Diplomatic Bubbles: Panetta gives further spin to Pak-US relations
Panetta spins Pak-US relations in further spin
Islamabad: A definite time-line of withdrawal from Afghanistan plus the possibility of Israeli attack on Iran coming from US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and announcement of a Taliban’s Post or political Office in Qatar by a fragmented religious outfit was enough to trigger concerns in our diplomatic fraternity as well as hawkish elements of establishment this week.
As Pakistani establishment continues to believe in its embedded role in regional politics and developments especially when it comes to Afghanistan, Iran or India, they consider these announcements as another ploy to lessen their relevance by cutting them off from the consultative process which might widen the existing gulf of mistrust between Pakistan and Americans in particular and Pakistan and EU in general.
With Gulbadin Hekmatyar appearing on the media scene to counter rather condemn the Taliban’s Qatar office initiative and many other splinter groups of Taliban objecting to this as well, strategists, concerned diplomats and many politicians in Islamabad believe that it might not bode well for US-Taliban secret talks. Some diplomatic friends believe that US has been engaging in talks with the like-minded Talibans since 2008 with and without the help of Saudis and many other interlocutors by rejecting the repeated offers of Pakistan to route this initiative through them, Qatar office initiative will prove a litmus test not only for Taliban groups but also for America and Pakistan to stamp their authority on one of the most volatile country also known as the hub of terror-producing place; i.e. Afghanistan.
Many of our US diplomats and even British friends are found looking for the clues to find out that how Pakistani Establishment will be taking this because so far no official version from the top brass of Pakistani side has come to the forth. Foreign office of Pakistan, however, continues to press for more meaningful dialogue with US and EU over Afghanistan and host of other issues including Drone attacks, trade, aid, growing involvement of India in Afghan affairs and even the exit strategy by involving Taliban factor. Other than photo-ops and re-assuring statements from the state department and even from master-blasters of pentagon, Americans seems to be toying with the Pakistani establishment over these issues, claims our foreign office officials in their background talk.
Whether Americans have made up their mind to move into the next phase of Afghan war or is just testing the waters is not sure at this time. But keeping Iraqi exit strategy in mind, many observers believe that Americans are likely to emulate the same in Afghanistan. However, they argue that with a corruption-marred Karzai-regime, some hand-picked Taliban groups under the tutelage of Northern Alliance, and a huge Afghan army without any means to survive the post-American financial and tribal starvation, Pakistani officials at the foreign office or even at the GHQ would continue to consider it a threat to their security and stability.
Pakistan has been blamed for disrupting the back-door talks between US and Taliban since 2010, evidence of which was seen when reactions were flying in all directions on the arrest of Mullah Baradar from Karachi and since then the little strategic intelligence sharing taking place in Pak-NATO/US corridors have almost come to a halt. Recent operations like OBL and attack on Pakistani check post in FATA are considered just an off-shoot of that continued mistrust during which time Raymond Davis and even Dr Afridi (from OBL) has forced the Pakistani establishment to become even more blunt and critical of the US strategy towards them in particular and towards Pakistan in general. This virtual cut-off between Pak-US intelligence agencies is not only leading towards unwarranted hostilities on both sides but also venturing both of them into uncertain lands, commented a senior Pakistani diplomat who has served in Washington and many other strategic posts.
Debate over Iran’s nuclear capability and recent oil and trade embargos imposed by US and EU just cannot leave the diplomatic tables, especially when Panetta has suggested even a possible timeline of Israeli air strikes on Iranian nuclear facilities. With Israel’s mention in this context, many on these tables were apprehensive about the logic of Panetta’s statement. Because even if Americans want to leave for now to cut down their internal budgetary deficit to stabilize their job and housing markets at least for another year or so and want to push ahead with their ‘mighty agenda’ via Israel, it will just help blast the minds of Muslim communities across the globe, argued an African diplomat sitting on one of such table.
Issue of Pakistan’s pipeline with iran also came up for detailed scrutiny on this table. Our American friends were of the view that though US has not been able to bring in the one billion dollar a year aid to Pakistan but whatever (over US $ 500 million so far) has come, a major chunk of it is going towards energy sector. Therefore, they were of the view that no matter what, all those companies and countries engaging in trade and business with Iran will have to face consequences. A senior official from Pakistan’s foreign office, who was nodding to such assertions, later whispered to me that don’t they (Americans) know what Indian Prime Minister and even Chinese have openly said about this?
Why cannot Pakistani officials make such statements while sitting on the table and why they raise these or any other concerns via a third party depicts a mind set in which this establishment is stuck for quite long. We will discuss this some other time but for sure diplomatic scene is quite hot these days and it will continue to boil in the coming weeks because of the developing situations.
Tags: Leon Panetta , Pakistan , Afghanistan , Iran , India
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