October 21, 2013

US rejects Nawaz Sharif's call for intervention in Kashmir

Pakistan's Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif arrived in Washington DC on Sunday after having essayed the K-word during his stopover in London. The K-word, for those outside the Indian subcontinent loop, is code for Kashmir, eternal boondoggle/ bugaboo for all sides. Pakistan wants all of it; India has half of it and is hanging on to it; and US wants none of it - the issue, that is; not the territory. Now, for someone who is said to have complained that India's Prime Minister Manmohan Singh brings his complaints against Pakistan to Washington DC like a "dehati aurat," it was rather rich for MianSahib to start his K-mantra during a layover in London, but the only K-word he heard on his arrival at Andrews AirForce Base in Maryland on a PAF Gulf Stream jet, was John Kerry, the secretary of state.

Arriving on a Sunday for an official visit has the great advantage of beating traffic into DC, but the downside is it's Obama's day off. Unlike Clinton, who came to work even on a July 4 when Sharif last came to Washington DC for Pakistan's "Dehati Aurat" part I - when it was getting a smacking in Kargil - Obama has no time for time or sympathy for losers. The president was out playing golf with his White House staffers, including Sam Kass, the chef and logistics guys Mike Brush and Marvin Nicholson, leaving it to his secretary of state to welcome the visiting prime minister. Kerry, seen in Indian circles as being a mite too sympathetic to Pakistan, duly met Sharif and hosted him for a dinner later in the night. The menu consisted of Butternut Squash Soup and Grilled Halal Lamb - and you can use your vivid imagination to divine any hidden messages there.

For the record though, Kerry welcomed Sharif with the following 127 words: "Let me just say that I'm really pleased to welcome Prime Minister Sharif here. He was just telling me that he hasn't been here since 1999 when he was last in office. He has received me several times very generously in Pakistan. We're very anxious to have a series of high-level, important discussions over the course of the next few days - the vice president, the president, tonight's dinner. We have a lot to talk about and the relationship with Pakistan could not be more important. On its own, a democracy that is working hard to get its economy moving and deal with insurgency and also important to the regional stability. So, we're very happy to have you here, Mr Prime Minister. I look forward to the conversations."

The word that caught my eye was "anxious." That about describes the state of the relationship and the feeling in Washington DC over Pakistan. When they say, "the relationship with Pakistan could not be more important," it is not the same as "defining partnership of the 21st century." More like ... you scare the hell out of us. Many Pakistanis take this as a compliment. Also duly noted that MianSahib did not say anything. Either his advisors/minders did not trust him to open his mouth or he's saving his much-improved English - upgraded during exile in Saudi Arabia - for a better occasion.

Anyway, after feeding Sharif and Party, Kerry is hoofing off to some other crisis spot somewhere in the world, determined one suspects, to beat Hillary Clinton's travel record of 956,733 miles, and become first million-mile secretary of state in US history. That leaves Sharif two whole days to twiddle his thumbs before he meets Obama at the White House on Wednesday, by which time I maybe hoofing off too - not that anyone would notice. Obama remains in town, and in fact, will do a Rose Garden event on the Affordable Care Act in the morning — so it is something of mystery why MianSahib is being made to cool his heels. Maybe he'll jet off someplace to woo investors — they don't play cricket in these parts.

Meanwhile, the White House has taken careful aim at the K-word and shot it off the agenda — not that it will stop the Pakistani caterwauling. Whether it is Kashmir or nuclear deal or predator strikes, the drone is incessant. For the record though, US officials who previewed the visit on background said on Sunday that the American policy on Kashmir "has not changed an iota" and it was left to the two sides to sort it out at time and pace and place of their choosing. The advice to Pakistan in the sub-text is: Forget Kashmir, and get on with other things, but as far as Islamabad (or rather, Rawalpindi) is concerned, Kashmir is some kind of facial tic which won't go away. It has to be mentioned at least for form's sake, even if the rest of the world starts yawning at the first sign or sound of it.

Then there's also the N-word and the D-word - other signature items on the Pakistani agenda. They are still sore that US and the international community have promoted India to a different nuclear league and want the same deal. In this they now have some help from their taller-than-mountains, deeper-than-oceans, sweeter-than-honey friends who have promised them a couple of spanking new nuclear reactors just to poke Uncle Sam in the eye for making nice with India. Going by past form, Uncle Sam will not be poked in the eye; he will just turn away and pretend the problem does not exist. Some day when the spit hits the fan, there will be many people in the world with spittle on their face.

As for the D-word, Pakistan has made such a song and dance about it that even the UN has taken note - not that this particularly bothers the US. The only reason drone strikes are tailing off is because there are very few people left in the badlands of Pakistan to kill by predatory strikes. They've all gone hell and Yemen - and Somalia - or they have become smart enough not to leave any electronic signatures. Of course, there are tons of them in other provinces of Pakistan closer to its eastern borders, but judging by the indulgence with which Uncle Sam has treated that fat terrorist who moves about in SUV convoys with state protection (despite a $ 10 million US bounty), they are not for US drones to take out.

Times of india

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