WASHINGTON: Events at Washington DC’s myriad think-tanks are usually solemn, erudite affairs, marked by scholarship and cordiality.
But a discussion on Friday at the Hudson Institute centering an experts’ report that asked the Trump administration to take a tough new line on Pakistan turned into a raucous spectacle after the Pakistani Embassy challenged the contents through argumentative representatives and stooges.
One questioner had to be evicted by security after he hectored Husain Haqqani, a former Pakistani ambassador to the US and a scholar-diplomat who is one of the authors of the report. Soon after he left the room shouting that Haqqani had betrayed Pakistan and is a ”RAW agent,” another Pakistani diplomat took the floor claiming ”I have the mike…I am in control,” as he began reciting official Pakistani talking points that appeared to have been handed over to several dubious questioners.
The familiar trope included arguments about the centrality of the Kashmir issue between India and Pakistan and how nothing could move forward unless U.S mediated and resolved the matter, Pakistan’s sacrifices in the war on terror (despite hosting many US- and UN-designated terrorists), how the U.S has used and discarded Pakistan, and India’s subversive activities in Baluchistan, all of which the report and its principals have more or less dismissed. If anything, there is growing recognition in Washington that Pakistan has used its access to Afghanistan and terrorism under the cover of its nuclear arsenal to extract aid from the US.
The experts’ report essentially calls for a halt to this, asking the Trump administration to ”stop chasing the mirage of securing change in Pakistan’s strategic direction by giving it additional aid or military equipment,” and instead warn Islamabad (after a grace period of one year) that it would be declared a state sponsor of terrorism. It also suggests Pakistan’s political and military elites be subjected to travel sanctions if it not change course.
The report also urges the Trump administration to ”avoid viewing and portraying Pakistan as an ally and to deal with it as a non-ally, which has engaged in supporting the Afghan Taliban,” while recommending Washington remain engaged in Afghanistan while staying out of the Kashmir imbroglio and letting India and Pakistan resolve issues bilaterally.
In fact, Lisa Curtis, one of the principal authors of the report, who is tipped for sub-continent related job in either Washington or the region in the new Trump administration, spoke of the normalcy she witnessed on a recent visit to Jammu and Kashmir after a break of 15 years, including the participation of former militants in the political process and the visible withdrawal of the army from the streets in Srinagar.
The growing belief in Washington that Pakistan has no equities in Jammu and Kashmir (in the words of Christine Fair, a Georgetown University scholar and trenchant critic of the old U.S appeasement line on Pakistan) appears to have spooked Islamabad. The Pakistani Embassy sent several representatives to the Hudson event to hector the participants, including, according to one account, the resident ISI undercover representative, who bussed in six disrupters who succeeded in embarrassing Pakistan and annoying the gathering with their remonstration.