Donald Trump’s misadventure on Kashmir mediation notwithstanding, Tuesday headlines would mark the finality of de-hyphenation between India and Pakistan that the mandarins of South Block have so wished and assiduously worked for since independence. For, on a day that we celebrate achievements of ISRO scientists (led by a woman) shooting India to the Moon, Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan was in a huddle along with his generals taking dictations from the United States president.
The Saudi brokered working visit of Khan to Washington DC seals Pakistan’s status of a rentier state that literally eats off its geographical advantage. Make no mistake. America under Trump is in a global withdrawal, almost tilting against the windmills of globalization it only fanned. Leaving Afghanistan is one of the steps, and Pakistan’s location next-door and hands on the levers of the Taliban make it like friction, a necessary evil.
So, while Khan was trying to mimic a Madison Square Garden like shindig in DC, a top Trump administration official was briefing media about what they “expected” from the Pak PM. No grey areas there. Pakistan should come clean on the Taliban and make sure the drawdown of Americans from Afghanistan is trouble-free. Pakistan should make sure that Hafiz Saed, arrested umpteenth time, is not let go off again. Pakistan should facilitate India-Afghanistan trade through land-route passing through its territory. Pakistan should desist from supporting Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM), the Haqqani network, and more.
Trump invited Khan – minus any State visit paraphernalia – only to read out this to-do list. The Americans instructed Khan to travel with his generals, including ISI chief, so that nothing is lost in translation. After all, who knows better than the Yanks about the real power behind the throne in Pakistan?
The list is long but reveals American thinking on Pakistan with clearest contours. One, that Pakistan needs to be engaged for its geography, and for its harbouring of a rainbow of terror organizations. The readout calls the bluff of Pakistan in running with the hare and hunting with the hounds by clearly bunking its ‘we-too-are-victim’ card. Two, action against terror must be credible and irreversible. It goes on to the extent of asking for the release of Dr Shakil Afridi, the man who helped the United States locate 9/11 fugitive Osama Bin Laden in his Abbottabad hideout.
True to its status of a client state, Pakistan too has gone with its shopping list. Excluding India from the Afghanistan process, more doles from the World Bank (WB) and International Monetary Fund (IMF), unblocking of coalition support funds that Trump stopped on taking over, and preventing the blacklisting of Pakistan at the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) are some of them. Kashmir mediation is like the lollipop thrown at Khan by Trump in his true transactional style, with all sides knowing the toffee is beyond its use-by date.
Both India and Afghanistan, however, would be closely watching the outcomes of the visit. Even with some trepidation, for the build-up was not nice for both. Last fortnight has marked some of the most violent periods in Afghanistan conflict since 2001, with daily bombings killing scores. The writ of the Afghan government has shrunk to almost half or less with Taliban gaining ground daily. Trump administration declared the Baluchistan Liberation Army and a dozen other Baluchistan organizations involved in the Baluch freedom struggle.
But as I said in the beginning, while a complex diplomatic manoeuvre lies ahead for External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar and his team, America’s indulgence with Pakistan does not take away from the message of Tuesday headlines: India on Moon, while Pakistan remains Trump-struck.