Nawaz Sharif’s US visit – Im­pli­ca­tions for South Asia


As pre­lude to the Obama-Sharif meet, Pak­istani For­eign Sec­re­tary Aziz Chaud­hary pro­claimed that Pak­istan’s de­vel­op­ment and de­ploy­ment of tac­ti­cal battlefield weapons was aimed at de­ter­ring In­dia’s ‘Cold Start’ doc­trine. This has been ob­vi­ous and in fact not stated for the first time though Amer­i­can schol­ars have been wor­ried about Pak­istani tac­ti­cal nukes de­ploy­ment on her naval ves­sels, their man­age­ment on high seas with at­ten­u­ated risks and pos­si­bil­i­ties of ac­ci­dents that could be construed as nu­clear at­tack.

But then the Obama Ad­min­is­tra­tion has al­ways looked the other way de­spite bla­tant nu­clear pro­lif­er­a­tion by Pak­istan, not even in­ter­ro­gat­ing A.Q. Khan, leave aside hav­ing him pros­e­cuted and cut­ting off mil­i­tary aid and fi­nan­cial largesse to Pak­istan. So, tac­ti­cal nu­clear de­ploy­ment at sea too would be ig­nored. Not with­out rea­son Don­ald Trump re­cently in­di­cated that Obama is caught in the legacy of Bush Ad­min­is­tra­tion. But what was sig­nif­i­cant about this US trip by Nawaz Sharif was that just prior to his de­par­ture, Army Chief Ra­heel Sharif di­vested Sar­taj Aziz from the NSA port­fo­lio re­plac­ing him with Naseer Khan Jan­jua, his own man – a re­cently re­tired Army Gen­eral; com­plet­ing the mil­i­tary siege of Nawaz Sharif and Pak­istan’s democ­racy. Jan­jua will en­sure Nawaz Sharif is bound and de­liv­ered – when Ra­heel Sharif so wants. In a re­cent in­ter­na­tional con­clave abroad, a Pak­istani politi­cian un­of­fi­cially ad­mit­ted that there was con­sen­sus in the Pak­istani polity to im­prove con­nec­tiv­ity with In­dia and en­hance mu­tual trade and commerce but the Pak­istani mil­i­tary had put its foot down and so noth­ing can be done about it.

It is well known that Ra­heel Sharif had vir­tu­ally warned Nawaz not to speed up re­la­tion­ship with In­dia. So with US con­tin­u­ously back­ing the Pak­istani mil­i­tary, where is the ques­tion of the Pak­istani mil­i­tary give up her proxy war against In­dia and im­prove re­la­tions. This sit­u­a­tion suit­ing China is the other rea­son. Look­ing west, Ra­heel Sharif is cru­cial to the US power play in Afghanistan the Pak­istani mil­i­tary hav­ing in­stalled Mul­lah Man­soor as the Afghan Tal­iban chief, he be­ing the re­li­gious teacher of Haqqa­nis who are ISI’s ten­ta­cle in Afghanistan. That is why de­spite hav­ing failed to bring the Tal­iban to join the Afghan gov­ern­ment, Obama Ad­min­is­tra­tion gave the sweet pill to Pres­i­dent Ashraf Ghani that Pak­istan would be able to per­suade the Tal­iban. This also helped di­vert Ghani’s at­ten­tion to the heavy Tal­iban con­cen­tra­tion along the north­ern bor­ders par­tic­u­larly in the Badak­shan re­gion, not that the Pak­istan as­sisted Tal­iban were not making gains all over, even at­tack­ing Kabul in con­junc­tion Haqqa­nis and Pak­istani se­cu­rity per­son­nel op­er­at­ing in guise of Tal­iban.

The light­en­ing takeover of Kun­duz and the cap­ture of War­duj prov­ince east of Kun­duz threaten Cen­tral Asia as well, sev­er­ing the Kabul-Ta­jik­istan high­way and forc­ing Rus­sia to in­crease troop de­ploy­ment in Ta­jik­istan with whom it has a se­cu­rity ar­range­ment. It is but log­i­cal that if the stay of US-NATO troops in Afghanistan has been ex­tended, the route of their sup­ply will con­tinue to be via the port of Karachi and all the way up through land route criss-cross­ing Pak­istani ter­ri­tory. So the chances are that Pak­istan will con­tinue to be given a free hand in Afghanistan both by Obama and China even as lat­ter is em­pha­sis­ing the need to re­build Afghanistan. It goes with­out say­ing that Chi­nese strate­gic lodg­ment in Gigit-Baltistan and plans to ad­vance to the Per­sian Gulf wor­ries the US even as Chi­nese oil and cop­per ex­trac­tion in ISAF se­cured re­gions had irked Wash­ing­ton. Ex­ten­sion of US de­ploy­ment in Afghanistan co­in­cid­ing with Obama’s ten­ure – re­duced to 5,500 strength by early 2017 – im­plies US will prob­a­bly con­tinue to main­tain its cur­rent coun­tert­er­ror­ism task force at Ba­gram air­base, re­tain a small spe­cial oper­a­tions pres­ence at Kan­da­har and Jalal­abad air­fields plus con­tinue with its head­quar­ters in Kabul. But ac­tu­ally this means lit­tle with a resur­gent Tal­iban and the ISIS hav­ing taken con­trol of seven dis­tricts of Nan­garhar prov­ince of Afghanistan al­ready.

Obama’s game plan ap­par­ently is to de­ter Rus­sian and Chi­nese in­flu­ence in the re­gion through in­creased in­sta­bil­ity and Pak­istani mil­i­tary is cru­cial to that plan whether Pak­istan re­mains a pup­pet democ­racy or Ra­heel Sharif en­gi­neers an­other army coup. USSF in­tel­li­gence that an ISI op­er­a­tive was di­rect­ing Tal­iban from the ‘Doc­tors With­out Bor­ders’ hos­pi­tal in Kun­duz which led to the US bomb­ing it, shoot­ing down of a C-130 air­craft over Jalal­abad on Oc­to­ber 1 and an F-16 re­cently hit by Tal­iban fire over Pak­tia prov­ince are of lit­tle con­se­quence. So, Pak­istani mil­i­tary will re­tain full con­trol of Pak­istan, con­tinue with its state pol­icy of terror against In­dia and Afghanistan, con­tin­u­ing to gain ground in Afghanistan. If in­sta­bil­ity in­creases in Pak­istan in the process, it doesn’t af­fect the mil­i­tary but suits the US as well in coun­ter­ing Chi­nese in­flu­ence.

But then the much hyped Nawaz-Obama meet­ing turned out to be mostly gas for Pak­istan, akin to her nu­clear hype. Sure US will give 8 x F-16s to Pak­istan sub­ject to Congress ap­proval, but that was about all other than Michelle Obama an­nounc­ing $70-mil­lion pro­gramme for girl ed­u­ca­tion in Pak­istan. Pak­istan’s bid to get US me­di­a­tion as well as bag­ging a US-Pak­istan civil­ian nu­clear deal were non-starters, some US law­mak­ers al­ready hav­ing writ­ten to Obama prior to the meet not to agree to any civil nu­clear deal with Pak­istan. The ac­tual snub to Pak­istan came when soon af­ter the Nawaz-John Kerry meet the Obama Ad­min­is­tra­tion de­clined to even ac­knowl­edge Is­lam­abad’s com­plaint about al­leged In­dian in­ter­fer­ence in Balochis­tan and FATA. On the con­trary, Nawaz was told Pak­istan needs to put ad­di­tional ef­forts to tar­get all ter­ror­ists on its ter­ri­tory. So de­spite Pak­istani mil­i­tary machi­na­tions, Nawaz Sharif would have dis­cov­ered it is not pos­si­ble to eat the cake and take it home too. So, noth­ing has ac­tu­ally changed in South Asia with Pak­istan con­tin­u­ing to gen­er­ate terror.

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