The South Asia Channel

Kerry visits Sharif and resumes “strategic dialogue” with Pakistan

Kerry visits Sharif and resumes “strategic dialogue” with Pakistan

First visit

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry landed in Islamabad late on Wednesday night to begin an unannounced three-day visit with Pakistani officials that aims to reset ties between the two countries and address a number of issues, including counterterrorism, economic reforms, energy, regional stability, and trade and investment (NYT, Pajhwok, Reuters, VOA).  Kerry’s visit, his first as the U.S.’s top diplomat, marks the first time a Secretary of State has visited Pakistan since 2011, when relations between the two countries soured following the U.S. Special Forces raid that killed Osama bin Laden.  

Kerry met with a number of senior Pakistani officials on Thursday, including Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, whom he invited to Washington to meet with President Obama (BBC, Reuters).  In a press conference with his Pakistani counterpart, Sartaj Aziz, Kerry announced "a resumption of the strategic dialogue in order to foster a deeper, boarder and more comprehensive partnership between our countries" (AP, Dawn).  During the meetings, Sharif and Aziz both brought up the issue of CIA drone strikes in the country’s tribal areas, reiterating their stance that they violate Pakistani sovereignty and hurt the countries’ relationship (ET).  Kerry responded that terrorist elements like al-Qaeda and its leader, Ayman al-Zawahiri, also challenge Pakistan’s sovereignty.  Kerry is also expected to meet with Gen. Ashfaq Kayani, Pakistan’s army chief, and President Ali Asif Zardari.  

Diplomatic progress in the region continued on Thursday when Sujatha Singh, India’s new Foreign Secretary, suggested that stalled peace talks between Pakistan and India would resume now that Sharif is in office (AFP).  Speaking to reporters during her first day on the job, Singh said, "We will be picking up the threads from where we left off with the old government," but added that any discussion with Islamabad "presupposes an environment free of violence and of terror."  Sindh’s comments echoed those of India’s foreign minister, Salman Khursid, who recently said progress could only move forward if Indian concerns over "some recent unforeseen incidents" were addressed (WSJ).  Relations between the two nuclear-armed neighbors soured in January after skirmishes along the Kashmir border.

Tax-exempt

Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr., the commander of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan, announced on Thursday that the coalition had reached an agreement with the Afghan government on issues surrounding the Military Technical Agreement (MTA), particularly the controversial issue of customs tariffs (Pajhwok, S&S). As reported by the Washington Post last month, the Afghan government began fining the U.S. military $1,000 for each shipping container that didn’t have a validated customs form, a policy that could have led to around $70 million in fines.  Afghanistan’s Cabinet approved the Ministry of Finance’s recommendation to waive the penalties and fines as the MTA, which was signed in 2002, exempts ISAF from providing routine customs documents on materiel. 

Responding to questions about the Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA) between the United States and Afghanistan during his press conference in Islamabad, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said he was hopeful that it would be "completed in an appropriate time" (Pajhwok).  The agreement will determine the size and shape of an American military presence in Afghanistan post-2014 and Kerry told reporters that he was comfortable with where the two sides were.  Afghan President Hamid Karzai halted talks on the BSA in June after the Taliban opened a political office in Doha, accusing the U.S. of breaking its promises on the issue.  

Four Afghan policemen were "mistakenly" killed and two were wounded in an airstrike by Afghan Special Forces in Nangarhar province on Wednesday night during a clash with insurgents (Pajhwok).  Multiple Afghan officials confirmed the incident, though they would not elaborate on the "wrong information" that led to the deaths.  ISAF representatives also verified the strike and said an investigation into the incident was ongoing. 

Though many Westerners like to think that the foreign presence in Afghanistan has created a generation ready to embrace democracy, liberalism, and equal rights, the New York Times reports that many Afghan youths remain attached to their society’s conservative ways, particularly with regard to women (NYT).  The report cites several examples, including the female protest against a recently proposed law designed to protect Afghan women’s rights.  One protestor in particular, Saida Hafiz, said the law was against Islamic and ethical values, and that if passed, Afghan society would become as "morally corrupted" as that in the West.  Afghan progressives, however, remain hopeful, noting that this is a mentality that has been prevalent for centuries, and that the 12 years since the fall of the Taliban hasn’t been long enough to change it.

Take 2

In recognition of the "slow but steady drip" of new Pakistani films that are set to hit theaters in the next few months, Pakistan’s Dawn newspaper has created an extensive page dedicated to Pakistani cinema (Dawn).  The page provides a timeline of key films, interviews with filmmakers about their motivations and processes, and commentary on a variety of issues, including Pakistan’s cinema culture in general, as well as its history of censorship.  

–Bailey Cahall