If there is anything that best defines the premise of the third round of US-Pakistan strategic talks, it is the November mid-term elections in US. America would be willing to give Pakistan some room, including military and economic aid; provided it can give Obama administration a boost before the election. This boost can come in no other form than the North Waziristan operation. These talks will be taking place just before Obama’s visit to New Delhi and NATO summit in Lisbon on November 19th. Thus, not only who controls US Congress is at stake but also the future of NATO. This article looks at the significance of US-Pakistan talks in the context of current regional and global geopolitical realities.
Clearly, the American administration is at a crossroad when it comes to its stance on Afghanistan. This has been reflected by recent resignations of senior US officials. Both Pakistan and US will join the talks with a great deal of anger at each other. Pakistan recently demonstrated the use of one of its significant leverage when it blocked the Torkham supply route. On the other hand, US showed it can test Pakistan’s nerves through cross border aerial incursions, to include drones, helicopters, and possibly ground troops.
At this juncture, both parties need each other desperately. In the post flood conditions, Pakistan’s geopolitical stance is difficult to maintain absent US financial aid, and US would be relying on this more than any other variable, to gain the cooperation it needs in Afghanistan. Equally, Pakistan understands it holds the keys to an amicable Afghan solution, and in implementation of either the military or political approach adopted by the US. However, both allies give the general perception that they can do without each others help.
Both parties have tried to minimize the key leverage of the other party, but not with much success. The regional approach to Afghanistan has lead to the inclusion of India, and lately Iran, but it has also complicated the American dilemma. It appears as if US is willing to sit with one group of enemies to deal with another set of adversaries, and while the rivals are aware of it.
Another way to understand the US-Pakistan talks is the distinction; US is still the sole super power with global interests, while Pakistan at best is in aspiring regional power. The future of US global eminence is at stake in Afghanistan and this raises the criticality of Pakistan in this equation.
PoliTact has previously claimed that the future of Afghan war is inextricably linked to what happens in Europe. Particularly the role of Germany and France, and their relationship with Russia. The emerging economic realities there have reformed and stratified the threat perceptions of European countries, where France and Germany do not necessarily share NATO’s vision in Afghanistan and other hot spots. UK and other European countries have also recently announced cuts in their defense spending. These pressures are playing an instrumental role in speeding up the peace talks in Afghanistan.
The heads of states of NATO are meeting in Lisbon on November 19 to explore a new strategic concept, which can keep the alliance together. Meanwhile, Germany and Russia were hosted by France on October 18 and 19 at the Atlantic resort of Deauville, to discuss European Security, before the NATO meeting.
The India Factor
The Americans are not aloof to the changing dynamics in Europe, and President Obama is scheduled to visit India in the first week of November, just before the Lisbon meeting. The three-day visit is expected to be the longest overseas trip of President Obama. The unpredictability of traditional European support, is also causing US to increasingly turn to India.
This is not all, China’s posture towards US in the in the pacific realm has become more assertive. American traditional ally Australia, is also hedging its bet, and recently conducted military exercises with China. In addition, NATO’s only Muslim member, Turkey, conducted surprise aerial exercises with China in September. India provides a counterweight to China not only in the Pacific realm but also in South and Central Asia. However, the role of India in Central Asia would be complicated, as it would have to weigh its relations with both Russia and US. Balancing Russian and US affairs would also complicate future Indian relations with Europe.
Given these circumstances, PoliTact has concluded that US has raised the priority of the Afghan conflict while putting the Iran tension on the back burner. Whether Israel will take this maneuver quietly, is yet to be seen. Iran’s help in Afghanistan can complicate the role of Pakistan and Saudi Arabia. However, it can also speed up Iran and Pakistan economic cooperation.
The survivability of NATO alliance is strategically more pertinent to the American national security than the risks posed by the extremists. Gauging from recent European behavior, the threats from extremists, no longer seem capable to hold the alliance together.
US-India strategic partnership is a muiti-president initiative and is unlikely to change due to the present situation. In the global context described above, Pakistan will take what it can from US, but in the longer term, it recognizes its interests mesh better with China than with US. The US-Pakistan relations are more a consequence of global politics and less so of what happens between the two. As the air gets tense between China and US, US-Pakistan relations are bound to deteriorate. In addition to the economic leverage, US will increasingly use its India leverage over Pakistan.
PoliTact believes that unless some key compromises are made in accepting the realistic positions and interests of both parties, US and Pakistan, the war in Afghanistan can extend with worsening consequences. From Pakistan’s perspective if peace talks with Haqqani network and Quetta Shura are making progress, the objective and need for North Waziristan operation changes. Given the economic recession, US no longer has the privilege of time. History informs that ultimately, the party possessing the advantage of time prevails.
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