TWICE now this year, Pakistan has featured in comments made by US President Barack Obama.
Following a prediction of decades-long instability in Pakistan during his last State of the Union address, Mr Obama has spoken to the Press Trust of India about the Pathankot air force base attack and what his administration expects of Pakistan.
Overall, the comments reflect a balanced approach. Unlike in years past, when there were angry denunciations and counterproductive demands of Pakistan, this time the president chose to reflect on both the dangers and the opportunities — and, indeed, the steps that Pakistan has taken to combat terror.
Also read: Obama says Pakistan ‘can and must’ do more against terrorism
While suggesting that Pakistan “can and must” take further actions against militant groups, Mr Obama also said that Pakistan had embarked on the “right policy” following the APS, Peshawar, attack.
Furthermore, Mr Obama acknowledged that both Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and his Indian counterpart, Narendra Modi, “are advancing a dialogue on how to confront violent extremism and terrorism across the region”.
Perhaps where the emphasis should lie is on Mr Obama’s following words: “Pakistan has an opportunity to show that it is serious about delegitimising, disrupting and dismantling terrorist networks.”
True enough. But can Pakistan really do all of that on its own? Delegitimising terror networks inside Pakistan is long-term counter-extremism strategy that the country must develop. But when it comes to disrupting and dismantling terrorist networks, it is the US too that can and should do more.
For all the problems inside Pakistan, the threat emanating from sanctuaries in eastern Afghanistan is undeniable.
When it comes to those sanctuaries, the US has a great deal of leverage and a number of possibilities.
Influence needs to be brought to bear on the Afghan government, especially its intelligence wing, to take the anti-Pakistan threat inside Afghanistan more seriously.
As for military resources, now that the US has changed its rules of engagement, there is the explicit possibility of joint US-Afghan strikes against sanctuaries of the banned TTP. The do-more mantra is not a one-way street.
There is a second area in which the US could bring its influence to bear: the reconciliation process inside Afghanistan.
One of the sticking points in the resumption of talks between the Afghan government and the Afghan Taliban appears to be the insistence by Kabul that Pakistan take action against so-called irreconcilable elements among the Taliban.
Whether that is the real sticking point or the Afghan government is insisting on other preconditions behind the scenes, the US surely has influence and interest enough in Afghanistan to help realise the stable and peaceful country that all outsider powers insist Pakistan’s neighbour to the east ought to be.
Yes, given the history — and the present — there is an onus on Pakistan to demonstrate leadership and tough resolve in the fight against militancy. But the US too has a great deal of responsibility in this region.
Published in Dawn, January 27th, 2016