SHIREEN M MAZARI Presently, it is being said that the Holbrooke visit to this region as well as the Gates visit from India to Pakistan is to pressure Pakistan into accepting a more direct Indian role in Afghanistan - to be suggested in London. There are a series of events unfolding, seemingly delinked from each other, but in reality connecting to form a larger picture which bodes ill for Pakistan. First, there is the Pakistan-Iran relationship which is being undermined by US pressure. For instance, when Iran has already built the gas pipeline up to the border with Pakistan, why are the Pakistanis delaying the project - and, that too, at a time when this country is in the grip of a growing gas shortage? Some argue that the price has become too high but the pricing mechanism had been agreed to and incidentally Iran is already supplying gas to Europe including Turkey and a Gulf state as well. There seems to be no logic beyond US pressure which already worked on India and led her to back out of the Iran pipeline project. But for India the pressure was feasible because the US was providing nuclear fuel and plants to help India overcome its energy deficit. In the case of Pakistan, it is simply pressure with no alternate commitments in terms of a lucrative nuclear deal. Although given how the US has yet to pay up what it owes Pakistan in terms of the Coalition Support Fund, US commitments for Pakistan have a declining credibility. So why would our leaders give up a concrete gas project for vague US promises in the conventional energy sector? Equally critical is the Pakistani leadership's hesitation in taking up the Iranian offer of supplying initially 1000 mw of electricity on to the national grid. Iran already supplies electricity to neighbouring parts of Balochistan; but given the dire electricity shortages being faced, why are we not taking up the Iranian offer in this context also - especially since the Iranians are now prepared to supply 2000 mw to the national grid. US pressure again? There have been some questions raised on why US officials pay such indecently frequent visits to Pakistan but perhaps it is to ensure that we are "kept in line" since they are unable to comprehend the rising anti-US sentiment in this country at all levels. Anyhow, it is not just on Iran that we are turning the positives into negatives. On Afghanistan also we are in danger of falling into another trap, this time to give India a de jure greater role in Afghan affairs - something it already has covertly, with US blessings. The reality is that different external players are all seeking different forums for getting their share of the pie in Afghanistan. Yet the reality is that it is the countries sharing a border with Afghanistan that are the main affectees of whatever happens there. That is why the trilateral meeting between the three foreign ministers of Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iran was a welcome step because it reflected a recognition by all three states that they cannot allow external players to use their soil for purposes of destabilising neighbouring powers. The commitment made by each to prevent this abuse of their territory was a welcome move but now we have a London Conference at the end of January, again on Afghanistan, sponsored by the UK (so desperately seeking its lost imperial glory in these parts) and ostensibly the UN as part of the extension of the Bonn process. In international politics there is always a hot topic or two on which the global community focuses its time, perhaps money and conferencing culture and Afghanistan has been there in the forefront post- 9/11. Because of the international nature of this conference, 60 states have been invited to make their contribution to the rebuilding of Afghanistan. And amongst the countries invited is of course India. The Iranians are not sure yet whether they will participate but the Pakistanis are also wary of nasty surprises that may be sprung on them in London relating to the possibility of a larger Indian role in Afghanistan. Pakistan has already made it clear that it will not accept the idea of a regional contact group that goes beyond the physical neighbours of Afghanistan because this was a ploy used by the US to give legitimacy to an Indian presence in that country. But in London Pakistan may confront a newer model of the same proposal - that of a regional council or something similar for Afghanistan, which would once again bring India into the fold of decision-making on Afghanistan. There is also talk of a Resettlement and Reintegration Fund in which all UN members could contribute and therefore would have some positive fallout. However, the issue right now is that with all the multiple forums on Afghanistan, where different countries are playing differing roles, there is no clarity of purpose on what should actually be done for the reestablishment of stability in that occupied country. Also, it undermines the interests that direct neighbours of Afghanistan have in seeing stability return so that refugees can return and militants cannot be used by external interests in neighbouring states. Pakistan should focus on a contact group comprising only the direct neighbours of Afghanistan so that one main forum is made central to the whole Afghan problem. Presently, it is being said that the Holbrooke visit to this region as well as the Gates visit from India to Pakistan is to pressure Pakistan into accepting a more direct Indian role in Afghanistan - to be suggested in London. Which brings up another development impacting Pakistan and involving the US, Afghanistan and India. This is the Afghan transit trade issue which the US was using to push Pakistan into granting the land route trade access to India. Now some concerned quarters in Pakistan fear that the Commerce Ministry may give India indirect access through granting access to Afghan trucks to come through Pakistan into India Apart from raising all manner of security and smuggling problems, it makes no sense to give this access to India at a time when the latter is upping the conflictual ante with Pakistan. Finally, in all this plethora of critical developments, there was the visit of the Indian DG Military Intelligence, Lt General Loomba at the time that Holbrooke was berating Pakistanis in Islamabad. The visit ties in with the US-India discussions on a greater Indian military role in Afghanistan and Loomba is said to have met with Afghan, NATO and US officials as well as the Indian covert operatives tied in with the Afghan National Army in the guise of trainers. After the Loomba visit, Holbrooke and Gates were said to have held a meeting with the Indians specifically to discuss Indian troops for Afghanistan. So the more one comes to know of developments relating to this region and the questionable role of the extra-regional players especially with India, the more one can see a dangerous connectivity amongst them all and the threat that all this poses for Pakistan. Let us hope the Pakistani decision makers can also look beyond their Washington blinkers.