|Ashfaq Kayani, Barack Obama
Washington, March 26: Securely hidden from public view, belying the head-butting, handshakes and the toasts between Americans and Pakistanis taking part in their first ministerial-level strategic dialogue this week, US president Barack Obama asked for the arrest of Hafiz Saeed, one of the masterminds of the Mumbai terror attacks in 2008.
Although the top-level Pakistani delegation to the talks, including chief of army staff General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani and foreign minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi, has been in Washington since Monday, Obama has not met any member of the delegation till the time of writing.
According to sources at the heart of the bilateral dialogue, however, during pre-talks, inter-agency discussions among US officials and key members of his cabinet at the White House, Obama made it clear that the US-Pakistan strategic partnership cannot be a partnership of hearts and minds unless the Pakistani government firmly targets Saeeds Lashkar-e-Toiba, which has acquired the image here of the next al Qaeda.
In taking a tough line on Saeeds arrest, which has been demanded by India, Obama disagreed with the views of the Pentagon, US intelligence agencies and sections of the state department led by special envoy for Pakistan, Richard Holbrooke, all of whom are for treating Pakistan with kid gloves on anything to do with India, including the Mumbai terror attacks.
The President appears to have been somewhat cornered into his hardline stand after a key hearing last fortnight of the South Asia sub-committee of the US House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee, at which every member of the panel — except one — called for heavy-handed action against the Lashkar by the Pakistanis.
This group of savages needs to be crushed, the highly respected chairman of the committee, Gary Ackerman, said at the hearing without mincing words.
Such was the strength of opinion against Islamabads double-dealing over Lashkar that even Shuja Nawaz, a Pakistani-American scholar whom Pakistani lobbyists had planted at the hearing as a witness, was forced to put the gloss that the former trainers and associates from the Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) perhaps now have an opportunity of independently working with the LeT.
This weeks strategic dialogue made absolutely no progress on the issue of a nuclear deal for Pakistan, similar to the one the US signed with India. The subject does not find even a passing mention in a joint statement released at the end of the talks.
In fact, an American source privy to the entire proceedings blamed the sudden brouhaha over a nuclear deal for Pakistan on a section of the Indian media that thought up the issue as a headline-grabbing curtain raiser for the talks.
The issue has been injected periodically by the Pakistanis into our talks directly and through third parties since 2006, conceded the source. This time the media asked about it at press conferences. If we are asked in public, we are not going to sour the mood by saying that Pakistan cannot have a nuclear deal. We have been diplomatic in public but very clear in private on this issue.
The Americans are understood to have told Qureshi and Kayani that Pakistan must first put in place proper export control laws which will give the US Congress some confidence that there is at least a fig leaf of rationale behind Islamabads request for a nuclear deal.In 1999, as talks between then Planning Commission deputy chairman Jaswant Singh and the US deputy secretary of state Strobe Talbott got under way on India's nuclear programme, the Americans similarly asked for new, water tight export control laws on Indian statutes as a guarantee against nuclear proliferation.
An expert on such laws was then posted to the US embassy in New Delhi for six months and she worked with Rakesh Sood, then joint secretary in South Block for disarmament, on new laws. That was six years before the US announced a nuclear deal with India.
This experience offers a road map for any such deal with Pakistan, if at all. Besides, an American source involved in the talks with Pakistan pointed out that "if this president had been in power in 2005, there would have been no nuclear deal even with India. So where is the question of him initiating any such deal for Pakistan?"