Pakistan has officially disclosed that the Chief of Army Staff Gen Raheel Sharif handed over to the Americans during his fortnight-long visit to the United States in November “vital evidence of Indian involvement in subversive activities in Pakistan by using Afghan soil.”
What has been appearing so far in the realm of wild speculation, nonsensical allegations and/or mud-slinging to tarnish India’s impeccable image in the forefront of the war on terrorism is now threatening to become a major issue in the United States’ complicated ‘de-hyphenated’ relationships with India and Pakistan.
Yet, it didn’t appear to have cast a shadow on President Barack Obama’s visit to India, which is concluding later today. Kudos to the brilliant Indian diplomats. But conditions apply.
Could it be that Obama simply threw Gen. Sharif’s dossier into the dustbin in the White House? Or, could it be that Obama was blissfully kept in the dark about what Sharif handed over to the “top US intelligence and defence officials”?
Neither could be the case. What then explains it? To my mind, the clue lies in the US secretary of state John Kerry’s seemingly expansive last-minute decision to attend the ‘Vibrant Gujarat’ conclave in Ahmedabad (a bi-annual carnival projecting the western state of Gujarat as an alluring destination for investors) — and that too, just a handful of weeks or so before Obama was to travel to India.
Conceivably, Kerry settled for the stopover in Ahmedabad (en route to Pakistan), being one hundred percent certain that he’d run into Prime Minister Narendra Modi. In fact, he did. But what transpired at their meeting in Ahmedabad remains classified information.
However, according to Pakistani reports, Kerry’s mission to Ahmedabad had a focused agenda, which was not trade promotion but with the specific purpose of acquainting Modi privately with the explosive info that Gen Sharif had handed over a few weeks earlier. The reports say Pakistan has damned, in particular, India’s alleged dalliance with the Pakistani Taliban leader Mullah Fazilullah (who is linked to the Peshawar school attack recently.) If so, that was thoughtful diplomatic leg work on the part of the Americans. Washington would have hoped that once Kerry had raised the issue already with the Indian leadership at the highest level, there’d be no further need for Obama himself to spoil his mood by having to make an unpleasant demarche of such high sensitivity with Modi a fortnight later in Delhi.
If so, that was judicious foresight and planning, and things worked out wonderfully well for the American diplomats — kudos to them, too — because the climate of Obama’s visit has not been impaired in any way. The photo-ops, in fact, show that there was excellent chemistry between Obama and Modi and a convivial spirit, and they had only nice things to tell each other and they joked and laughed a lot.
Now, what happens to Gen. Sharif’s dossier? Apparently, the US has acted on it partly by declaring Mullah Fazlullah to be a ‘global terrorist’. (This followed Kerry’s stopover in Ahmedabad and his talks later in Islamabad.)
Indeed, by US law, if any foreign country messes around with Fazlullah from now onward, it becomes a bloody serious affair for Washington. The US has also promised to Pakistan help for the latter to grab Fazlullah (who is holed up in the fastness of southern Afghanistan) dead or alive – preferably dead, as Washington might not want to get entangled in India-Pakistan mud slinging.
Meanwhile, we will never know what Obama and Kerry actually think of the contents of the dossier that Gen. Sharif had handed over. Do they lend credence to it? One sign of the drift of things could be what I pointed out yesterday, namely, that Pakistan simply vanished from Obama’s agenda in Delhi. Pakistan doesn’t even figure in the joint statement on regional security.
Evidently, there is no meeting of minds between the US and India regarding Pakistan and the best things would be to keep mum. The US effort will be to sequester India’s Afghan policies from the mainstream efforts going on to foster Afghan-Pakistani amity and encourage the reconciliation process. (China is also lending a big hand here.)
All in all, looking ahead, it is highly improbable that the Modi government will want to defy the US regional strategies and play a ‘spolier’s role’ on such a vital issue as the stabilization of Afghanistan, which impacts international security and is a core foreign-policy issue for Obama personally. Arguably, India simply lacks the capacity to do that even if it wants to, in the downstream of the recent transition in Kabul to Ashraf Ghani’s leadership.
In sum, therefore, all that the US will expect the Indians to do will be that they should go for a walk in the Hindu Kush and return to Kabul only when the Taliban’s accommodation in the power structure has been accomplished. Come to think of it, that’s not a tall demand.