Following the Peshawar school carnage on December 16, 2014 and the country’s resolve to fight against terrorism, the visit by the Secretary of State, John Kerry, has assumed a great importance. That visit is a part of Pak-US Strategic Dialogues. Pakistan considers US a vital component of its foreign policy and appreciates US President Barack Obama’s message of friendship and cooperation which came in the aftermath of the Peshawar attack. US acknowledges the fact that terrorists are the common enemy of both the countries.
The Pak-US Strategic Dialogues focus on five areas of cooperation. These are: energy; security, strategic stability and non-proliferation; the defence consultative group; law-enforcement and counter-terrorism; and economy and finance. Out of these five areas, energy and law enforcement and counter-terrorism are those where Pakistan needs immediate help. The strategic dialogue process was halted after 2010 as relations between Washington and Islamabad plunged over issues including the US led Operation Neptune Spear (May, 2011) inside Pakistan that killed the leader of Al-Qaeda, Osama bin Laden. In 2014, the process was resumed when John Kerry and Sartaj Aziz, Pakistani foreign-affairs adviser, met in Washington. John Kerry at that time described Pakistan as a‘tiger economy for the 21st century.’ Bilateral ties seemed to be getting improved after that visit and US Secretary of State expressed his wish of visiting Pakistan soon.
The recent two-day visit by John Kerry on January 2, 2015 assuredthe bilateral engagement and the US support in the fight against terrorism. Pakistani Prime Minister, Nawaz Sharif, also highlighted Pakistan’s focus on greater market access for local products and US investment in the country, aimed at creating job opportunities. He was hopeful that the next Business Opportunities Conference to be held in Islamabad in March 2015 would receive a good response from the US investors. But Pakistan’s security situation presents a series of hurdles in the way of US investment, and this is one area where Pakistan could make use of US expertise and assistance.
Pakistan expects from the US; technical and training assistance for the rapid response force that the government has decided to set up under the National Action Plan (NAP), devised after the Peshawar school attack. The recent visit by Kerry is regarded as an important step to support Pakistan in its fight against terrorists. And since the Peshawar carnage, Pakistan has stepped up the fight against extremists by reinstating the death penalty for terrorists, trying civilian terror suspects in military courts, and increasing operations in the tribal areas.
On the other hand, the US has blamed high-profile attacks in Afghanistan on the powerful Haqqani network, which is assumed to mainly operate out of Pakistan’s border areas. In response, Pakistan has decided to ban the Haqqani network as a step in implementing the NAP. According to Associated Press “US officials traveling with Kerry to Pakistan said Washington wants to ensure that there is a ‘real and sustained effort’ to limit the abilities of the Pakistani and Afghan Taliban, the Haqqani Network and Laskhar e Tayyiba, which pose direct threats to Afghanistan, Pakistan, and India, as well as to American interests.” While Pakistan realizes the threat posed by these terrorist outfits, and has shown its will and ability to combat them, US still seems unsure of Pakistan’s intent.
It is important to note that US blaming and naming of Pakistan is without taking into account the reason behind Pakistan’s internal troubles and failure to trace the line back to US which shares a responsibility for the ongoing conundrum. Secondly, the US campaign in Afghanistan has been responsible for increasing Taliban-led insurgency and terrorism since 2001 and resulted in a myriad loss of blood and treasure. Similarly, the growing rapport between India and US, and the US support for increased role in Afghanistan, is further widening the trust deficit between the two countries. In his recent visit to India, Kerry said that India and the US can and should be “indispensable partners” in the 21stcentury. This statement came amid growing violations by India of the Working Boundary and LOC with Pakistan, which have been escalated in the past months. If US wants Pakistan to play a constructive role in eliminating terrorism, it must restrain India to stop the unprovoked bombardment of villages and civilian population on the Pakistani side.
Hence, Kerry’s visit, though a short one was very important for Pakistan’s perspective. Maire Harf of the State Department in a press briefing said “It was a successful visit”. She also welcomed the announcement by Pakistani government, outlawing various militant factions including Jamaatud Dawa and Haqqani network. Another State department official said that the US plans to send $250 million in new aid to Pakistan for the reconstruction of North Waziristan and other areas of Fata, as well as for the return of internally displaced people. It shows that Pakistan is still high on US agenda in spite of the troop drawdown in Afghanistan and in advancing shared goal of peace in the region.
“Pakistan Observer” Daily, January 24, 2015
Views expressed are of the writer and are not necessarily reflective of IPRI policy.