In These New Times

A new paradigm for a post-imperial world

Britain to mediate US-Pak standoff

Posted by seumasach on June 8, 2012


8th June, 2012

Pakistan has strongly reacted to the latest statement by United States Secretary of State Leon Panetta that no matter Islamabad’s protests, the drone attacks on the tribal areas will continue. This shouldn’t come as surprise. If the painfully slow negotiations to repair US-Pakistan ties aren’t getting anywhere anytime soon, the main reason is the widespread indignation over the drone attacks in the public opinion, which the leadership in Islamabad cannot afford to ignore.

Of course, it was doubly inappropriate that Panetta made the statement from Indian soil. Equally, it is intriguing that Panetta made the much-publicised statement of the US “reaching the limits of our patience with Pakistan” in the course of a joint press conference in Kabul with Afghan defence minister Abdul Wardak.
The best explanation that can be given to Panetta’s outburst in Kabul is that he was probably deflecting attention away from the latest air strike by NATO on a wedding party in Logar province killing 18 civilians. But Panetta couldn’t have overlooked the shift in the regional context, which would make it almost impossible from now onward for Washington to ‘isolate’ Pakistan.
The Shanghai Cooperation Organisation’s intention to play a role in Afghanistan; SCO’s induction of Afghanistan as an observer (despite the US’ opposition to the idea); President Hamid Karzai’s visit to Beijing and the emerging Sino-Afghan strategic partnership; Chinese President Hu Jintao’s profound statement on Afghanistan (”We will continue to manage regional affairs by ourselves, guarding against shocks from turbulence outside the region, and will play a bigger role in Afghanistan’s peaceful reconstruction.”); strong push by Pakistan and India to seek SCO membership; warming up of Russia-Pakistan ties — all these are playing into the US’ predicament in Afghanistan and grating on the American nerve.
Simply put, Pakistan has gained much ’strategic depth’ vis-a-vis US. The fact thatNATO exaggerated the worth of its recent agreements with the Central Asian states on transit routes exposes the criticality of the reopening of the routes via Pakistan. There is indeed no viable option at affordable cost for the NATO to evacuate its war materials from Afghanistan except via the Pakistani routes; and, the Pakistani side realises it.
The weekend visit by the US assistant secretary in the dept of defence Peter Levy, followed by the arrival of British Foreign Secretary William Hague in Islamabad next week, underscores the sense of urgency in wrapping up the negotiations on the transit routes so that the schedule of withdrawal of the NATO troops from Afghanistan can be finalized. The crunch time has come. Whether Hague could succeed where the US failed so far, is the big question.

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