US Team Likely to Visit Islamabad Soon
By Anwar Iqbal
Washington, DC: A US delegation is likely to visit Islamabad in the first week of August to discuss the new US strategy for South Asia with Pakistani officials, says Senator Mushahid Hussain Sayed.
The delegation would include officials from the US State Department and the National Security Council, said the lawmaker while addressing a group of mainly Indians and Pakistanis at a Washington think-tank, the Atlantic Council.
On Monday evening, the council’s South Asia Center arranged a conversation between two former information ministers from Pakistan and India — Mr Sayed and Manish Tiwari — to discuss whether or not “media diplomacy” could challenge the neighbors’ narrative.
Mr Sayed used the opportunity to talk also about the ongoing review of the US strategy for South Asia, praising the Trump administration for its decision to develop a new policy for the entire region, instead of clubbing Pakistan with Afghanistan.
The senator, however, disagreed with Washington’s claim that Pakistan was still allowing militants to use “safe havens” inside its territory for launching attacks into Afghanistan. “The US wants to scapegoat Pakistan for its failures in Afghanistan,” he said.
His conversation with Mr Tiwari, however, focused on relations between India and Pakistan and both politicians stressed the need for reducing tensions between the two neighboring states.
Both talked about the warmth that visitors from one country received when visiting the other and urged the media to tap these positive sentiments for improving ties.
Senator Sayed pointed out that South Asia was home to 20 per cent of humanity, which “needs more interaction, not negativism”.
While Mr Tiwari backed the suggestion to restart cricket matches between India and Pakistan, he said he was not sure if a cricket match between the two countries promoted peace or was seen as a mini-war between the two rivals.
Mr Sayed disagreed, citing the June 18 match during which a former Indian captain, Sourav Ganguly, defended the Pakistani team when a former Pakistani Test player attacked it.
Criticizing the policies of the Indian government, the senator urged New Delhi to understand that “size doesn’t equal strength; otherwise tiny Cuba couldn’t have stood up to the US”.
He also quoted from the Economist magazine, which said that in today’s India rising authoritarianism did “not allow for reasoned debate/discussion/dissent”.
Mr Sayed also asked India to be a part of “Asian century connectivity rather than the Cold War-style confrontation which has led to troubled ties with neighbors”.
He described China’s One Belt, One Road policy as the most important diplomatic and developmental initiative of the 21st century, and urged India to join in, instead of opposing it.
The senator said former US president Barack Obama failed to figure out a Pakistan policy, which created complications in the region. “We are now waiting to see how President Trump’s approach will be better or different,” he said.
The senator said that in India, a new narrative from the ruling party ideologues was being inserted into textbooks by eliminating references to the country’s Muslim past.
He said the Indian state’s Hindutva ideology was combining Muslim-bashing at home with anti-Pakistan animus, challenging peace and stability in the region. “Clarity in approach and common ground [are] needed,” he added.
“We as nations should have a strategic stake in each other’s economic development backed by the political leaderships,” the senator said, adding that improving ties with India had always been on the political agenda of the Pakistani governments.
Mr Tiwari, a senior Congress leader, asked Pakistan not to blame Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi but their own policy of “using terrorist groups as proxies for the current tensions between the two countries”.
“The infliction point in India-Pakistan relations was 26/11 [Mumbai attacks]. After 2008, irrespective of the fact that whether there was a UPA government or that was succeeded by a BJP-led NDA government, the relationship with Pakistan has been in a deep freeze,” he said.
“There is a very widespread feeling among the people of India, not limited to the government, that action against the perpetrators of 26/11 is a pre-requisite for forward movement between India and Pakistan.”
Mr Tiwari alleged that when Mr Modi spontaneously decided to land in Lahore to attend the wedding of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s granddaughter, the response was a terrorist attack on the Pathankot airbase in India. – Dawn