After a very long time, Pakistan has got an opportunity that is called the Strategic Dialogue, something the US had began with India in early 2000, immediately after the Kandahar Hijacking episode, that had ended on Dec 31st, 1999.
The mood then in Washington and New Delhi was ferocious and dismissive of Pakistan as a rogue state abetting terrorism. All four militants including Omar Saeed Sheikh and Maulana Masood Azhar did surface in Pakistan after their release, thereby giving both India and the United States the ruse to whip Pakistan all over.
Over a decade later, the US administration hosted Gen.Ashfaq Kayani and the foreign minister Qureshi for a strategic dialogue to chart a joint strategy against those forces of terrorism that had once curried huge favour with the Pakistani establishment.
The presence of Kayani in Washington and the attention he was accorded all over underscored a new reality; the US has Dialogue also underscores a new reality;
a) The US, at least for the time being, has stopped looking at Pakistan through the Indian prism, and has begun measuring Islamabad with its own eyes and ears. This means the Indian leverage has given way to a rethink within the US administration that it cannot ride on the Indian back for reconciliation in Afghanistan.
b) Pakistani military leadership has, it seems, succeeded in conveying its concerns and also convincing the American interlocutors that these concerns must be factored in any roadmap for conflict settlement in Afghanistan
c) Both the US and Pakistan appear to be on the same page as far as the future course of actions in Afghanistan is concerned.
d) The US also has seen through that the army remains the real power broker in Pakistan and has to be engaged while supporting the façade of the civilian rule and more importantly,
e) rather than looking at Pakistan as an irritant, the US is now compelled to look at it as a part of the solution, and perhaps a guardian of US-interests in the region together with India.
This situation as a whole augurs well for Pakistan. That is why most of the leadership indulged in chest-thumping as if they had conquered the world. It is indeed a big step forward in rehabilitating Pakistan within the American administration but regardless of the actual outcome in the months and years to come, the burden of the strategic dialogue rests on the shoulders of the Pakistani leadership altogether. It will depend on them as to how they can translate the dialogue into real opportunity.
Seen from the American perspective, the strategic dialogue is driven by its national interest i.e. extricating itself from the Afghan morass. For that the administration and the security establishment have decided to offer the “strategic hug” to Pakistan. This engagement will stay as long as the Americans think it serves their purpose. And rightly so, they are driven by their national interest, as they perceive it.
The current conditions dictate that the Pakistani leadership also acts prudently to optimally exploit this opportunity. Given the history of US administration’s engagement with countries such as Pakistan, it is quite imperative than ever before for Pakistanis to put their house in order in the context of the so-called “beginning of the end game in Afghanistan”.
Pakistan doesn’t have the luxury of time and free hand-outs any more. It shall have to move forward with a comprehensive 5 years plan as far as the dividends of the strategic dialogue are concerned. Anything beyond five years would be a bonus but if the civilian and military leadership can gear itself up for the pressing challenges and also put the national interest before their personal interests, they could convert the current dialogue into a real partnership even beyond five years. But for that they shall have to work hard, mend their ways of governance and optimally utilize the goodwill that Pakistan currently enjoys world over.
It shall also have to watch out that other countries don’t spoil the game and throw spanners into the Pak-US relations.
The dialogue offers Pakistan an opportunity to extricate itself from the cobweb of aspersions and allegations as far as nexus to certain militant organizations is concerned. The Haqqani network, Jaish-e-Mohammad or Lashkar-e-Taiba will continue to cast shadows on the military establishment and its outlook. It will be good to the interests-both of the establishment and those of country – to explain to the critics as to whether and why is there any tolerance or what so ever of such entities. Or whether these organizations will gradually face the music.
As of now, there seems no way around a firm expression of commitment and actions against the trans-boundary fusion of radical militant groups –including that between the Haqqanis, LeT, Al-Qaeda, and Jaish-e- Mohammad. These alliances represent a threat that meanwhile transcends regions and continents, and makes it imperative for the Pakistani state institutions to view them more critically than ever before. They cannot be partners in progress. This should be clear from the bloodbath that terrorists have created particularly since mid 2007, when the Lal Mosque Operation invited aggression and drew all shades of militancy closer than ever.