US says no free lunch, but Pakistan's demand was for aid and Kashmir mediation

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Lahore, Oct.24 (ANI): While the United States has agreed to give an additional two billion dollars as aid in the form of military assistance to Pakistan, it seems to have subtly conveyed that this proposed assistance should not be viewed as a "free lunch" and comes with an increasing expectation that Islamabad needs to deliver actual results on the ground in the context of the war on terror.

Pakistan, on the other hand, approached Washington with a wish list that not only included a demand for more financial aid to deal with the above, but also with a demand that the Obama administration take on a third-party mediator role in resolving its decades-long Kashmir dispute with India.

The third United States-Pakistan Strategic Dialogue in Washington ended last week with the repeated hopes and understanding to "do more" in the multi-faceted war on terror.

The US, however, put the ball in Islamabad's court after promising to give two billion dollar 'carrots' of further military assistance, subject to approval of the U.S. Congress.

The talks in Washington were held at a crucial moment-at a time when U.S. mid-term elections are to take place in the first week of November - placing the Obama administration in a quandary.

The review of the Afghanistan policy is also scheduled this December amid rising tension and trust deficit between the two countries, and amidst reports of the US and Afghan Taliban having secret talks.

The trust deficit between Pakistan and the US is no secret. Recently, the stopping of NATO supplies from Pakistan into Afghanistan and the burning of a hundred NATO oil tankers were an indication that both sides would have come to the dialogue table with their respective agendas, issues and apprehensions.

It is generally seen that both sides have opposing views when it comes to achieving their goals, as both partners see the glass as 'half empty' from their point of view.

On ground, a sharp difference in objectives of both countries is quite clear. The US wants to get results to show that it has achieved something in the run-up to the mid-term election and nurtures hope for giving a final direction to this prolonged and partially won war on terror by the end of 2010.

On the other hand, Pakistani military-controlled foreign policy has and will always be India-centric.

It has the threatening card of moving its forces towards its eastern border with India anytime, and is sympathetic to its "unofficial army" of jihadi organizations, which many in the establishment in Islamabad term as an "asset".

In such a situation, which has been described as "tough love" between the US and Pakistan, miracles should not be expected.

"Strategic dialogue is always based on long-term policy and mutual benefit, but in this case, it is not happening so," Professor (Dr.) Farooq Hasnat, a Pakistani scholar at the Middle East Institute in Washington, said.

He said there is a convergence of interest, in which, both sides are looking for commonalities.

"US policy is Afghan-focused, and in Pakistan, their interest is to safeguard atomic weapons and to save them from militants," Dr. Hasnat said, adding, "neither Islamabad can meet American interests, nor it has capacity. The rulers are looking for American aid for short term gain, instead of improving governance and tax collection mechanism."

He said this partnership cannot be long term, or high-pitched, because of a clash of interest on both sides.

"In one line, it is two steps forward and a three steps backward policy," he said, recommending for mere "cooperation" instead of "long term strategic dialogue."

This high pitch short-term gain would also trouble the neighbouring powers like India, China and Iran, he warned.

The US has its own agenda for its taxpayers-to improve economy and ensure security. The Indian-centric military controlled dialogue from Pakistan includes a demand for a similar civil nuclear cooperation deal, a demand for the Kashmir issue to move towards a solution and access to American markets to improve its economy.

Nothing has been officially discussed, but there was a "long discussion" on the Afghanistan situation. It seems that the U.S. is not ready to accept Pakistan's India centric view, but wants to address the problem of Pakistan's alleged persistent "double game" of getting US aid and abetting Taliban and not acting against the Haqqani network etc.

"The road to Kabul from New Delhi only passes through Srinagar," former Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) Director-General Lt. Gen. (retired) Hameed Gul said.

"Pakistan's key issue is Kashmir, which must be exploited at this moment, as the US is not showing an even-handed policy with Islamabad and New Delhi. Obama must take up the Kashmir issue during his visit (to India), publicly or privately," demands Gul, a known sympathiser of the Pakistani Taliban and Mullah Omer, the Afghan Taliban leader.

"Recent aid is just to push Islamabad to launch an operation in North Waziristan at this crucial time when America wants to show some results to its domestic audience in a couple of months," he remarked on the recent dialogue.

He added that a tactical move from Pakistan is required, because this is the time America desperately needs Pakistan, as the trust deficit between the two countries is rising gradually due to the frustration over losing the war on terror.

He also said that the U.S. thinks Islamabad can help them in this war, as they are in a fix but it is time Pakistan realizes that the Americans will leave Afghanistan sooner or later, and therefore, the question that arises is "What will it get at the end?"

He said that in talks with the Taliban, Pakistan and Afghanistan cannot play a substantive role.

"Only two Os (Obama and Omer) can help them out in succeeding in the talks with the Taliban," he said.

Lt. Gen. (retired) Talat Masood, a prominent defence analyst, said: " In a partnership, you have to be engaged in structured dialogue to deliver. This aid is also to neutralize threat and countering some insurgency areas."

"There is no free lunch. America expects that Islamabad should contribute in some form so that they can say that we (Pakistan) have done something to reduce the threats, which emerge from Kabul. And of course, there is the question of the Haqqani network too."

"Pakistan has to decide whether it wants to have writ of state in tribal belt and owns up this area or wants to continue compromising its sovereignty," he added.

He said Pakistan should pursue policies, which are good for the region and help in improving ties.

"India is another issue. Such aid is also irritating for India, but it does not mean that Pakistan should expect equal treatment from America. How we can expect that? It is unrealistic," he said.

Though the US aid packages are publicly questioned all the time in the corridors of power in Islamabad, with a call to "give more", or to "do more", Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi believes the "results" of the successful "strategic dialogue" would emerge soon.

To what extent this approval of a two billion dollar aid will help in bridging the sharp differences, is yet to be seen, as signals from the Pakistani Army are awaited after this important round of talks.

Important questions have been raised in the dialogue and answers are awaited to bridge the mistrust amid doubts and suspicions on both sides.

The next round of "strategic dialogue", scheduled in 2011, will be certainly different. By Ali Waqar (ANI)

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