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Experts differ on future of Pakistan-US ties

Publication Date : 04-02-2014


In the short-term, the Afghan war will continue to shape US-Pakistan relations but Washington will refocus on Islamabad after withdrawing its forces from Afghanistan later this year, experts say.

Commenting on the US-Pakistan Strategic Dialogue held in Washington this week, experts claimed that both countries realised the importance of staying engaged with each other after the Afghan war as well.

“Rifts in the relationship between the United States and Pakistan, aggravated by the 2011 raid that killed Osama bin Laden and other incidents, are gradually mending,” noted USA Today writers Ray Locker and Kendal Breitman.

The article pointed out that after his meeting with US Secretary of State John Kerry, Pakistan's National Security Adviser Sartaj Aziz acknowledged that “the relationship is on an upward trajectory”.

Agreeing with the observation, the authors wrote that this was “a change from 2011, when ties between the two countries couldn't get much worse”.

They noted that since Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif's visit to Washington last October, “there have been increasingly more and higher level meetings between the two troubled allies”.

The Voice of America radio observed that while the Afghan conflict topped the list of concerns in the US-Pakistan dialogue, “analysts say it's time to change the relationship with Pakistan”.

“Rather than seeing Pakistan really as a subset of the Afghanistan war and the counter-terrorism campaign, we need to broaden our perspective,” Daniel Markey, a South Asia expert at the US Council on Foreign Relations, told VOA, “We need to think more seriously about how Pakistan fits into US long-term interests in Asia.”

Another expert, James Goldgeier of American University, however, warned that the US Congress might not share the administration's desire to continue to provide economic and military aid to Pakistan.

“Congress is sceptical about spending money anyway. And spending money where it doesn't seem to be appreciated is going to be a tough sell,” he said.

Other experts told VOA the US was concerned that Islamabad was developing tactical nuclear warheads and the missiles to deliver them and that it had a large army which viewed India as its main enemy.

“You put all these pieces together, not to mention the fact that Pakistan continues to have a deeply entrenched terrorist problem, and you can see that Pakistan is going to be a concern to the United States for certainly years, perhaps generations to come,” said Markey.

Last week, an official US report sent to the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence also said that Pakistan wanted good relations with the United States “but cooperation with Washington will continue to be vulnerable to strains, particularly due to Pakistani sensitivities towards perceived violations of sovereignty”.

It noted that Prime Minister Sharif entered office seeking to establish good relations with the United States, especially in areas that support his primary domestic focus of improving the economy.

Sharif and his advisers were pleased with his late October 2013 visit to Washington. Pakistan was eager to restart a “strategic dialogue’ and its offices and press have touted results of the initial meetings of several of the five workings that comprise the dialogue,” the report added.

The US intelligence community pointed out that Sharif was also seeking rapprochement with New Delhi in part in anticipation of increased trade, which would be beneficial to Pakistan's economic growth.

Sharif will probably move cautiously to improve relations, however, and India also will probably not take any bold steps, particularly not before the Indian elections in spring 2014.


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