US Secretary of State John Kerry offered a glimpse into Washington’s outlook on South Asia during his visit to Islamabad on Tuesday. By timing the strategic dialogue with Pakistan just ahead of President Barack Obama’s visit to India, the US was in a sense underlining the country’s importance in the region, from the standpoint of American interests and regional stability.
Washington and Islamabad drifted apart following the killing of Osama bin Laden, but the US realises that Pakistan’s cooperation is crucial for containing the Taliban in Afghanistan and for countering Pakistan-based terrorist groups that threaten western nations. Mr Kerry thus praised the Pakistan military for the sacrifices it is making while confronting al Qaeda and the Taliban, noted the significance of ongoing high-level contact between Pakistan and Afghanistan, announced $250 million in aid for emergency relief in tribal areas, and spoke about US’ commitment to build Pakistan’s economic capacity. But Mr Kerry also gently reminded his hosts about the threat that all terror groups, including the Haqqani network and the Lashkar-e-Taiba, pose to Pakistan, its neighbours and the US. India will particularly welcome this messaging, not only because it reaffirms American resolve about countering the LeT but also puts needed pressure on Pakistan to rein in Hafeez Saeed besides ensuring that Mumbai attacks mastermind Zakiur Rehman Lakhvi stays behind bars.
Mandarins in New Delhi may be less pleased with Mr Kerry’s exhortations on India-Pakistan ties. He said the US was concerned about firing along the Line of Control. He underlined that it is “profoundly in the interest of Pakistan and India” to move relations forward. India does not usually care about American pronouncements from Islamabad. But given the uncertainty in Afghanistan and the wider effects of Pakistan’s internal turmoil, it is not clear how long India and Pakistan can continue with armed hostilities and mutual diplomatic disdain without serious consequences.