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Centre's U-turn on Ties With Pakistan Keeps Experts Guessing

The role of the US is under scanner ever since President Barack Obama spoke to Pakistan PM Nawaz Sharif and lauded him for taking strong action against terrorism.

Published: 16th February 2015 06:00 AM  |   Last Updated: 16th February 2015 07:36 AM   |  A+A-

Nepal South Asia Summ_Rich

Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, right, and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi (AP Photo)

NEW DELHI: The Narendra Modi Government’s move to send its Foreign Secretary S Jaishankar to Pakistan, six months after the last sojourn was cancelled, has led to much head-scratching, with experts trying their best to deconstruct the reasons for the change of heart. By and large, the US role is under the scanner.

A day before the Centre made the announcement to this effect on Friday, US President Barack Obama had spoken to Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and lauded him for taking strong action against terrorism.

Three days prior to the big announcement, US Ambassador Richard Verma had said in Mumbai that the US would “continue to work with India and Pakistan to promote dialogue, uproot terrorism and advance regional economic integration in South and central Asia”.

For retired Major General Afsar Karim, a strategic affairs expert, the de facto restart of talks is “not surprising”. “This is how diplomacy works,” he said. The veteran Indian Army official said, “The US has its influences but they could not be overblown.There must have been a lot of feedback to the government that this change in tack was required. There is a new Foreign Secretary, who must also have given his inputs.”

Meanwhile, Michael Kugelman, senior programme associate for South and Southeast Asia at Washington-based Woodrow Wilson Centre made it clear that he was sure that the Indian Prime Minister “would not resume talks with Pakistan just because Washington has told him to do so”. “He (Modi) has concluded that the time is right to resume talks -- this according to his watch, not Washington’s; and because of India’s interests, not Washington’s,” he asserted.

Kugelman also pointed out that Washington had publicly said it would like to see South Asia’s two key powers talk to each other. “This is because the core US interest on the subcontinent is stability, and the US administration believes that the stability can  be best achieved through relatively smooth relations between Islamabad and New Delhi,” he said.

Much of the US’ desire for “stability” springs from the withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan. The Ashraf Ghani Government is much more friendly towards Pakistan, though, it now seems to be a season of Pakistani officials divulging to the media the extent of state support to the Afghan Taliban.

Carnegie Endowment director (South Asia programme) Frederic Grare said “everybody” wanted the two countries to talk to each other, especially because of the nuclear dimension, but there was no clarity on what it would achieve.

“Nobody, including the US, is very clear as to what such a dialogue can or should be about,” he said. Grare felt that the time was ripe to reopen communication, as India has strongly conveyed to Pakistan its openness to dialogue and also the determination to act tough, if provoked.

“It may also make sense not to give Pakistani military a complete victory over the government on the issue of relations with India... No dramatic change should be expected, but there is no harm in talking,” he said.

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