A visit not announced in advance by either country, Secretary of State John Kerry will be arriving in Islamabad, Pakistan for what will likely be a series of strategic talks on a number of topics important to the region. Probably not revealed as a stop on this tour for the sake of security, it has now been confirmed that he will be arriving Monday for two days and that he will likely be meeting with Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif after landing.
It is believed that this trip could be instrumental in defining the nature of the relationship going forward between the U.S. and Pakistan now that the American combat mission in Afghanistan is officially ended. President Obama has been initiating a strategic dialogue with Pakistan to discuss any number of areas of cooperation between the two countries. The topics range from energy conservation to trade topics. One of the reasons this dialogue was begun was to branch out with respect to areas of common cause beyond what has perennially been perceived as a partnership based solely on security issues.
That said, the reality of the situation is that whatever progress is made toward the goal of expanding the relationship, the subject of security is not going to be far from the table. Kerry will be dealing with the fact that Pakistan continues to express concerns that the U.S. is repeating the mistakes of the past with Afghanistan, and that they will be leaving the region unsupported. Kerry’s visit is meant, at least in part, to reassure Pakistani officials that this withdrawal will be different from the last one, and that the U.S. will still be around.
It is also expected that the topic of relations with India will also come up. Kerry has just completed a visit there, and is expected to push for talks between the two countries as he did with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The two countries are currently experiencing a high level of tension between them after Pakistani civilians were killed in a recent shooting incident involving border skirmishes with India. Kerry will be meeting with Indian military representative General Raheel Sharif to discuss these and other issues involving safety and military actions in the area.
It could be a coup for Kerry if he were able to have an impact on the ongoing battles going on in the region at the borders. It may be little more than a pipe dream, however. The U.S. announcement that it was increasing civilian and military support for Pakistan based on their performance in assisting to counter terrorist organizations anc activities in the country. India has immediately responded to that announcement with a statement of their own claiming exactly the opposite. They point to what they perceive as a poor handling of interactions with groups like Jaish Muhammad or Lashkar-e-Taiba. Pakistan, of course, claims that they are fighting terrorism without prejudice.
If John Kerry is able to wade through the security concerns and participate in this strategic dialogue in this visit, it will go a long way toward convincing people in Pakistan that the U.S. is interested in investing in the country for other reasons than simply military strategy. It may well be that the most strategic talks being held in the next two days will involve trade and tourism rather than military concerns.
Image courtesy of Ralph Alswang – Flickr License
By Jim Malone