US-Pakistan ties to be a priority for John Kerry

Congressional portrait with U.S. flag in the b...

Congressional portrait with U.S. flag in the background (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


By Ali Imran

WASHINGTON – US-Pakistan relationship is likely to remain a key priority at the State Department under John Kerry as President Barack Obama works to end the Afghan war and maintain a broader focus on Asia in his second term.

An analysis of Obama’s remarks at the formal nomination of Kerry for the post of secretary of state and reports in the American media point to the importance Washington would continue to assign to Pakistan and Afghanistan in the years ahead that include 2014 combat drawdown timeframe.

Obama, who began his remarks with the observation that the United States is winding down the Afghan war, looked at the work ahead for Kerry this way:

“As we turn the page on a decade of war, he (Kerry) understands that we’ve got to harness all elements of American power and ensure that they’re working together — diplomatic and development, economic and political, military and intelligence — as well as the power of our values which inspire so many people around the world.”

Islamabad’s importance to smooth military drawdown from Afghanistan and its influential role in respect of an enduring reconciliation effort in Afghanistan has enhanced the importance of US-Pakistan relations. The two sides are working to repair the strained ties in the backdrop of a spate of disputes last year.

As chief US diplomat, Kerry will also have to deal delicately with the US relationship with South Asian nuclear neighbors Pakistan and India both in the context of Afghanistan’s future and  expectations that Islamabad and New Delhi have from Washington in their respective bilateral relations. Although Pakistan and India have been working to improve the South Asian environment, some of the major underlying causes of disputes including Kashmir remain unresolved.

Kerry has been a regular visitor to the South Asian region and in a highly charged political environment on the Capitol Hill, the senator, who heads the Foreign Relations Committee, has been more persuasive in his arguments : weighing in on policy priorities in  a realistic fashion that balance views and expectations vis-a-vis complex ground realities obtaining in the region.

Senator Kerry is a co-author of the multi-year $ 7.5 billion assistance program for Pakistan and has been interacting with top Pakistani military and civilian leaders.

Looking at Obama’s pick for secretary of state, a report in The Washington Post said Kerry, 69, is a familiar face to the world leaders vital to American interests and that working on U.S.-Pakistan ties would be a priority for the new secretary of state.

“The son of a diplomat and Obama’s unofficial envoy, Kerry spent hours walking around the palace in Kabul persuading Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai to agree to a runoff election in fall 2009. The relationship will be crucial in the coming months as the administration draws down U.S. forces after more than a decade of war.

“In Pakistan, Kerry helped quell the anger after the U.S. incursion into the country to kill Osama bin Laden in May 2011. The uneasy ties between Washington and Islamabad will be a priority for Kerry at the State Department,” the Post commented.

Meanwhile, Pakistan’s ambassador to the United States Sherry Rehman has said Islamabad looks forward to working with Kerry on the important relationship.
Ambassador Rehman, who has been engaged in an extensive diplomatic outreach on the Capitol Hill towards improvement of Pakistan-U.S. ties, said Senator Kerry has demonstrated through the years an “extraordinary understanding of the complexities of South and Central Asia.”


Pakistan’s ambassador in Washington Sherry Rehman


“He has been a steadfast friend of Pakistan and is keenly aware of the strategic importance of a democratic, economically viable and stable Pakistan,” the ambassador noted. “We look forward to his confirmation and to working with a statesman of his high moral standing and outstanding diplomatic caliber, to strengthen Pakistan-US relations, and to build peace and stability in South Asia,” Sherry Rehman added in a statement.

In a report on President Barack Obama’s elevation of Kerry to the chief American diplomat, the New York Times said Senator Kerry would bring even deeper experience to the position of Secretary of State than Hillary Clinton did but his appointment is likely to further centralize policy decisions in the White House, a major newspaper report suggested.

The Times noted that for the past four years the U.S. “president and a small circle of advisers have kept a tight grip on issues like Iran’s nuclear program, China, Pakistan, and the winding down of the war in Afghanistan.”
“There’s every reason to believe that we’re going to have a very White House-centric foreign policy,” said David J. Rothkopf, the chief executive of the Foreign Policy Group.

English: President Barack Obama and Secretary ...

English: President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton speak together sitting at a picnic table April 9, 2009, on the South Lawn of the White House. Official White House Photo by Pete Souza (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

According to the paper, Rothkopf said “Kerry is going to have to show his loyalty and willingness to work within the Obama system.”
The report points out that in contrast to Hillary Clinton, whom Obama named to his cabinet after they competed against each other in the 2008 presidential primaries, Kerry has been a loyal supporter of the Obama administration.

The paper particularly notes the Massachusetts Democratic senator’s role in “guiding an arms-reduction treaty with Russia to ratification in the Senate and playing diplomatic troubleshooter for the White House in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Sudan.”

The lawmaker has also figured at critical moments in Obama’s career. At the 2004 Democratic National Convention that nominated him for president, Kerry gave the keynote speaking slot to Obama, then a little-known Illinois state senator, catapulting him to national prominence. In early 2008, Mr. Kerry endorsed him over Mrs. Clinton, and this fall he played the role of Mitt Romney in mock debates — sessions that by some accounts put the president’s teeth on edge.

The Times, citing the presidential aides says, Obama likes current US ambassador to UN Susan Rice’s blunt style and is in sync with her view of foreign policy, which places a premium on aggressively defending human rights.
As a result, Ms. Rice, who earlier this month dropped out of the nomination list but is staying in her post, remains a candidate for a major foreign-policy post in the second term, according to administration officials.

Thomas E. Donilon, the national security adviser, is expected to stay on for a year or so, but Ms. Rice could be named to his job. If she were to move into the White House, analysts said, that would pose a test for Kerry, given her access to Obama and their shared views on many foreign policy issues.

“The easiest model to see developing is one in which Kerry is on the road a lot, interfacing with foreign leaders, but the decision-making is done at the White House,” said Elliott Abrams, who held foreign-policy posts in the administrations of Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush
For Mr. Kerry, exerting influence internally is likely to be the greatest challenge of the job he has long coveted. Friends and former aides predicted he would carve out a role, just as Hillary Clinton did, according to the report.


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