WASHINGTON: The Obama administration’s new strategy for Pakistan not only seeks a greater US engagement with the country but also tries to redefine its relations with neighbouring countries, a senior State Department official said on Monday while outlining salient features of the policy at a Washington think-tank.
Recent statements by other US officials also show that the new strategy envisages Pakistan as a Muslim democratic state but recognises the army as a key player in the country’s domestic affairs.
In these statements, the officials made no commitment to prop up the Zardari government and instead urged both opposition and government forces to promote a culture of political tolerance.
In a lecture at the Brookings Institution, Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg explained how the United States would like India to help Pakistan deal with the problem of extremism.
In return, the US expected Pakistan to recognise that terrorism, and not India, was its real enemy, he said.
‘I think it will be important for India to make clear that as Pakistan takes steps to deal with extremists on its own territory that India will be supportive of that,’ Mr Steinberg said.
But he acknowledged that it would not be easy to reduce tensions between South Asia’s two nuclear-armed neighbours.
‘There is obviously a complex history between the two countries but we will encourage India to see that it has a big stake in the efforts that we will be advocating to work both with Afghanistan and Pakistan,’ he said.
The Obama administration is expected to unveil its new strategy on fighting extremists in Afghanistan and Pakistan later this week. Earlier Monday, US Special Envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan Richard Holbrooke met America’s Nato allies to outline the new policy.
Ambassador Holbrooke, Senator John Kerry and other officials and lawmakers have indicated earlier that in the new strategy the Obama administration will seek to drastically increase US aid to Pakistan.
This means that the non-military assistance could rise to three times the current $450 million a year. Military aid, now running at $300 million a year, could also rise, although by a lesser amount.
Senator Kerry, supports giving an extra $1.5 billion a year in non-military aid to Pakistan over five years, amounting to a total of $7.5 billion. US officials say that this increase will be linked to a broad-based US programme focusing on the building up of infrastructure and on economic development to fight extremism.
American officials familiar with the new strategy say that Washington also wants to strengthen democratic institutions in Pakistan, pointing out the country has been ruled by the military for more than half of its 61 years of existence.
The officials noted that the US played a key role in defusing tensions between President Asif Ali Zardari and opposition leader Nawaz Sharif earlier this month.
US policymakers fear Pakistan’s political turmoil could destabilise the country, enabling militants to access nuclear weapons. They also fear that turmoil in Pakistan could worsen an already tense situation in Afghanistan.
The US administration, however, conveyed to the rulers in Islamabad that their commitment is to democracy and not to an individual. That’s why they disliked Mr Zardari’s efforts to debar the Sharif brothers from politics.
During the judicial crisis, the Americans maintained a regular contact with the Pakistan Army, encouraging it to play an effective role in defusing a potentially explosive situation.
Diplomatic observers in Washington have noted that the crisis forced the Americans to continue to see the army as the only stable institution in Pakistan.
They, however, made it clear that while the US appreciates the role the army played in the judicial crisis, an army takeover would not be welcome. The US, they argued, would welcome the army as a player as long as it is in support of democracy.