state department officials stressed that the US position on Kashmir has not changed, and it was in the interest of India and Pakistan to see a stable and secure Afghanistan.

This was the last in the series of disappointments Pakistan has faced recently. Pakistan mostly blames India (with the US) for conspiring against Pakistan.

The fact remains that in the last two years the country’s position has weakened drastically. This isn’t the first time Pakistan-US relations have descended so low.

Ambassador Husain Haqqani kept the relations afloat after the Osama bin Ladin raid and during the Raymond Davis fiasco. Later, Ambassador Sherry Rehman managed to pull the relationship out of the Salala debacle.

These real-time crises were handled tactfully with sheer diplomatic outreach. Lobbying firms were engaged, meetings were held with Congressional staffers, when the members were not available, and the administration was persuaded to not ditch Pakistan.

That was then. But the present mission seems incapable of resolving the snafu.

That was also the time when the US had approved various support programmes for Pakistan. Since these programmes were not sustained, most of the non-military and other assistance were slashed significantly. This includes the cancellation of much-boasted F-16 deal.

One of the important US diplomats, US Ambassador Richard Verma recently told the Indian media that "US military assistance to Pakistan since 2011 is down 73 per cent, US economic assistance to Pakistan since 2011 is down 54 per cent. $300 million of assistance has been withheld, and we have taken steps to protect our interests as well".

President Obama visited South Asia a couple of times but did not make a stop in Pakistan. Recently, Secretary of State John Kerry preferred touring India and Bangladesh to discuss closer cooperation on global issues but ignored Pakistan.

To top it the US keeps renewing its travel warnings to Pakistan. "We have also been quite tough on Pakistan, and right from the President, the Secretary of State, Secretary of Defence and NSA, about the need for Pakistan to crack down on its safe havens, to crack down on the use of proxies, to carry out terrorist attacks," US Ambassador to India, Richard Verma told the media last week.

This indicates that Pakistan has drifted into global isolation over the past many months. The Obama administration has scaled back from asking Pakistan to do more to pushing Pakistan to do what it has promised.

Still, the administration has determined to continue having "military conversation with the Pakistanis, particularly on the subject of counterterrorism," where both have a shared security interest.

In all such statements, the administration officials appear polite and quite diplomatic but the distrust clearly exists, because of the lack of outreach and interest from the Pakistani side to regain confidence or improve the deteriorating relations.

A matter of diplomacy