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Pakistani Political Expert Discusses U.S. Relations

By Alexander J. Finerman, CONTRIBUTING WRITER

The relationship between the United States and Pakistan is one of “agony and ecstasy,” a Pakistani political expert said at the Kennedy School last Friday.

Saeed Shafqat, a professor at Columbia University’s Southern Asian Institute, spoke on America’s strategic relationship with Pakistan and the current challenges the region is facing.

Shafqat, also chief instructor at the Pakistan Civil Services Academy, discussed a wide range of problems facing Pakistan today, including tensions over the contested region of Kashmir, fighting terrorism and the influence of religious extremism in Indian and Pakistani politics.

“The U.S.-Pakistani relationship is driven by geopolitical considerations,” he told the group of about 25 people, noting that his country’s current role—providing its airspace, logistical support and intelligence—parallels Pakistan’s Cold War position in U.S. foreign policy.

Pakistan has gained importance as a strategic partner and the country’s leadership has gained legitimacy in American eyes, he said, by aiding U.S. efforts to fight terrorism and supporting its recent war in Afghanistan.

Shafqat pointed to President Pervez Musharraf’s address at the ARCO Forum last fall as evidence that the country’s leader was “baptized” as a legitimate political figure.

He attributed much of the friction between America and Pakistan to their differing perceptions of threats to their countries’ security.

Pakistan sees its strategic interests through an “Indo-centric” perspective, he said, while the U.S. strategy is formed with regard to terrorism.

Shafqat described the relationship between India and Pakistan as “almost at the level of diplomatic breakdown.”

“The greatest challenge for the U.S. is if it can broker peace between India and Pakistan,” he said.

The U.S. has an important role as a facilitator who can potentially bring the two sides together, he said, because the countries “can’t communicate on their own.”

The “potentiality of conflict” between the two countries has “become a way of life,” Shafqat said.

And both countries expect the U.S. to play a large diplomatic role in negotiating more peaceful relations between India and Pakistan, he said.

While America has recently become more engaged in Pakistan, it has also increased relations with India because of that country’s increasingly anti-Muslim stance and growing economic power, he said.

Shafqat said he sees hope for reconciliation, noting that there is “Kashmir fatigue,” with both countries acknowledging that the land dispute must be settled in order to move on to other issues.

On Saturday night, suspected Islamic rebels attacked a police post in Kashmir, killing nine police officers and two civilians. More than a dozen militant groups have been fighting for Kashmir’s independence from India or its merger with Pakistan since 1989.

“The military is the hegemon in Pakistan,” Shafqat said, emphasizing that military control of the country is in the best interest of both its citizens and the U.S. at the moment.

In addition, he said Musharraf’s wide-ranging military, international and domestic support likely makes him the best person in Pakistan to deal with its conflict with India.

—Material from the Associated Press was used in the compilation of this article.

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