The wheel of the grounded partnership between the United States and Pakistan has begun turning. President Barack Obama applied the lubricant at his meeting with Pakistani PM Yusuf Gilani on the sidelines of the Nuclear Security Summit in Seoul on Wednesday. This was followed a day later by the arrival of James Mattis, chief of US Central Command, and John Allen, chief of the coalition forces in Afghanistan at the Pakistani GHQ at Rawalpindi.
Pakistan has heard loud and clear that the US desperately wants the re-opening of the transit routes for NATO supplies. And Pakistan is inclined to oblige Washington. By the coming weekend the routes may be re-opened after a gap of some 4 months. What the US has offered to Pakistan as quid pro quo remains confidential but should be something worthwhile.
The speed with which an all-party consensus has been pushed through at the meeting that Gilani chaired on Friday is impressive — especially the turnaround by the opposition Pakistan Muslim League (N) led by former PM Nawaz Sharif. The ease with which ‘anti-Americanism’ can be calibrated in Pakistan by some hidden hand is truly amazing. Even Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam led by the ‘father of the Taliban’ Fazlur Rehman has meekly fallen in line. On the face of it, we are expected to believe that all this signifies the ascendancy of the civilian leadership in the making of foreign policy. It’s the military, Stupid!
However, the course of true love never runs smooth, as the bard says. The drone attacks continue and a modus vivendi needs to be found. Pakistan is pressing for an end to the drone attacks. The civilian leadership is committed to finding a way to end the attacks. Will Obama oblige? He might, as it will mollify Pakistani public opinion and enable Rawalpindi to cooperate in the evacuation of US war equipments from Afghanistan without hassle.
So, the US-Pakistan ‘re-engagement’ has begun. A flurry of visits by top US officials to Islamabad is on the cards in April ahead of the NATO summit a month later in Chicago in May. Where it is all going to lead to remains far from clear, though. The US-Pakistan relationship is not easy to restore. Washington would keep its fingers crossed.
Meanwhile, Washington is finally accepting the Taliban demand that when their leaders held in captivity in Guantanamo Bay are brought to Qatar, they should be free birds to live their remaining lives and not kept under house arrest. This concession aims at inducing the Taliban to return to the peace talks. But the reconciliation track will only run parallel to the US-Pakistan dialogue. Pakistan possesses the means to gatecrash into the US-Taliban party whenever it chooses.
Indeed, a fourth protagonist is watching closely but yet to speak on last week’s happenings between the US and Pakistani officials — Afghan President Hamid Karzai. A critically important aspect is that Karzai shouldn’t get the feeling that he is out of the loop. But Taliban refuses to talk to Karzai. And on Thursday, Hizb-e-Islami lead by Gulbuddin Hekmatyar also ‘suspended’ his talks with Karzai, alleging that “neither of you [Washington and Kabul] has any practical and acceptable approach” in the search for a settlement.
– March 31, 2012