x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 17 January 2018

Obama's India visit not expected to effect Pakistan tensions

Pakistan does not expect the US president's visit to India to alter the dangerous dynamics between the two wary nations.

ISLAMABAD // Pakistan does not expect Barack Obama's visit to India to alter the dangerous dynamics between the wary nations, security officials and analysts based in Islamabad and Washington say.

Mr Obama's public remarks on tensions between India and Pakistan are expected to be limited to encouraging them to resume confidence-building talks, stalled since July, they say.

In the build-up to the visit, White House officials have stressed that Mr Obama is seeking to develop distinct partnerships with India and Pakistan, without one affecting the other.

"It's often been viewed … in the past that if we become closer to one, it's at the expense of the other. We've tried to send the signal that it's the opposite with this administration," Ben Rhodes, a US deputy national security adviser, told journalists in Washington last week.

The Obama administration needs Pakistan's support for its military operations against the Taliban in Afghanistan and an eventual political settlement, US analysts say. An 18-month "surge" in the US-led Nato operations is scheduled to end in July.

The US also wants to assure that India and Pakistan don't start a nuclear war, the analysts said.

"The US has a vital interest in preventing conflict between Pakistan and India, immediately because such a conflict would do great damage to US efforts in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and because it would pose the severe risk of nuclear escalation," said Marshall Bouton, in a paper published in October by the Centre for a New American Security, a Washington think tank.

Last month, Pentagon officials increased pressure on Pakistan to launch operations against the Taliban and al Qa'eda based in tribal regions. However, Pakistan argues that its ability to extend its military campaign there is hampered by its need to position forces along its border with India.

The countries have fought three wars since independence from British rule in 1947. They came close to a peace agreement in 2006, but India abandoned the process after the 2008 terrorist attacks on Mumbai. India contends the attack was carried out by Pakistani Lashkar-i-Taiba militants, allegedly with the backing of Pakistan's Inter Services Intelligence agency.

Since then, Pakistani diplomats have played up the superiority of India's conventional military forces.