WASHINGTON (TIP): Pakistan Prime Minister must be a disappointed man. His bilateral with US President Barack Obama is being viewed as a diplomatic failure. India has watched the Sharif-Obama summit in Washington keenly, and while it is clear that Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif returns to Islamabad without any big announcement to show for the bilateral, and no progress on US-Pakistan civil nuclear negotiations, there are many parts to the 2015 joint statement issued by the two that could be worrisome for India.
Here are the key statements in the US-Pakistan joint statement which may cause concern to India.
1. Hydroelectric projects in PoK/Gilgit-Baltistan
President Obama expressed support for Pakistan’s efforts to secure funding for the Diamer Bhasha and Dasu dams to help meet Pakistan’s energy and water needs.
India has opposed the construction of hydro-electric projects in the disputed region of Kashmir that includes PoK and Gilgit-Baltistan. Most recently, External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj had called the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) unacceptable because it includes these projects, while India had told the UNGA that “India’s reservations about the proposed China-Pakistan Economic Corridor stem from the fact that it passes through Indian territory illegally occupied by Pakistan for many years.”
In recent years, the 4,500 m W Diamer Bhasha dam (DBD) project, that the Pakistan government says will halve its electricity shortfall when constructed, had come to a standstill over funding. In 2013, prospective investors – the ADB, China and Russia – had asked Pakistan to obtain an NOC (No objection certificate) from India before they could proceed on loans. Even after the announcement of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor by President Xi Jinping for projects including dams in PoK in April 2015, China has shown a preference for the $1.6 billion Karot project, rather than DBD, which would now cost an estimated $14 billion. It is significant that the US wants to play ‘White Knight’ on these two dams, and for India, the construction of major projects like these endorsed by the US would be a blow to its claim on PoK. Earlier this month, reports suggested India had protested over a USAID event aimed raising funding for DBD, where US firm Mott McDonald has been contracted to perform a technical engineering review.
2. Talks with the Taliban
President Obama commended Pakistan for hosting and facilitating the first public talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban in July 2015 and highlighted the opportunity presented by Pakistan’s willingness to facilitate a reconciliation process that would help end insurgent violence in Afghanistan.
India has felt cut out of the Taliban peace process, and relations with President Ghani’s government underwent a strain when New Delhi learned that Pakistan would be allowed to host the talks in Murree. “This is an open acknowledgement that Pakistan controls the Taliban,” a senior official had told The Hindu at the time, “And rather than castigate Pakistan for not curbing the Taliban’s violence, these talks will legitimize its actions.”
When the talks collapsed over the announcement of Mullah Omar’s death, it was felt Pakistan’s claim of being a ‘peacemaker’ rather than a sponsor of Taliban-terror would end. However, despite a surge in violence by the Taliban, including the brutal siege of Kunduz that was overthrown by Afghan and US special forces last month, the Joint statement seems to indicate the US is prepared to let Pakistan host the talks again.
3. Resume India-Pakistan talks
President Obama and Prime Minister Sharif stressed that improvement in Pakistan-India bilateral relations would greatly enhance prospects for lasting peace, stability, and prosperity in the region. The two leaders expressed concern over violence along the Line of Control, and noted their support for confidence-building measures and effective mechanisms that are acceptable to both parties. The leaders emphasized the importance of a sustained and resilient dialogue process between the two neighbors aimed at resolving all outstanding territorial and other disputes, including Kashmir, through peaceful means and working together to address mutual concerns of India and Pakistan regarding terrorism.
For over a decade, the US has stayed away from openly pushing India towards talks with Pakistan. In the period between 2003-2008, this was because India and Pakistan were engaging each other, and both the composite dialogue and back-channel diplomacy yielded many important confidence building measures between them. After the Mumbai 26/11 attacks, the US recognized India’s legitimate anger over the attacks being planned and funded in Pakistan, and abstained from making any comments on the resumption of India-Pakistan dialogue, restricting itself only to “welcoming” talks between their leaders in Thimphu, Delhi, New York and Ufa. The US-Pakistan joint statement doesn’t just put the importance of “sustained and resilient dialogue process” (codeword for comprehensive dialogue) back in focus, it makes a new mention of “violence along the LoC” which India squarely blames Pakistan for initiating. India believes ceasefire violations are aimed at “infiltrating terrorists”, a charge the government repeated when the NSA talks were cancelled. Of particular worry for India will be the US-Pakistan joint statement’s reference to “mutual concerns of terrorism”, as it comes in the wake of Pakistan’s latest claims of Indian support to terrorism inside Pakistan. Pakistan NSA Sartaj Aziz had told the press that Indian agency “involvement” in Balochistan and FATA would be taken up during the summit.
4. Action on LeT?
In this context, the Prime Minister apprised the President about Pakistan’s resolve to take effective action against United Nations-designated terrorist individuals and entities, including Lashkar-e-Tayyiba and its affiliates, as per its international commitments and obligations under UN Security Council resolutions and the Financial Action Task Force.
Action against the LeT has been India’s most sustained demand from Pakistan, especially after the 26/11 attacks, when the LeT’s top leadership was charged with planning and executing the carnage in Mumbai. Yet years later, chief Hafiz Saeed is free, LeT operations chief Zaki Ur Rahman Lakhvi is out on bail, and there seems little evidence that Pakistani forces have conducted any sort of crackdown on the Lashkar e Toiba, especially when compared to action against other groups after the Peshawar school attack of December 2014. While the US-Pakistan joint statement doesn’t note President Obama’s acceptance of Pakistan’s claims of keeping its “international commitments and obligations”, it is significant that the US has not raised the obvious violation of the UNSC and FATF requirements earlier this year during the bail process of Lakhvi. Despite Indian representations to the US and UN, there has been little pressure on Pakistan how Lakhvi raised the funds when according to the UNSC 1267 Committee rules, a designated terrorist cannot be allowed recourse to finances.
5. Nuclear talks
The leaders noted Pakistan’s efforts to improve its strategic trade controls and enhance its engagement with multilateral export control regimes. Recognizing the importance of bilateral engagement in the Security, Strategic Stability and Non-Proliferation Working Group, the two leaders noted that both sides will continue to stay engaged to further build on the ongoing discussions in the working group.
Both, the US and Pakistan, have denied a report in the Washington Post that they had planned what it called a “diplomatic blockbuster”: negotiations over a civil nuclear deal on the lines the US and India signed in 2005. Pakistan’s foreign secretary reacted to the report with a detailed account of Pakistan’s “low-yield tactical nuclear weapons” aimed at India, to calm fears in Pakistan that the government was giving up its weapons program. Even so the details in the Post have left lingering doubts over what the US intends, including pushing for a possible NSG waiver for Pakistan in exchange for limiting Pakistan’s missile capability. The report goaded the MEA into counseling the US on taking a closer look at Pakistan’s past on supplying nuclear weapons to North Korea and Iran, “Whosoever is examining that particular dossier should be well aware of Pakistan’s track record in proliferation. And when India got this particular deal, it was on the basis of our own impeccable non-proliferation track record,” the MEA spokesperson said on October 9, given that India will watch this space closely, particularly the phrase on “engagement with multilateral export regimes” mentioned in the US-Pakistan joint statement.