South Asia watchers in the U.S capital acknowledge that Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s commitment to take action against the Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) is technically a new one, but warn that it may be too early to celebrate.
They point out that Pakistan has made commitments on similar issues earlier too but what matters is the extent of its willingness and ability to make good on its commitment. “So I would not uncork the champagne just yet,” said Ashley Tellis, Senior Associate at the South Asia Program in the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
“We’ve seen this movie before,” said Michael Kugelman, Senior Program Associate for South and Southeast Asia at the Woodrow Wilson Center. “There are always expressions of intent, but at the end of the day not much changes.”
Mr. Tellis found it interesting “that Sharif has acknowledged for the first time in a joint statement Pakistan’s obligations to target LeT.”
“That is, in my view, an advance. But the real question, always, is whether Pakistan will make good on its commitments. There have been a series of Pakistani commitments on counterterrorism during the last fifteen-odd years without meaningful implementation,” he added.
But Mr. Kugelman said he wouldn’t “read too much into Sharif’s LeT comments.”
“This is because,” he clarified, “Pakistan will not change its policy toward LeT so long as India remains a foe. Also, let’s be very clear: if anyone is to make a new commitment to targeting LeT, that commitment would need to come from General Sharif, not Prime Minister Sharif.”
The joint statement’s reference on “the importance of regional balance and stability in South Asia,” coming as it does in the wake of Pakistan’s complaint that U.S.-India proximity was tilting the strategic balance in the region is curious.
“It is an odd formulation,” said Mr. Tellis. “But I don’t think U.S. policy towards India has changed. New Delhi matters more to Washington because of larger strategic interests that transcend the Indian subcontinent. The Obama administration cannot, and I expect will not, pursue a strategic ‘balance’ intended to treat India and Pakistan equally in geopolitical terms.” “I think the reference here was essentially a diplomatic nicety meant to convey a shared desire for a subcontinent that does not descend into conflict and warfare,” said Mr. Kugelman.
While the U.S. has categorically stated it does not intend to interfere in India-Pakistan relations unless asked by both countries, its anxiety about the stalled bilateral dialogue is apparent in the joint statement that called for “sustained dialogue.”
Asked whether this indicates a U.S. disapproval of India’s position — that of no talks before terror stops — Mr. Kugelman said: “Washington does worry about the paralysing dynamic of India-Pakistan diplomacy — the fact that each side sets conditions for dialogue that the other doesn’t accept. The U.S. certainly wants the two countries to move beyond this obstacle, though the joint statement was careful not to say how this should be done.” (The Hindu)