Islamabad draws red lines: No political role for India in Afghanistan!

red lines

News Analysis |

Pakistan has categorically told the United States that its cooperation on Afghanistan is strictly contingent upon how Washington limits Indian role in Afghanistan in the realm of economic reconstruction. Pakistan once again iterated its severe distaste and concern of any political or military role for Delhi in the war-torn country. Islamabad made this demand in a candid discussion with the US delegation which visited the country last week.

In a bid to resume dialogue with Pakistan after tensions increased between the two countries due to the announcement of the new South Asia policy, the US sent an interagency delegation led by Deputy Assistant to the President and National Security Council Senior Director for South Asia Lisa Curtis.

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According to a well-placed Pakistani official, intense discussions took place between the dignitaries from both countries. Talking to a premier Pakistani newspaper on condition of anonymity, the official said that talks were frank as both sides openly expressed their concerns. He said that Pakistan was clear in conditioning its cooperation on how the US administration “addresses Pakistan’s genuine concerns on the Indian role in Afghanistan.”

However, the goodwill was again dealt a blow when a seemingly pro-India statement on CPEC by Secretary Defense, James Mattis again added to the fears of Islamabad. Interior Minister, Ahsan Iqbal who is on a visit to the US implored Washington to stop looking CPEC from the lens of India.

Tensions between the two countries have been on the rise after President Trump while admonishing Pakistan for its alleged role in harboring terrorism, called upon India to play a lead role in Afghanistan. Pakistan, in light of its security paradigm, has vociferously rejected India’s political and military role in Afghanistan.

Despite fissures, both countries showed the willingness to mend fences as was evident by Pakistan’s campaign at the UNGA last month. However, the goodwill was again dealt a blow when a seemingly pro-India statement on CPEC by Secretary Defense, James Mattis again added to the fears of Islamabad. Interior Minister, Ahsan Iqbal who is on a visit to the US implored Washington to stop looking CPEC from the lens of India.

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Analysts and experts on Pak-US ties were of the opinion that the fact that the US has played up CPEC, Pakistan will find it hard to cooperate with Washington. However, a successful intelligence-based operation by the Pakistani forces to rescue a US-Canadian family has led to a rare spate of bonhomie between the two countries. After publically thanking Pakistan for the difficult rescue operation, Trump took to Twitter and expressed his satisfaction over the improvement in bilateral ties.

Though a tad early to say, the utility of cooperation witnessed in the rescue could be an important framework for charting out a new course in Pak US relations, something which India will instinctively raise eyebrows on.

Though it is a positive tactical event which underscores the need to cooperate instead of going on a collision course, analysts are cautious about calling it the precursor of a major breakthrough between the two countries. Pundits assert that this event can be capitalized upon only through deft, meaningful and consistent engagements.

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However, the certain goodwill spree has not gone down well with Indian political stalwart Rahul Gandhi, the vice president of the Congress. While taking a jibe at his opponent in Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s claim that Indo-US ties have entered a new phase, Gandhi tweeted: “Modi ji quick; looks like President Trump needs another hug.”

Though a tad early to say, the utility of cooperation witnessed in the rescue could be an important framework for charting out a new course in Pak US relations, something which India will instinctively raise eyebrows on. However, watchers are of the opinion that Indo-US ties are strong and embedded in the US’ policy against the region. Mr. Gandhi tweet is thus being seen as nothing more than a political dig at the BJP.

Read more: Pakistan asks US not to see CPEC from the Indian lens

Experts on the region still stress that mistrust will preclude the possibility of establishing strategic level ties between Washington and Islamabad. However, the two can tread along by building upon tactical events.

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