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Home > India > News > Report

'The change in Pakistan will boost Indo-Pak talks'

Aziz Haniffa in Washington, DC | February 28, 2008 16:34 IST
Last Updated: February 28, 2008 16:37 IST

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Former CIA analyst and erstwhile Congressional staffer Lisa Curtis, currently a Senior Research Fellow at the conservative Heritage Foundation in Washington, DC, is a rising star in think-tank circles on South Asian affairs and has been prolific in putting out well-researched reports, analyses and web memos on events in the subcontinent from the US-India civilian nuclear deal to Islamic extremism in Pakistan so much so that she is a much sought after source for analysis and commentary in the media.

Less than two years since leaving the Senate Foreign Relations Committee where she was the senior adviser on South Asian affairs for then chairman of the panel Republican Senator Richard Lugar, besides publishing op-eds in virtually all of the leading mainstream newspapers in the US and appearing on CNN to Fox News and CBS to MSNBC, Curtis is also called upon regularly to testify before Congressional committees both in the House and Senate on topics related to Pakistan and the US image abroad.

Curtis also has served as a member of the US Foreign Service in the US embassies in Pakistan and India in the mid 1990s and in 1996 she earned a Meritorious Honour Award from the State Department for her role as the embassy point person in a year-long, four-nation endeavor to free hostages held by militants in Kashmir.

Excerpts from an interview with Lisa Curtis:

Is this the end of the road for President Pervez Musharraf [Images]? Is it only a question of time before he's either pushed out for decides to quit?

Musharraf's fate lies with the new parliament, which will be led by the PPP. It is too early to say whether Musharraf will be forced to resign from the Presidency, but his influence will almost certainly decline in the coming weeks and months. While Asif Zardari and other smaller parties in the governing coalition might be inclined to work with Musharraf, Nawaz Sharif will continue to press for the reinstatement of the independent judges, and his party's strong showing in the election gives him significant leverage at the political bargaining table. If the judiciary is reinstated, it is likely they will rule against the legitimacy of Musharraf's Presidency, and he would have no option but to resign.

How does the US now prosecute the war on terror, given that Musharraf is now not much of a player anymore?

I doubt much will change regarding on-the-ground operations in the tribal areas. The Pakistan military has 100,000 troops in the region, supported by US assistance. Zardari's comment that he wants to negotiate with the militants is aimed at Pakistani domestic audience, and it is not clear how this policy is any different from Musharraf's truces with the extremists, which, by the way, failed miserably and ended up strengthening Al Qaeda [Images] and Taliban forces in the region. It is unrealistic to think Pakistani authorities will be able to negotiate away the terrorist problem in the tribal areas. These are dangerous forces responsible for the string of suicide bombings that have killed hundreds of Paistanis over the last eight months. When the new civilian leaders actually sit down and evaluate options for countering terrorism, they will realize that military operations are necessary to confront some of these terrorist elements.

Now that Musharraf in the eyes of the US, may be a spent force, despite Washngton's investment in him, have they got to move quickly to cultivate General Kayani, who after all, is Musharraf's personal appointee and obviously has had interactions with senior US officials over the years, considering that he was also the head honcho of the ISI?

Senior US military and intelligence officials have already started to engage with General Kiyani and US-Pakistan military contacts are likely to remain stable. It is the new civilian leadership that the US needs to focus on now. US officials need to demonstrate they are ready, willing, and eager to work with the new civilian leaders. The US has to prove to the Pakistani people it has faith in the newly elected governments and is not clinging to Musharraf, since that has long been the perception in Pakistan.

How will the US deal Zardari, who will now essentially be the person who will be calling the shots, and considering his track record, doesn't  someone like Musharraf seem awfully preferable now?

Zardari does have a controversial past and has the potential to be a divisive figure even within his own party, but I think his statement about not wanting to be prime minister will help calm concerns on this front. He has so far played a statesman-like role, for example calming ethnic tensions in the wake of his wife's assassination.

What do you make of Nawaz Sharif's party's performance? Isn't this a sort of direct slap on the face of the US and a plus for Saudi Arabia -- because after all, in a sense he was their man and it is no secret they were not so thrilled with the US pushing for Benazir and the alliance with Musharraf?

The vote in favour of Nawaz Sharif's party is a referendum on Musharraf and his rule over the last year. Nawaz garnered a lot of votes for his support of the lawyers' movement and the return of the independent judiciary. There is a long history of the US working with Nawaz and many of his party leaders over the years and the US should be reaching out to these contacts. Nawaz should not be viewed as an extremist and his party supporters are no closer to the religious parties than many of Musharraf's supporters from the PML/Q were. Nawaz's past stints as prime minister must be taken in their totality. The US did frown on his introduction of legislation to establish Shariah law in Pakistan. But Nawaz was also responsible for preventing the Kargil crisis from escalating into full-scale war with India and relied on the US to help Pakistan walk back from that confrontation.

What will all this do to the composite dialogue with India?

The Indo-Pakistani dialogue process had been disrupted by the political uncertainty in Pakistan over the last year. The election will help end that uncertainty and therefore provide an opportunity for a new government to re-start the dialogue. Both sides seem eager to re-engage but will have to wait until the new government finds its footing. Musharraf made tremendous progress in developing a more flexible position on Kashmir that facilitated the talks. The hope is that this process will continue.