Wednesday, October 27, 2010

US-Pakistan Strategic Dialogue

The latest round of the US-Pakistan Strategic Dialogue confirmed the two countries' 'dedication to cultivating a strategic, comprehensive and long-term partnership,' according to a joint statement released at the conclusion of the three-day gathering. US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Pakistan Foreign Minister Makhdoom Shah Mahmood Qureshi, accompanied by high-level delegations, held the third ministerial-level meeting of the dialogue, following meetings in March and July.

The dialogue was preceded by sectoral-track engagement on agriculture, communications and public diplomacy, defense, energy, finance and economic cooperation, health, law enforcement and counter-terrorism, water and women's empowerment. Qureshi conveyed the gratitude of Pakistan to the United States for humanitarian assistance given in the wake of the Pakistan floods, and for mobilizing international assistance for relief, recovery, and reconstruction. Clinton 'commended the tenacity of the Pakistani people as they recover from the catastrophic flooding,' and pledged constant US support as relief efforts transition into the long-term recovery phase.

Wide Range of Issues
Sectoral meetings covered a range of subjects 'with a clear focus on socioeconomic development and the establishment of a mutually beneficial partnership.

The United States committed to redouble its efforts to seek US congressional enactment of legislation to create Reconstruction Opportunity Zones and for the establishment of an Enterprise Fund. Both sides sought to work closely and collaboratively with the international donor community and international financial institutions to extend economic assistance to Pakistan.

The United States commended the 'steadfast resolve' of Pakistan to defeat terrorists. Pakistan expressed appreciation for the Secretarys announcement to seek US. Congressional authorization for a Multi-Year Security Assistance Commitment, a five-year pledge by the United States.

Both sides said that 'a democratic, progressive and prosperous Pakistan was in the interest of the United States, the region and the world.' The officials 'renewed their resolve to promoting peace, stability and transparency throughout the region and to eliminate the threats posed by terrorism and extremism.

During the Pakistani delegations visit to the White House, President Barack Obama announced his plans to visit Pakistan in 2011 and welcomed President Asif Ali Zardari to Washington. The next round of the Strategic Dialogue is planned to be held in 2011, and the sectoral working groups plan to meet prior to the next ministerial-level meeting.

Pakistan is an important player in the ongoing global effort for countering terrorism in the Afghan-Pakistan region, which has implications for Pakistan's security, and regional and global politics. It opted for this strategy in September 2001, signifying the abandonment of its policy of supporting the Taliban movement and its government in Kabul.

While sharing the goals and the general direction of countering terrorism with the US, Pakistan has demonstrated autonomy on the issues that the army and the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) view as integral to Pakistan's internal political imperatives and external security with reference to Afghanistan and India.

The Pakistan-US Strategic Dialogue has more to do with discord than accord. It is more about distrust than trust. Way back in 2006, President George Walker Bush spent a few hours in Pakistan and spoke for an 'enduring' relationship between the two countries. This time we are told by Washington bigwigs that Americans will not walk away. They will continue to be good friends.

Positive indications given by Bush, however, have not yielded the desired results. Little headway has been made insofar as trade and investments are concerned. It is puzzling and, indeed, disappointing to find the US deliberately ignoring these vitals interests of a close ally. In addition to this, the promise to set up Reconstruction Opportunity Zones in the tribal areas has also not been fulfilled.

A major initiative, after the lapse of many years, has been the passing of the Kerry-Lugar Bill (KLB). But its conditions and the peculiar manner of its implementation have taken the sheen off an otherwise fairly attractive gesture. A clarification that part of the Friends of Democratic Pakistan funding and Flood Relief assistance will come from the KLB commitments has further affected the positive impression earlier created. The delay in disbursement of the coalition support installments too has downgraded the quality of relationship between the two countries.

The basic problem for any dialogue between the US and Pakistan is that the two countries remain as strategically far apart as they perhaps ever have been. A relationship of necessity based on fear of the other can never be the starting point for a true and meaningful partnership. Consider that beyond non-proliferation and counter-terrorism -- both 'negative' reasons to cooperate -- there is little that can be seen as long-term areas of cooperation in the strategic dialogue. Nevertheless, dialogue is always good. At least now the US and Pakistan have a regular forum to meet and discuss issues at a high level -- if nothing else, they may begin to understand each other's security concerns better.

$2 Billion Package for Islamabad
The new military aid plan or 'security assistance', as the US mandarins call it) was yet to be formally unveiled, but US media accounts suggest it is a done deal: That it would be a $2 billion package spread over five years, over and above the $7.5 billion non-military aid plan approved last year. The new security pact would have three parts: the sale of the US military equipment to Pakistan, a program to allow Pakistani military officers to study at American war colleges and counterinsurgency assistance to Pakistani troops.

Between 2001 and 2009, Pakistan had collected about $9 billion in US military assistance, in terms of aid and reimbursement for its operations in aid of the American-led war effort in Afghanistan. Another $3.6 billion funded economic and diplomatic initiatives. 'But US officials and journalists' accounts have raised concerns that such funds are not being used as intended, and not just because of the typical concerns about corruption,' a Newsweek investigative account said last year. 'Will any amount of money produce results?,' it posed, noting: 'A big part of that answer lies in determining how much bang the United States has gotten for its buck so far -- whether or not some of the money was siphoned off along the way to fund Army generals' new houses or the Taliban elements.'

That may have been about one kind of misuse, but the other misuse by diverting the money for beefing up Pakistan's military might against India has been confirmed by the Pentagon itself. Documents revealed last year how Pakistan had brazenly used billions of dollars meant to fight the war on terror for buying an array of conventional weaponry to develop its offensive capability against India.

Pakistan also used a large portion of funds provided under FMF (Foreign Military Financing) to purchase up to 60 mid-life update kits for F-16 A/B combat aircraft valued at $891 million. Of this, it paid $477 million from the FMF funds given by the United States.

Pakistan's Offerings
Pakistan agreed to the seven US demands but in reality, some of these demands were not fully complied with. For example, the US was not given 'blanket over flight and landing rights'. Instead Pakistan provided a corridor for US aircraft to fly over Pakistani territory on the way to Afghanistan. Similarly, Pakistan did not give unlimited use of its naval ports, air bases and strategic locations on the Pakistan-Afghanistan border.

Other facilities extended to the US included flyover and landing rights to American aircraft, support facilities, as well as transit of goods and personnel through Pakistan, the sharing of information between the intelligence agencies of the two countries and permission to the US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) to function in Pakistan in collaboration with its Pakistani counterparts.

Pakistan gave two airports -- Shamsi in Balochistan and Jacobabad in Sind -- for logistical, communication and emergency support to counter-terrorism operations in Afghanistan. Though the US was not authorized to use these air bases for launching air raids into Afghanistan, the US military authorities did not always honor this commitment. A third airport, Pasni, was made available to them temporarily. Shamsi is said to be still in American use in 2010.

Obama's Janus-Headed Policy Toward Pakistan
Is it intended to be a sop to Pakistan in lieu of being overlooked for a US presidential visit that takes Barack Obama to its neighbor and arch-rival, India? The fact that Washington chose to convene a third round of US-Pakistan Strategic Dialogue less than a fortnight before Obama's India visit in November 2010 and pledge a hefty $2 billion military aid package may be nothing short of a balancing act.

For all the talk of de-hyphenation of America's policy approach toward India and Pakistan, it may still be a zero-sum game that Washington plays in the subcontinent, no matter the delinking of the Presidential visit to the two countries. The stratagem in the US corridors of power may also be aimed at keeping Islamabad in check, just in case Obama decides to unveil some goodies while in New Delhi, such as endorsing or signaling support for India's bid for a permanent seat in UN Security Council and/or easing high-tech export controls. For that very reason, India, also, may mute for the time being its concerns over the substantial military aid to Islamabad.
Whatever the American calculations, Indian worries are set to mount, given the likelihood of Pakistan again diverting much of the new aid to bolster its military machine against India instead of using it to combat terrorism. Defence Minister AK Antony apparently had an inkling of what was coming, so he made it a major talking point when he visited Washington last month and held parleys with three of the big guns of the Obama administration -- Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Defence Secretary Robert Gates and National Security Adviser James Jones. But Antony's expression of concern appears to have fallen by the wayside.

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