Overtures from Washington
There are clear and unmistakable signs of a possible thaw emerging between Washington and Islamabad, with the head of the US Central Command expected to visit the Pakistani capital this month. Both sides are counting the threads of converging interests and a strategic rethink is taking shape on Pakistan’s possible role in US talks with the Taliban.
The deadly Nato attack on a Pakistani border post on November 26 last year had virtually frozen the relationship at both political and military levels, leaving the US to embark on a solo journey in uncharted waters as Washington engaged the Taliban for the first time without the help of Pakistan’s military and security establishment.
But the two months of estranged relations provided both sides an interlude of silence and gave them much needed time to pause and re-think. And with announcement from Washington on General James Mattis’s visit, the US has indicated that it is ready to “deal” with Pakistan on a post-conflict Af-Pak theatre.
The Salala check-post strike produced two clear geo-strategic casualties. Pakistan severed Nato’s supply route, forcing the US to shift to the alternate northern corridor, and the US could no longer benefit from Pakistan’s leverage with the Taliban as it proceeded to engage them in talks.
Though the suspension of the Nato supply line didn’t hurt the US in Afghanistan as much the general public and media in Pakistan would like to believe, the second factor is hurting Washington. America will need Pakistan to bring to the negotiating table those factions of the Afghan Taliban that could continue to play the role of spoilsport, rather than being actual stakeholders. The US would like Pakistan to oversee these very elements and, if possible, bring in more radical elements who may have the capability to destabilise a post-settlement Afghanistan. Perhaps that is why the US sees Pakistan’s role vital in these peace talks.
For Pakistan, however, the stakes and interests are much higher. It would like to have a certain and definitive role for Afghan Pashtuns who are more likely to be more sympathetic to it than other ethnic groups in Afghanistan. The current friendly overtures do not mean that Washington has acceded to whatever Pakistan was trying to achieve from this peace process. They probably mean that the US has decided to talk to Pakistan on its concerns, offer some leverage and possibly some role during the talks and get Islamabad to agree to the outcome.
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