Mr. Sharif Comes to Washington

Pakistani Prime Minister, Mian Muhammad Nawaz Sharif, recently traveled to the United States for his second official visit since being elected as Prime Minister for the third term in 2013. Rounding up to the days of his visit, there was an expectation that the Prime Minister would be seeking to establish a civil nuclear deal similar to that between India and the United States. The topic was not only covered by US media but also by journalists and analysts in Pakistan and India as well. The talk of paving a way for a nuclear deal with Pakistan was being deemed a possible “diplomatic blockbuster.” Through the Joint Statement by President Obama and Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif issued by the White House, the visit comprised of no such surprises or big revelations. The two leaders discussed a wide array of topics pertaining to improving the economic, educational, and defence cooperation between the two countries. However, there were a few new notes that PM Sharif shared with Secretary John Kerry and President Obama on Pakistan’s successful efforts to curb terrorism, and exchange of dossiers on the involvement of Indian intelligence in destabilising Pakistan.

Despite the speculation that a 123 agreement was in the works, the closest the leaders came to speak of nuclear security was Pakistan’s commitment to engage in the Nuclear Security Summit in 2016. Major highlights of the talks were around the topic of counterterrorism and regional security. Pakistan, in June 2014, launched an independent counter-terrorism operation, Operation Zarb-e-Azb, in the Northern Waziristan region as part of its National Action Plan (NAP). During his speech at the United States Institute of Peace (USIP) and to the House Foreign Affairs Committee, PM Sharif reported quite confidently on the success of the operation. He mentioned that “terrorist sanctuaries” were targeted within the country and while “thousands (terrorists) have been killed or captured,” the “decisive stage” of the operation is targeting “sleeper cells.” President Obama was apprised of the success of the operation during the meeting and for the first time Pakistan also recognized the need to take action against Lashkar-e-Tayyiba and its affiliates which is “protected by Pakistani intelligence forces”.

PM Sharif met with Secretary Kerry to discuss issues of counterterrorism as well, although, the spotlight was on three separate dossiers shared with Secretary Kerry by Sartaj Aziz, Adviser of Foreign Affairs to PM Sharif. These dossiers contain information regarding India’s role in destabilizing Pakistan. Similar dossiers containing “details of Indian interference and support for terrorism in Balochistan and Karachi as well as its security and intelligence agencies link with the Tehrik-e Taliban Pakistan especially in FATA,” were reported to have been presented to UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon earlier in October 2015. This is the extent of the information that was presented at the UN through the Right of Reply at the UN General Assembly. However, it is unclear how this information is going to affect the relationship between India and Pakistan, as well as between India and the US. At USIP, Sharif also apprised the audience of India’s recent increase in ceasefire violations at the Line of Control. While there seems to be a deepening distrust between the two nations, Sharif, at USIP, also reiterated Pakistan’s commitment in undertaking the “peace initiative” that he had proposed to the UNGA in September 2015. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, is expected to visit Islamabad in 2016; the leaders will meet for the first time since the introduction of the peace initiative.

While PM Sharif’s visit was packed with speeches and meetings, there were some events that called the media’s attention to the visit. During the meeting between President Obama and PM Sharif, there were was an peaceful, and organized protest in front of the White House calling to end Pakistani occupation of Balochistan, that brought attention to the oppression faced by the Baloch people. Another interjection to his visit was when Baloch activist, Ahmar Masti Khan, heckled the PM during his speech at the USIP (while the clip of him being heckled made national news in India and Pakistan, USIP has since muted/edited their official coverage to remove the heckling and called Mr. Khan an “uninvited protestor.”). He used the slogan “Free, Free Balochistan,” and called PM Sharif “Bin Laden’s friend” while asking PM Sharif to “stop the war crimes in Balochistan.” The 2015 Human Rights Watch Report stated that the situation in Balochistan remains “abysmal” and that, while the civilian government was formed legitimately, the military in Pakistan is still deeply involved in Balochistan. Additionally, International Religious Freedom Report by the US State Department, enumerated various cases where law enforcement agencies were accused of oppressing religious minorities, of forced disappearances and of kidnappings in the region. While military leaders like Gen. Janjua have claimed that “the atmosphere of fear and harassment no more prevails in the province,” Human rights organizations are reporting a completely opposite narrative.

An otherwise uneventful trip, with no drastic changes from the status-quo relationship between Pakistan and the United States, was accepted as reaffirmation from the US of the Kerry-Lugar-Berman a.k.a. The Enhanced Partnership Pakistan Act of 2009 that involves a continued effort in “fostering a deeper, stronger, more multi-dimensional partnership.”