Pakistan’s Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s joyless run in office continues. Consider the setbacks he has endured over the last year or so. He has had to contend with sustained protests staged by Imran Khan and others, endure the consequences of the army’s offensive against militants in North Waziristan, witness the Peshawar school massacre last December and face criticism over his handling of relations with India after New Delhi curtly called off bilateral talks twice. And lately Mr Sharif has been overshadowed by Pakistani army chief Raheel Sharif owing to the latter’s active involvement in relations with Afghanistan and counterinsurgency operations within Pakistan.
Nawaz Sharif’s trip to the United States last week also did little to bolster his political authority, although it had its uses for Pakistan. The visit was preceded by chatter about the possibility of a US-Pakistan nuclear deal , along the lines of what was offered to India. The reasoning in Washington was that such a deal would keep a tab on Pakistan’s nuclear programme in return for a similar status to India’s.
That did not materialise, which is not a surprise as many in Pakistan would be alert to its strategic implications. There were no defence deals either, although it remains to be seen if they will be announced during General Sharif’s forthcoming US visit. In fact the thrust of the joint statement after Mr Sharif’s visit was mostly on American assistance to Pakistan’s economy and infrastructure, highlighting cooperation in education and energy. The statement does not outline any grand vision, likely owing to the US’ fatigue with Islamabad’s inability or unwillingness to do more on terrorism, but equally it underlines that Washington needs to continue dealing with Pakistan as its location makes it critical for achieving other regional objectives. Regardless of the advances that the Taliban has made recently, Washington still sees Pakistan as the key for facilitating talks between the insurgents and Kabul, something that will displease India.
New Delhi will also not take kindly to other elements in the statement, such as the US support for Pakistan’s effort to secure funding for the Diamer-Bhasha dam in Gilgit-Baltistan. India usually objects to major development projects in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir but it will privately understand Washington’s rationale to not allow China complete sway in Pakistan’s modernisation, in view of the proposed China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, which runs through the province. The statement also stresses improvement in India-Pakistan ties and calls for a “sustained and resilient dialogue”, which New Delhi is not keen on unless certain conditions are fulfilled. The MEA will particularly take umbrage at the equivalence implied in the line that asks both sides to address “mutual concerns” on terrorism.