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.