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AfPak riddle: India hopes for more US pressure on Pakistan

By Manish Chand, IANS,

New Delhi : The US’ new policy on Afghanistan and Pakistan has revived cautious hopes in India that Washington will be vigilant against the misuse of aid and exert greater pressure on Islamabad to dismantle the Taliban and Al Qaeda, sections of whom are linked to anti-India terror activities.

Broadly supportive of the regional approach towards stabilising Afghanistan and linking aid to Pakistan with its performance against terrorism, New Delhi is, however, cautious about other aspects of the Afghanistan-Pakistan policy (AfPak, as it is called in strategic circles) that includes persuading New Delhi and Islamabad to resume talks amid the unfinished business of bringing those behind the Mumbai terrorist attack to justice.

“The new policy is a recognition of the ground realities that Pakistan has not been fully cooperative in assisting the NATO forces in fighting the Taliban and Al Qaeda,” Brajesh Mishra, former national security adviser, told IANS.

“They are now focusing on Pakistan. Defeating the Taliban is definitely in the interests of India,” Mishra, a close aide to former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, underlined.

“If they really want to, they can put pressure on the Pakistan army which they can’t resist. After all, who finances the Pakistan army?” he said.

A senior Indian official, who did not wish to be named, told IANS: “We hope there is greater pressure on Pakistan to take action against terrorists. Linking aid to concrete action on the ground is a good way to hold Pakistan to account.

“But the devil lies in details. It’s hard to tell how effective it will be, given the past history of the diversion of these funds for anti-India activities,” he added.

According to sources, the US gave around $10 billion to Pakistan for combating terrorism during the seven years of the Bush administration, but these funds were used for bolstering the military and terrorist infrastructure.

The new AfPak policy announced by US President Barack Obama Friday envisages $1.5 billion per year to Pakistan for the next five years to build roads, hospitals and other civilian infrastructure and bolstering American troops and the Afghan National Army as key elements in the US strategy to win the war on terrorism in the region.

Obama has, however, made it clear that the aid will not be a “blank cheque”, but will be linked to action against high-level terrorist targets inside its borders.

Says Salman Haidar, a former foreign secretary of India: “There will be greater pressure on Pakistan to perform and not to thrive on ambiguities as it has done so in the past.”

“It will be difficult for Pakistan to continue with the dual game they have been carrying on for years,” Haidar added.

“We have to wait to see how they will actively implement the conditionalities,” C. Uday Bhaskar, a strategic expert, added on a cautionary note.

Strategic experts and diplomats have also welcomed the regional approach, as outlined in Obama’s policy, which also calls for setting up a contact group for stabilising Afghanistan and also includes key regional players like Iran, Russia, India and China besides the Central Asian states and the Gulf nations.

“It’s a fresh look at an old policy. We have to give it time,” said Major General (retired) Ashok Mehta, a keen Pakistan watcher.

Haidar considers the regional approach as a “step forward”, but said one has to wait how different players define their role and interests in the new arrangement.

However, a sub-text in Obama’s policy statement that nudges India and Pakistan to resume composite dialogue has tended to revive India’s old fears about the US trying to play an interventionist role in the garb of a regional approach to Afghanistan.

“The pressure will be on India to resume dialogue. In the past, it was conflict management. But now they seem to be talking about conflict resolution,” said Mehta.

“If America is unwise, they will push us to resume dialogue. This will not play out well in India,” said Haidar. We can also use this opportunity to push the US to pressure Pakistan to be more active against the perpetrators of the Mumbai attacks.

Mishra pointed to US National Security Adviser Gen James Jones’ clarification that the US will not involve itself in the Kashmir issue to underline that such worries are unfounded.