By K.N. Pandita
Susan Rice, President Obama’s National Security Adviser, who rarely goes on foreign trips unless necessary, was on one-day visit to Islamabad on Sunday, the 30th of August.
A recent VOA broadcast said that Rice had always planned to stop in Islamabad after two days of high-level talks in Beijing ahead of next month’s White House meetings between President Barack Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping.
Markedly, something necessitated her sudden one-day visit to Islamabad where, accompanied by Peter Lavoy, Senior Director for South Asian Affairs at US National Security Council, and Ambassador Richard Olson, she separately called on PM Nawaz Sharif, his National Security Adviser Sartaj Aziz and Pakistan Army Chief General Raheel.
Rice also delivered an invitation from Obama for Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to visit the US in October, the US National Security Council said.
The reasons for US top envoy’s emergency visit are severally explained. A press release from Pakistan PMO did not go beyond the unconvincing rhetoric of matters of bilateral interest and the future of Pakistan-US relations.
However, senior US official briefing reporters in Islamabad said Rice brought up this month’s rash of attacks that killed more than 50 people in the Afghan capital as an example of how “militants based in Pakistan continue to destabilize much of South Asia.”
“We think a series of recent deadly attacks in Kabul were perpetrated by the Haqqani network,” the official said. “This is absolutely unacceptable”, he added.
In 2011, the Haqqani network was described as a “veritable arm” of the Inter-Services Intelligence Agency by the then chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff.
The latest Kabul attacks came after the revelation that Taliban leader Mullah Omar was dead for two years, which derailed nascent peace talks initially hosted by Pakistan between the Taliban and the west-backed government in Kabul.
Reflecting on this situation, a senior US official said that militant attacks have “developed into a key point of regional friction. Addressing this challenge will be imperative for Pakistan’s relations with its neighbour and with Washington”.
Therefore, the reason for Rice’s hurried visit to Pakistan was aimed at discussing efforts to revive peace talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban, which were suspended after the announcement of the death of longtime Taliban leader Mullah Omar. In US calculus, Pakistan —that had hosted a previous round of direct talks in July – is believed to have influence over the insurgents in Afghanistan.
Talking to Geo News TV, NSA Sartaj Aziz said that the main reason for the delay in reviving talks was a leadership crisis in the Taliban after Mullah Omar’s death. The longtime Taliban leader was replaced by his deputy, Mullah Akhtar Mansoor, in a process that has been criticized by Mullah Omar’s family members. “It is not clear yet who is their leader, whom to talk to,” Aziz said.
This is one side of the story.US Security Adviser’s hasty visit to Islamabad has come at a time when regional situation has become very tense. On Pakistan’s west, Pakistan-based Haqqani terrorist group launched a massive attack in Kabul killing at least 50 persons. On her east, Pakistan-based LeT and other terrorist groups launched attacks in Gurdaspur and Udhampur-Srinagar Highway and in Rafiabad forests. Two Pakistani terrorists have been captured alive in these attacks. They have made startling revelations. India and the US have agreed to share terrorism related intelligence.
Indian Home Minister warned Pakistan that there was a limit to India’s patience and border firing and shelling that kills civilians was unacceptable. In all probability, Pakistan with a guilty conscience sees in this warning more than what meets the eye.
An indication suggesting Islamabad’s exasperation may be inferred from media reports which say that an amount of 300 million US dollars proposed as military aid to Pakistan could be held back if the US determines Pakistan is not doing enough to combat home grown terrorism – the Haqqani network, accused of some of the deadliest attacks in neighbouring Afghanistan and the LeT in Kashmir. Recently in Kashmir, apart from Pakistani flags, the flags of ISIS have also been fluttering when Islamists gather in crowds.
In a broadcast of August 30, the VOA said that U.S. National Security Advisor Susan Rice is in Pakistan to discuss a range of topics, “particularly terrorist and militant attacks emanating from Pakistani soil,”
In an incisive commentary, the VOA almost reached the bottom of Rice’s urgent visit to Islamabad. It said that local news reports speculated that the visit was arranged in response to the tensions with India following violent incidents in the Kashmir region.
Pakistan has sought American intervention to de-escalate brewing tensions with India as ongoing deadly skirmishes along the Line of Control (LoC) and working boundary set off alarm bells in the West amid talk of a possible limited war between the two nuclear-armed neighbours, the broadcast said.
The issue of souring Pakistan-India ties was one of the key points discussed during talks between US National Security Adviser and Pakistan’s top civil and military leadership on Sunday added the broadcast.
A senior Foreign Office official told The Express Tribune that Rice’s visit focused on bilateral issues as well as current regional situation, including worsening ties between Pakistan and India and unrest in neighbouring Afghanistan.
The official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, confirmed that the Pakistani leadership conveyed serious concerns to Rice on the escalating tensions along the LoC and working boundary. He said Premier Nawaz urged the US to play its role “in making India realize that such provocations were not in the interest of peace and stability.”
The Express Tribune has also learnt that the US national security adviser assured Pakistan that “her government would persuade New Delhi to come to the negotiating table without setting any preconditions.”
A diplomatic source revealed that the US is keen to arrange a bilateral meeting between the prime ministers of Pakistan and India next month on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly session in New York. The source said Rice’s visit is aimed at laying a necessary groundwork for the possible interaction between the two prime ministers.
The US is believed to be quietly pushing for rapprochement between the hostile neighbours on the grounds that further deterioration of Pakistan-India ties could undermine peacemaking efforts in neighbouring Afghanistan.
Pakistan Foreign Secretary Aizaz Ahmed Chaudhry, who attended the meeting at the Prime Minister House, confirmed that Islamabad had asked Washington to play its part in lowering tensions between the two neighbours.
Aizaz told a private news channel that Premier Nawaz has informed the US national security adviser about the Indian lukewarm response to Pakistan’s peace overtures and a policy of peaceful neighbourhood.
It is pertinent to note that according to Pakistani press, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif told the American envoy that if India dared an attack on Pakistan, India will have to suffer great losses. This expression reflects Pakistan’s fear psychosis.
In final analysis, what is easily inferred is that Pakistan has sought intervention in the light of fast deteriorating situation on Indo-Pakistan border and India’s determination to eradicate the menace once for all.
(The writer is the former Director of the Centre of Central Asian Studies, University of Kashmir, and India).