The tensions in the United States-Pakistan ties are fast subsiding. The surest sign is that the drones are back on the Pakistani skies, raining death in the tribal tracts on the Afghan border and the folks in Islamabad and Rawalpindi couldn’t care less. The Pakistani leaders know that the drone attacks now carry President Barack Obama’s imprimatur.
Notionally, Pakistani army chief Pervez Kayani has ordered the Pakistani troops to shoot down anything that violates the Pakistani air space but that is only theatrics meant to assuage the agitated Pakistani public opinion. A few hours ago, the US’ drone aircraft struck again — for the fifth time in the past 4 weeks.
Two other signs that US-Pak ties are ‘normalising’ also may be noted. One, Pak Defence Minister Ahmad Mukhtar has held out the assurance that Pakistan proposes to reopen the transit routes for the NATO convoys. Mukhtar put on a brave face saying NATO should fulfill certain conditions, but he made it clear that it is a political call: “There should not be any misunderstandings with America, the two countries have enjoyed good ties and it is our duty to mend relations.”
The second indication is Washington’s decision to repair the mil-to-mil ties by dispatching the chief of the US Central Command Gen. James Mattis to meet Kayani. Mattis would probably tell Kayani ‘We’re sorry we killed your chaps on Nov 26′ — knowing beforehand that Kayani wants to hear just those few words and is sure to be in a forgiving mood for ever thereafter.
Pakistan has made its point that only with its cooperation, Washington can make substantial headway in the peace talks with Pakistan. In fact, the next phase of the talks is stuck without the green signal from Kayani. On the other hand, US also made its point to Pakistan that the goodies will be available only with strings attached. The truth is that the Pakistani economy is packing up and beggars can’t be choosers.
So, it suits both Mattis and Kayani to kiss and make up. Meanwhile, the political leadership is also doing its bit with PM Yusuf Gilani is visiting Qatar, which is going to be the scene of action between the US and Taliban diplomats. If US is willing to share a piece of the action with Pakistan, the latter would play footsie in Qatar. No doubt on that score.
Gilani would also probably explore with Emir Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani as to what is there in the fabulous Qatari kitty for Pakistan. (Maybe a joint bid for hosting Olympics 2020?) The ISI chief Ahmed Pasha already visited Qatar to check out. By the way, Mattis too is based in Qatar as the head of the US Central Command. He might invite Kayani to drop by before he retires — and even bring Mullah Omar along.
Thus, it is Qatar, Stupid! Afghan President Hamid Karzai can have a sideshow with the Taliban in Saudi Arabia if he so wishes (provided Omar agrees, which he won’t), because for Pakistan it’s now Qatar, Qatar, Qatar.
But there is a catch. Karzai was hoping to have a joint track with Pakistan to reconcile the Taliban. Actually, this was originally a Pakistani suggestion to spite Washington. Thus, Karzai agreed to visit islamabad on Feb 16 to revive the joint Pak-Afghan commission. Now, Pakistan has since had a change of heart.
Pakistan now prefers to work with the US rather than with Karzai. So, what to do? Therefore, Pakistan is making Karzai’s Islamabad visit a grand ceremonial occasion with state banquets, grandiloquent speeches, photo-ops, by inviting Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad to join in. But diplomats in islamabad have already ‘leaked’ that it is going to be all show and no real substance – lest Washington took offence.
In sum, Pakistan is trading Ahmedinejad and Karzai for Mattis. The sure sign of Islamabad’s bazaari deal with Washington is apparent from the cold feet Pakistan is developing on the Iran gas pipeline. Consider the following. Iran has completed the construction of its part of the pipeline. Pakistan originally said it would complete its work by end-2013, but the date is now mentioned as ’2014′. Meanwhile, it suddenly occurs to Pakistan that it should check out whether Iran (which has the second largest gas reserves in the world) would have sufficient gas to supply! After all, it is a buyer’s prerogative to know the supplier has the wares to supply!
Over and above, Pakistan now wants an independent third party to audit Iran’s gas reserves. Which, of course, Pakistan knows well enough is like asking for the moon. No auditing party worth its name on the planet will come forward when President Barack Obama is watching Iran’s energy reserves with an eagle’s eye. The funny part is that Pakistan expects the auditors to certify that Qatar is not stealing what Iran claims to be its gas reserves in South Pars! Obviously, Pakistan is shelving the Iran pipeline project. Energy security can wait but Obama’s goodwill cannot. And all this when Iran is bending over backward and offering generously to Pakistan that it could undertake the construction work of the pipeline on the Pakistani side as well so as to speed up the project.
– February 8, 2012