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A Handshake is not a hug! US F-16 aid talks Urdu diplomacy with Pakistan

Pakistan’s official language is Urdu, therefore it is recommended to read US foreign policy toward that nation from right to left in accordance with the language’s script. The US citing combating terrorism as one of the declared objectives for the assistance package does smell of enormous irony as Uncle Sam donates $450 million to maintain F-16 fighter planes to a country that has frequently been accused of harbouring or promoting terrorists.

Subrahamanyam Jaishankar, the foreign minister of India, attacked Washington with an arrogant ‘who do you think you’re trying to deceive’ tone, prompting the State Department to counter that the US does not view Pakistan through an Indian lens. Little has really changed in India’s opinion of the US: it is still seen as an intimate foe with a moderate and interventionist policy, chanting the praises of common liberal and democratic norms and extolling the benefits of free-market capitalism.

India has substituted sarcasm and a blatant denunciation of double standards for sophisticated diplomaticese. The Minister of External Affairs had mocked the US for questioning India’s purchase of Russian oil contaminated by Ukraine sanctions even before he fired his F-16. Since India and the US both pursue their own interests separately, this is all essentially business as usual in terms of diplomacy.

If India and the US are to be true strategic partners, they need one another. While short-term diplomacy may only serve narrow self-interest, long-term perspectives must be consistent with fundamental values. India cannot remain a neutral power for too long while Russia devours Ukraine like some Italian pizza. Without taking into account its past of inspiring the Taliban or cooperating with China, the US cannot be unqualifiedly favourable to Pakistan.

India needs to come to terms with the fact that Pakistan is a peculiar beast that requires particular treatment since it is a democracy that is growing in strength and has an English-speaking civil society culture. This calls for a difficult balancing act of gentle diplomacy, an authoritative manner, and backroom negotiations. A unified Indo-US strategy with Pakistan playing a part must be developed along the road; a separate US strategy for India must be avoided.

India has to recognise that while geography may not be favourable for Islamabad’s diplomatic advances, history may not be. Dr. Jaishankar is aware of this, for sure, but India’s diplomacy needs to figure out how to move a deal forward in this situation. Instead of merely using harsh words, diplomatic deal-making is necessary here. Tum takalluf ko bhi ikhlaas samajhtey ho Faraz Dost nahi hota har haath milane wala  (You mistake mere formality for affection, dear Faraz  Not everybody who shakes your hand is your friend). Pakistanis undoubtedly have some excellent diplomatic lessons to impart to India.



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