Kerry-Lugar, not much sugar

The United States has set the rules of good behaviour for Pakistan. It has assigned indicators to measure progress. The devil lies in between

There is a deluge of ‘analyses’ of the Kerry-Lugar bill in the Pakistani commentariat: barring some exceptions, you will find high polemic, rhetoric, idiom, metaphor and bravado. There is little by way of asking and answering who else is willing to provide financial life-support for the Pakistani government on more relaxed terms. After all, all the Friends of Democratic Pakistan met in New York last week, swore eternal goodwill and friendship, posed for the cameras but did not add much to what they had already promised. For all the outrage, it is rather unlikely that the Pakistani elite will suddenly stop cheating on their taxes and begin paying their water & electricity bills to help stand their broken republic, as the metaphor goes, on its own feet.

If, as expected, President Obama signs it into an Act, the legislation will require the US State Department to certify that the Pakistani government is on the straight and narrow in winding down nuclear proliferation and cross-border terrorism. Now, the Pakistani mindset sees these conditions—especially the mention of preventing attacks by “Lashkar-e-Taiba” and “Jaish-e-Mohammed” on “neighbouring countries”—as a sign that the United States has bowed to India’s concerns. But the hard-headed politicians in the US Congress don’t insert clauses on behalf of other countries—however friendly or strategic they might be—unless those clauses are first in the United States’ own interests. However, the Pakistani reaction, to the extent that the commentariat represents popular opinion, should rightly cause thinking Indians to challenge the lofty-softy premise that at the popular level, the Pakistani people—as against their ruling military-jihadi establishment—are against terrorist attacks in India originating from their soil.

From an Indian perspective, while a bill with such conditions is better than a bill with no such conditions, the fact remains that the Obama administration’s certification of Pakistan’s compliance will be subject to Washington’s foreign policy positions. Like the late 1980s when successive US presidents lied to Congress about Pakistan’s nuclear weapons, like the famous State Department list of state-sponsors of terrorism that still doesn’t include the worst of them all, certifications under the Kerry-Lugar legislation will depend on factors that transcend truth and factual accuracy.

The extent of the gap between fact and certificate will be an indicator of the Obama administration’s own exigencies. Periodic reporting requirements also allows US interlocutors to exert regular pressure on their Pakistani counterparts. But none of this will result in the military-jihadi complex abandoning its old agenda, strategies and tactics. If the Washington’s metrics are any good, they will reflect this. And then what? Another policy review?