Sharif’s US takeaway


Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s visit to United States and his meeting with US president  Barack Obama has expectedly hogged the headlines in India and Pakistan. The joint statement issued after the Sharif-Obama talks has been critically analysed for every possible strategic import it has for the two countries. Though media in India  has generally given a thumbs down to the meeting as there has been no big-bang announcement –   the proposed nuclear negotiations didn’t even take place – some parts  in the joint statement have been a source of unease in New Delhi. For example, India is sore over the mention of Kashmir by name in the joint statement, something that gives the issue an international standing that New Delhi has sought to deny it. On terrorism too, the statement calls upon the two countries to “address mutual concerns” of each other on the issue. This brings the two countries on par on terrorism rather than asking Islamabad to address New Delhi’s concerns on the issue as has been the case. Does it mean Pakistan has found takers for its dossiers on India’s alleged role in Baluchistan? It is still too early to tell. Similarly, New Delhi has expressed concerns over Obama’s support for Pakistan’s efforts to secure funding for the Diamer Bhasha and Dasu dams in Pakistan Administered Kashmir to help meet Pakistan’s energy and water needs. India has opposed the projects, saying they fall in the parts of Kashmir “occupied” by Pakistan.
Similarly, New Delhi is also not happy about Obama’s praise for Pakistan “for hosting and facilitating the first public talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban in July 2015”. India accuses Pakistan of supporting Haqqani network and Afghan Taliban and thus holding it responsible for destabilizing Afghanistan. Now US support to Pakistan’s help in bringing Taliban to table almost legitimises Islamabad’s engagement with Taliban.  The joint statement emphasizes “the importance of a sustained and resilient dialogue process between the two neighbours” which detracts from India’s tendency to subject it to cessation of attacks in India from Pakistani soil. 
What the Obama-Sharif meeting also underlines is that Pakistan has sought to aggressively focus international attention on Kashmir in the absence of a dialogue with India. The two countries have  drifted further apart from each other and tended to join adversarial power blocks, with Islamabad further cosying up to China and also getting closer to Russia and New Delhi slanting heavily towards Washington. This is where a sustained dialogue between New Delhi and Islamabad could be a game changer.  
An Indo-Pak reconciliation based on the settlement of the longstanding issues will be the most promising development. It will open up vast economic opportunities for the people of the two countries. Its geo-political fallout will be benign. More than US military presence, an Indo-Pak understanding will help stabilize Afghanistan. This is why New Delhi’s current policy of disengagement with Pakistan is not in India’s objective national interest. As former Pakistan foreign minister Khurshid Mahmud Kasuri writes in his book, Pakistan with its nuclear weapons is beyond coercion and only a sustainable dialogue on the lines of Musharraf-Manmohan process can produce a desired outcome.

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