Gordian knot, indeed


While optimism is being expressed about the outcome of the ongoing talks between the US and Pakistan, there must be no doubt that the differences are going to be a hard nut to crack All the more so because neither side is willing to withdraw from its maximalist position. After putting up with drone attacks for nearly four years, sometime protesting, at others simply ignoring, Pakistan now wants the attacks to be stopped forthwith while it also demands a drastic cut in the number of undercover CIA operatives. The Raymond Davis affair and the drone attack in South Waziristan soon after the return of the DG ISI from Washington turned out to be the last proverbial straw that breaks the camel’s back. For the US, the core issue is the perceived support provided by elements in the ISI to the Haqqani network of terrorists who are considered to be posing the most difficult challenge to the US and its allies in Afghanistan. It is maintained that the group is considered by the ISI as its safest bet for retaining influence in Afghanistan after a US withdrawal. Other issues include the avowed interlinking of the LeT, JuD, TTP and Al-Qaeda into a combine which has developed a global reach. While the differences persist, the US has made it clear there would be no respite to the drone attacks or to the covert CIA activity in Pakistan and its tribal areas.
Ambassador Haqqani is, however, upbeat about the outcome of the talks maintaining that matters would be resolved to the satisfaction of Pakistan. He seems to believe that things will be settled once the US is persuaded that the differences are not on any substantive issue but are simply an outcome of perceptions. But is the issue that simple? The type of post-2014 arrangement the Pakistani establishment desires in Afghanistan is not acceptable to the US nor is the one envisioned by the US liked by Islamabad.
While both sides are adamant on their positions, they have limited options, particularly in the case of Pakistan. One side is hinting at closing down the Shamsi airbase. The other is insinuating at involving India in dealing with terrorism in tribal areas. There is a need to avoid taking the differences to a point of no return. In case the present talks fail to cut the Gordian knot, attempts should continue to narrow down the differences.