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America-Pakistan-India Triangle

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Pakistan’s ambassador to the United States, who ironically enjoys the reputation of being American ambassador to Pakistan, based in Washington, has recently quipped, “The most hated country in Pakistan is our top trading partner, top aid donor, top weapon supplier and top remittance source”.

Significant reason behind this anomaly is the snowballing India-US nexus at the cost of Pakistan. De-hyphenating of India-Pakistan in American strategic calculus has indeed created more problems for America and this region than it intended to resolve. Obsession to sponsor the rise of India as a major player on Asian geopolitical canvas has severely curtailed American leverage over India; Obama dare not pronounce ‘K’ for Kashmir once again!

Barrack Obama’s visit to India had left a negative impact on the whole region which has been reinforced by Hillary’s recent rhetoric. By prompting India to bite more than it could chew, America is well on its way to sow the seeds of perpetual destabilization of this region at the expense of China as well as India itself.

While in the past America played effective role to diffuse Pak-India tensions and did not allow the matters to degenerate into tactical showdown, it also winked its eye to allow India maintain strategic pressures through military deployments, diplomatic manoeuvres and resource squeezing.

Pakistan and America differ considerably on issues of vital interest to Pakistan; nuclear policy, energy acquisition from Iran and China, end game in Afghanistan, Kashmir conflict etc are some major areas of divergence. Most of these issues are intricately liked to India. Hence a Pakistan-India-America triangle has emerged; a sort of re-hyphenation in a crude form.

America retains a cunning balancing leverage between India and Pakistan; and uses the pressure points aptly to make Pakistan and India do American bidding.

Recently the US lawmakers have rejected the bill regarding stoppage of aid to Pakistan but have agreed to attach strings. Public opinion is gaining strength that stringed aid may be refused and to make up for the loss, Pakistan should proportionately enhance the transit fee on American supply containers and also impose transit fee on aircraft destined for Afghan war zone through Pakistan.

America frequently partners Indian effort in maintaining a high pitched tirade against Pakistan’s armed force and the ISI; this has scaled new heights since the cowardly Abbottabad attack. All guns are being directed against Pakistan. Political leadership is being spared of any wrong doing with a clear objective of creating a wedge between the political and military echelons of national leadership.

Timed with Hillary’s recent visit, Americans took a well calculated step to appease India by arresting Kashmiri American Council President, Dr Ghulam Nabi Fai. Indian reaction was of joy. Arrest is a setback to the legitimate rights of the people of Kashmir, specially their struggle for self-determination. Pakistani government showed an angry response. Foreign office announced that “A demarche was made to the US embassy in Islamabad to register the concerns, in particular the slander campaign against Pakistan.”

To mitigate the defeat in Afghanistan, the US is working overtime to shift the blame for every wrong to Pakistan. To consolidate towards this end, America is all set to involve India in Afghanistan, militarily. While in India, Hillary Clinton sought to reassure India that the United States has no plan to cut and run when it comes to Afghanistan. Indeed Hillary was bluffing,

those familiar with Obama administration’s thinking are of the view that White House wants to be able to point to concrete achievements in the country in the run-up to 2012 elections, while wrapping things up in Afghanistan “at any cost”.

In the context of terrorism, India needs to understand that militants are well-organised from Somalia to Afghanistan and from Central Asian Republics to the Occupied Kashmir.

International security analysts are already predicting that India is on the brink of becoming a battle ground of these trans-national groups. Outreach of these elements is much broader than Pakistan’s logical capacity to handle them; even America is unable to contain them. Pakistan has already proposed setting up of SAARC police for pooling up regional resources for this purpose.

Hillary Clinton played another pressure card by projecting India as the leading power in Asia. This effort was launched to coax India into a proxy role to counterbalance China. Hillary called upon India to become a more assertive leader in Asia, in South-East Asia, the Pacific Rim, in Central Asia and Pacific Ocean.

The fact is that India is having a hard time holding its own in its immediate neighbourhood, as China is expanding its links with Sri Lanka, Myanmar and Nepal. Hence, to expect India to match China in South-East Asia and the Pacific Rim, where China has built-in advantages, is a pipe dream. India will remain cautious while siding with Americans against the Chinese. It needs China’s nod to realise its aspiration for a permanent UNSC berth.

Under these settings, the fate of Pak-India foreign minister level talks was correctly pre-judged by the analysts of India and Pakistan. There was unanimity of opinion that parleys would remain at the cosmetic level, routines would be discussed and core issues would be sidestepped. Travel, trade, terrorism etc would be in forefront; water and Kashmir in the background.

Mumbai would be highlighted and ‘Samjhota Express’ would get a passing mention. Matters have moved the same way. Nevertheless, some functional dialogue process is always better than none.

In an upbeat assessment after their meeting, Indian Foreign Minister said ties were back “on the right track,” while Pakistani Foreign Minister spoke of a “new era” of cooperation. Nevertheless, there was little in the way of substantive agreements to back up the general mood of optimism. Joint statement was monotonous, envisaging a general bilateral effort to combat terrorism, increase trade and keep the peace dialogue going.

One must understand that now America is in the driving seat of Pak-India interactions; talks are likely to follow the pattern of ‘sound good solve nothing’. After all America has a long experience of sponsoring futile dialogue like process between Palestine and Israel. It remains for India and Pakistan not to get locked into a zero sum game. Both countries need to strengthen their bilateral institutions to absorb the sporadic crises and move on.

U.S. Special Envoy Embarrasses Administration

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The Slatest

Frank Wisner, Barack Obama’s special envoy to Egypt, “veered wildly off-message” when he spoke to the Munich security conference, notes the Guardian. Wisner, who had just returned from Cairo, advocated for Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak to stay in office and seemed to be arguing that the world owed him that much. “President Mubarak’s continued leadership is critical,” he said. “It’s his opportunity to write his own legacy. He has given 60 years of his life to the service of his country and this is an ideal moment for him to show the way forward.” Western officials were confused by Wisner’s words, particularly since they came soon after Secretary of State Hillary Clinton endorsed an orderly and slow transition led by Vice President Omar Suleiman. The “whole episode was a reminder of the inherent problems in hiring special envoys from the ranks of retired diplomats who no longer feel constrained by State Department discipline,

US pastor’s plans for Quran burning condemned worldwide

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The Times of India

PARIS: The planned mass burning of copies of the Quran in the US state of Florida drew worldwide condemnation on Wednesday, with the Vatican saying it would be “an outrageous and grave gesture.”

Secretary of state Hillary Clinton, the most senior US official to speak out against the burning scheduled for the anniversary of the September 11 attacks, branded the plan by a little known evangelical church as “disgraceful.”

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon said he was “deeply disturbed” by the planned burnings and said they “cannot be condoned by any religion.” German Chancellor Angela Merkel said the move was “abhorrent” and “simply wrong.”

“If a fundamentalist, envangelical pastor in America wants to burn the Quran on September 11, then I find this simply disrespectful, even abhorrent and simply wrong,” Merkel said in a speech.

” Europe… is a place where freedom of belief, of religion, where respect for beliefs and religions, are valuable commodities,” Merkel said at an event honouring a Danish cartoonist whose 2005 drawing of the Prophet Mohammed offended many Muslims and sparked protests around the world.

EU foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton also condemned the planned act, while Arab League chief Amr Mussa dubbed Pastor Terry Jones a “fanatic” and told AFP he was urging Americans to oppose the “destructive approach.”

Jones’s Dove World Outreach Center in Gainesville, Florida, has vowed to mark Saturday’s ninth anniversary of the September 11 attacks by burning Qurans as they remember almost 3,000 people killed by al-Qaida hijackers.

The Vatican’s Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue said in a statement: “Each religion, with its respective sacred books, places of worship and symbols, has the right to respect and protection”.

The Vatican council said “deplorable acts of violence” like those in New York and Washington could not be counteracted by such acts.

“Each religious leader and believer is also called to renew the firm condemnation of all forms of violence, in particular those committed in the name of religion.”

The White House added its voice to warnings that the move could trigger outrage around the Islamic world and endanger the lives of US soldiers.

“It puts our troops in harm’s way. And obviously any type of activity like that puts our troops in harm’s way would be a concern to this administration,” White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said on Tuesday.

He was reiterating comments by top US and NATO commander in Afghanistan, General David Petraeus, who warned burning the holy book of Islam would provide propaganda for insurgents.

The United Nations’ top envoy for Afghanistan, Staffan de Mistura, earlier said it would harm his staff if “such an abhorrent act were to be implemented, it would only contribute to fuelling the arguments of those who are indeed against peace and reconciliation in Afghanistan.”

“It could also put in jeopardy the efforts of so many Afghans and foreigners who are trying to assist Afghanistan to find its own way to peace and stability within the framework of its own culture, traditions and indeed religion.”

The Agency Coordinating Body for Afghan Relief, an umbrella group representing aid groups in Afghanistan, said ts members in the war-wracked country could be killed if Jones goes ahead with his “irresponsible” plan.

Farhana Khera, executive director of Muslim Advocates, who met with Attorney General Eric Holder on Tuesday said the top US law enforcement official described as “idiotic and dangerous” the Florida church’s plan.

Police reportedly cannot intervene until Jones’s followers actually light the 200 Qurans.

A senior Muslim Brotherhood official, Essam al-Erian, said in Cairo that the Florida ceremony would be a “barbaric act reminiscent of the Inquisition” and would “increase hatred towards the United States in the Muslim world.”

A top official of Cairo’s Al-Azhar university, which US President Barack Obama referred to as a “beacon of learning” in an appeal for reconciliation with Muslims, warned that the plan risked destroying ties.

“If the government fails to stop this, this will be the latest manifestation of religious terrorism, and it would ruin America’s relations with the Muslim world,” said Sheikh Abdel Muti al-Bayyumi, who sits on the Sunni Muslim seat of learning’s highest council, the Islamic Research Academy.

Lebanese President Michel Sleiman said the burning of the Quran contradicted Christian teachings.

In Gaza, Sami Abu Zuhri, a spokesman for the Islamist Hamas movement, called on the US administration in a statement “to stop this crime before it takes place.”

Ayatollah Lotfollah Safi Golpaygani, a senior religious expert from Iran’s holy city of Qom, said in a statement carried by Iranian media: “The decision to insult this sacred book, is an insult to all (religious) sanctities especially prophets Abraham, Moses, Jesus and Virgin Mary.

Jordan’s powerful Islamist opposition also condemned the plans as “a declaration of war.”

The German church founded by Jones denounced the plans as “shocking.”

“We want to distance ourselves fully from this plan and from Jones,” said Stephan Baar from the “Christian Community of Cologne” in western Germany.

Israel, Palestinians set out demands amid new direct talks

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WASHINGTON – Israeli and Palestinian leaders launched their first direct negotiations in 20 months here Thursday, agreeing to meet every two weeks in a bid to settle core differences within a year.


Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (L) of Israel and President Mahmud Abbas (R) of the Palestinian Authority …

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas vowed to hold a second round of talks on September 14-15 in the Middle East, possibly in the Egyptian Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh.

In opening some four hours of talks in Washington, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said she understood the “suspicion and skepticism” leading up to the meetings.

“I know the decision to sit at this table was not easy,” Clinton told Abbas and Netanyahu in a chandeliered room at the State Department, joined by their delegations. “Thank you for your courage and commitment.”

After Wednesday’s weighty symbolism and lofty rhetoric, culminating in a White House dinner with President Barack Obama, Netanyahu and Abbas finally got down to the business end of proceedings, presenting their opening demands.

“We expect you to be prepared to recognize Israel as the nation state of the Jewish people,” Netanyahu told Abbas, as the two sat on either side of Clinton with their national flags behind them.

Such a move would be politically difficult for Abbas as it could undermine the right-of-return claims of Palestinian refugees who left or fled Israel when it was created in 1948.

In the wake of two Palestinian militant attacks on settlers in the occupied West Bank, Netanyahu renewed references he had made at the White House on Wednesday to protecting Israel’s security.

“A real peace must take into account the genuine security needs of Israel,” he said.

Abbas appeared conciliatory, saying: “We consider security as essential and vital both for us and for you, and we will not accept that anyone commits any act that would harm your security or ours.”

The Palestinian leader said investigations into the shootings that killed four Israeli settlers on Tuesday were progressing.

But he also stuck to his demands on settlements.

“We call on the Israeli government to move forward with its commitment to end all settlement activity and completely lift the embargo over the Gaza Strip,” Abbas said.

Israel tightly controls access and egress from the Gaza Strip, which is run by the militant Hamas group, a rival of Abbas’s Palestinian Authority and a fierce opponent of the peace talks.

Before going behind closed doors to begin tackling the core issues that have bedeviled past peace attempts, the two leaders poignantly shook hands, and Abbas appeared to give Netanyahu a thumbs up.

US Middle East envoy George Mitchell described a first 90-minute meeting between him Clinton, Abbas and Netanyahu as “productive” and said the parties agreed the core issues could be settled within a year.

Netanyahu and Abbas then held a one-on-one meeting with no note-takers or translators which officials said lasted 93 minutes.

The Palestinians said Abbas had reiterated face-to-face with Netanyahu his demand that settlement construction must cease for the talks to continue.

A final meeting with both leaders, Clinton and Mitchell lasted another 18 minutes.

Abbas and Netanyahu agreed to resume talks in two weeks and planned to meet every two weeks thereafter. Mitchell and Clinton announced their intention to be present at the future talks.

A Palestinian official said the talks on September 14-15 would take place in Sharm el-Sheikh, where negotiations have taken place in the past.

Mitchell said: “Our goal is to resolve all of the… core issues within one year. And the parties themselves have suggested and agreed that the logical way to proceed to tackle them is to try to reach a framework agreement first.”

Such an agreement is less detailed than a “full-fledged treaty” but more detailed than a declaration of principles.

Abbas had previously refused to enter direct negotiations without a full halt to Israeli settlement activity, but yielded under pressure from Obama.

The Palestinian leader is still warning that a renewal of settlement activities after September 26, when a 10-month partial moratorium expires, would end the negotiations.

The last direct peace negotiations ended in December 2008 when Israeli forces invaded Gaza to halt Hamas rocket fire on Israel.

US expects India to implement Iran sanctions

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WASHINGTON: The United States has expressed confidence that India would implement the tough new United Nations Security Council imposed sanctions against Iran for its alleged clandestine nuclear weapons programme.

“I think India’s record on implementation of previous Security Council resolutions has been an admirable one,” US Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs William Burns told reporters on Thursday.

“And I do expect that India, as its leadership has made clear publicly, will follow through and implement the new resolution,” he said when asked if India and the US were on the same page on sanctions against Iran.

India, he noted, has voted three times in the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Board of Governors to hold Iran accountable for its failure to meet its international obligations.

“Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has also reinforced on a number of occasions the fact that India shares international concerns about a nuclear-armed Iran and the obvious negative consequences that would have for a part of the world that’s very important to both of us, as well as to the global economy,” Burns said.

Manmohan Singh has time and again underlined India’s traditional ties with Iran and voiced opposition to sanctions that, in New Delhi’s view, end up hurting the common people.

While India believes that a nuclear powered Iran is not in the interests of regional stability, it has consistently advocated dialogue and diplomacy to resolve the issue of the Iranian nuclear programme and supported Tehran’s right to peaceful uses of nuclear energy within the purview of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).

New sanctions target Iran’s powerful Revolutionary Guard and include freezing the assets of 40 additional companies and organizations — 15 linked to the guards, 22 involved in nuclear or ballistic missile activities and three linked to the Islamic Republic of Iran Shipping Lines.

The sanctions also bar Iran from pursuing “any activity related to ballistic missiles capable of delivering nuclear weapons,” investing in nuclear-related activities like uranium mining, and buying some categories of heavy weapons, including attack helicopters and missiles.

The Iran issue figured during the recently concluded India-US Strategic Dialogue between team led by External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna and US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

Mulla Omar arrested in Pakistan?

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WASHINGTON: Reports of Taliban supreme leader Mulla Omar being captured in Pakistan raged through Washington on Tuesday, a day after US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton accused some Pakistani officials of sheltering Osama bin Laden and the Taliban leadership, the Times of India reported.

The Obama administration did not respond to the reports, and independent sources said they had not been able to confirm the information. Reports of Mulla Omar’s capture or custody first surfaced on the popular blog Brietbart, where an analyst, who formerly worked with the Department of Homeland Security, claimed that through “key intelligence sources in Afghanistan and Pakistan he had just learned that Mulla Omar has been taken into custody.

At the end of March, US Military Intelligence was informed by US operatives working in the Af/Pak theater on behalf of the D.O.D. that Omar had been detained by Pakistani authorities. One would assume that this would be passed up the chain and that the US Secretary of Defence would have been alerted immediately. From what I am hearing, that may not have been the case,î the analyst, Brad Thor, said.

When this explosive information was quietly confirmed to United States intelligence ten days ago by Pakistani authorities, it appeared to take the Defence Department by surprise. No one, though, is going to be surprised more than Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. It seems even with confirmation from the Pakistanis themselves, she was never brought up to speed,î he added, referring to Clintonís remark on CBS 60 minutes on Sunday that some officials in Pakistan were sheltering Osama bin Laden and Mulla Omar.

Pakistan: A firmer footing

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By Farhan Bokhari and James Lamont

Yusuf Raza Gilani, Pakistan’s prime minister, likes to receive visitors in the library of the prime ministerial mansion in Islamabad, its bookshelves decorated with ceremonial swords, daggers and other armorial objects. On the leonine crest of one small shield, a gift from Singapore’s Nanyang Technological University, is the motto: “Ponder the improbable”.


Charm offensive: the Pakistani army in South Waziristan, close to the Afghan border. Successful campaigns against militants here and in the Swat valley have won Islamabad praise from the US

The words are apt for Mr Gilani, and for the country’s leadership as a whole. The civilian government led by him and President Asif Ali Zardari has defied the odds by staying in power and taking on militant Taliban groups that have struck the country’s main cities and even the army’s high command in Rawalpindi. Pakistanis have held their breath for the past two years, awaiting a regime change orchestrated by General Ashfaq Pervez Kiyani, the powerful army chief. In a country blighted by military rule for most of its 63 years, such a move would not be unprecedented.

However, Gen Kiyani has opted to work with the political leadership rather than against it. Indeed, the Pakistan People’s party administration is on course to become the first democratically elected government to serve a full term for three decades. It has galvanised the nation for a fight against militants. Most recently, Islamabad has basked in the embrace of Washington as both countries tried to rebuild a troubled partnership.

The combination of these three developments puts Pakistan in one of its strongest positions for two decades. The US is left with few choices but to back the country as it seeks to win the war in Afghanistan. But to become a credible and stable American ally for the long haul, Pakistan has to reform its economy, scale back the influence of the army and improve its relationship with India, its mighty southern neighbour. Gen Kiyani, a shrewd tactician, appears to be the man on whom this depends.

Not long ago, civilian rule looked shaky. There was speculation about “Minus One”, a code in Islamabad political circles for the removal of Mr Zardari, husband of slain opposition leader and former premier Benazir Bhutto. A government stand-off with the judiciary and the opposition, which caused protests in Lahore, the second largest city, almost invited the army to step in to restore order in March last year. In addition, the Taliban came within 90km of Islamabad after capturing the Swat valley, a tourist destination.

The civilian administration looks more assured today but internal security concerns, and international engagement over Afghanistan and with India, have propelled Gen Kiyani to its side.

Although once considered a weak understudy for the president, Mr Gilani is now viewed by the military as the more popular politician and has won its support for styling himself a leader of a country on a “war footing”. His ruling party is now poised to reverse vestiges of military rule by shifting powers from the presidency to the premiership, and return Pakistan to the founding vision of a parliamentary democracy.

“We have very ably completed two years with consensus in parliament,” says Mr Gilani. “The biggest success is that we have gathered the whole nation together on one platform for a fight against terrorism and that is the biggest victory ever.”

Bigger battles lie ahead. For the US, Pakistan’s neighbours and many Pakistanis, one of the most formidable challenges is reforming the pervasive security structure, which controls everything from cornflake factories to nuclear missiles. They want a decisive break with militant organisations that continue to sow discord in India, Afghanistan and Pakistan, and pose an increasingly global threat.

Many inside and outside Pakistan continue to see the army as pre-eminent, and suspect fighting India remains its priority rather than fighting old allies among the Afghan Taliban and Punjab-based militant groups.

Yet the country has won credibility, and praise, for the latter. Its clout has grown rapidly in Washington following successful campaigns against militants in South Waziristan, close to the Afghan border, and the Swat valley, and the arrest in February of Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, the Taliban military chief in Afghanistan, and four other prominent Taliban leaders this year. US diplomats say the relationship has been “transformed” in recent months. “Pakistan has shown its ability to give a direction to future events, and to bring the Taliban to the negotiating table,” says one.

But there is no doubt that the US and Nato allies want Pakistan to do more. On his visit to Afghanistan last month Barack Obama, US president, said: “We have seen already progress with respect to the military campaign [in Pakistan] against extremism, but we also want to continue to make progress on [civilian assistance].”

At the core of the relationship with America is the endgame in Afghanistan. While Mr Obama is anxious to oversee the return of most of his troops fighting there ahead of the next US presidential election in 2012 and present a successful end to the campaign, Pakistan wants financial help in return for assisting the US, and its role in the country’s future recognised with political power for its former militant allies.

It is the emphasis on the fight against militants that has changed Pakistan’s precarious political balance. His leading role in engagement with Washington, which he visited at the end of last month, has brought the publicity-shy Gen Kiyani a more public role in what Hillary Clinton, US secretary of state, has called an “integrated” civilian and military leadership. The shift started in February when Gen Kiyani publicly outlined Islamabad’s priorities on its western and eastern borders, addressing goals in Afghanistan and disputes with India.

“Kiyani is clearly driving the agenda of the US-Pakistan engagement,” says Maria Kuusisto of the Eurasia Group, a political risk consultancy. “In the run-up to the dialogue, Kiyani called the relevant [secretaries], including ministers of foreign affairs, finance and water and power, to his army headquarters for consultations – and during the dialogue, Kiyani has taken the lead in presenting Pakistan’s case.”

While the US has welcomed Gen Kiyani’s participation as reflecting a united civilian and military leadership, his increasingly public role carries risks for Pakistan.

First, if the relationship with Washington falls short of expectations, Gen Kiyani stands to get the blame within Pakistan for the failure of a dialogue he is leading. Pakistan went to to the US with a list of demands, including better trade access, speedy delivery of financial assistance, construction of new power stations and help on disputes with India over the contested territory of Kashmir and water-sharing agreements in a drought-prone region. The government is also pushing for a civil nuclear deal similar to the one struck with India, which gave its nuclear programme global legitimacy – in spite of Pakistan’s record of nuclear proliferation – in the interests of “regional stability”. It came away with little new, in spite of a warm reception from Mrs Clinton.

The talks were “more significant for their atmospherics than any tangible outcome”, says Maleeha Lodhi, Pakistan’s former ambassador to the US and the UK. “Important, however, were assurances conveyed to the Pakistani delegation that America’s long- term strategic interests were consistent with Pakistan’s security.”

Taking on the Taliban

Pakistan has arrested as many as 20 Taliban and al-Qaeda leaders in its territory this year, giving hope to the US and other western allies that a country that once provided shelter to the Afghan Taliban is increasing pressure on militants along its border with Afghanistan. The arrests by the Inter-Services Intelligence military spy agency, including that of the Afghan Taliban’s second-in-command, are seen as a disruption of the Quetta Shura, a Taliban leadership council.

According to Gen Mahmood Durrani, previously Pakistan’s ambassador to the US and a former national security adviser, “The general’s presence is ‘optical’ to suggest that the army is going under the civil leaders’ [authority].”

Second, a more prominent role for the army is likely to reinforce the notion that the military is the most powerful force in the land, and that the civilian leadership is near irrelevant. This would be a stumbling block for recently restarted talks between Pakistan and India. New Delhi often complains that, with a choice between a weak civilian leadership and a powerful anti-Indian army, it does not know whom to talk to in Islamabad.

Indian commentators view American-trained Gen Kiyani as a chip off the old block. They are mistrustful of his past in the Inter-Services Intelligence, the nerve centre of the security system, and of his role as a commander in the 1990s on Pakistan’s side of the Line of Control in Kashmir at a time when cross-border insurgency increased. India’s diplomats are alarmed by what they see as his calculating introduction of water as a source of dispute. Some more hawkish analysts say water shortages in south Asia, rather than Kashmir, threaten to fuel future jihadi violence.

Gen Kiyani has impressed on the global stage, however. “The bluster that marked Musharraf has been dumped for quiet gravitas,” says Indrani Bagchi, diplomatic editor of the Times of India. She believes he is capable of outmanoeuvring India and Afghanistan at international meetings, such as January’s London conference on Afghanistan, where Pakistan’s role as a partner for the US and Nato in Afghanistan was boosted.

Third, a larger role for the army is unlikely to address some of the country’s gravest issues: the economy and internal administrative reform. Failure to oversee a robust set of economic reforms is risky in a country of 180m, mainly poor, people. Pakistan has made little progress in securing better trade access to European Union markets and larger preferential quotas for entry to the US. Uncertainty is mounting over government promises to the International Monetary Fund to strengthen the economy and a widening fiscal deficit.

“Can [Pakistan’s] policies be taken seriously when we have gone through three international financial bail-outs in the last 12 years and you can still not be certain if another one in the future will be required?” says Abid Hasan, former adviser on Pakistan to the World Bank. “There are long-term issues related to the rule of law, politics, governance and the economy.”

. . .

There is a sense in Pakistan that the military is in the ascendant; and for some this is welcome. “The Pakistani army is a very sophisticated army,” says Khurshid Kasuri, foreign minister under General Pervez Musharraf. “These people have been to defence universities all over the world. They have been to security conferences.”

Those in the wider region are less enthusiastic. Lalit Mansingh, former Indian foreign secretary, says Gen Kiyani is stepping into a more political role, though it is not clear how far he will go. He says a key question will be whether he extends his term as a service chief, a decision that must be taken by Mr Zardari. Gen Shuja Pasha, ISI head and an ally of Gen Kiyani, this year extended his term on grounds that it was not appropriate to replace him in the heat of battle. Other senior generals, such as Lt Gen Khalid Kidwai, chief of strategic plans division, have not stepped aside.

Gen Kiyani is due to step down in November but now looks nearly indispensable. “The really substantive, and strategic, exchanges [in Washington] took place outside the formal dialogue process in unpublicised meetings including a dinner hosted by Admiral [Mike] Mullen [the senior US military commander] and attended by Gen Kiyani,” says Ms Lodhi.

With the army at the head of the table and its chief likely to shun retirement, “Ponder the Improbable” may yet prove to be a fitting epitaph for a civilian government once again edged aside by the generals.