Pak-US relations


Need to tread cautiously

Several statements from Islamabad and Washington show both sides are desirous of better ties. There are, however, issues that continue to cast a shadow on the relations between the two countries. Washington is yet not clear about the direction of the PML-N government’s policies on issues that it considers vital. During the election campaign Nawaz Sharif had called for reconsidering the support for the US war on militancy and supported negotiations with the Taliban. There were therefore expressions of concern in the US media after reports indicated that the PML-N was in a position to form the government. Many thought that the postponement of John Kerry’s visit which was supposed to take place by the end of June was indicative of apprehensions in Washington.

Except during the election campaign Nawaz Sharif has generally expressed his reservations about the US policy with caution. In a meeting with the US special representative James Dobbins before being sworn in Nawaz expressed confidence that Pakistan and the US will work collectively to counter terrorism. In another meeting with Dobbins in the last week of June, the newly elected prime minister stressed the need for Pakistan and the US to remain closely engaged. Secretary Kerry talked to Nawaz Sharif soon after the latter’s assumption of office, assuring him of America’s continued cooperation with Pakistan and with the new government in the country. The US officials meanwhile expressed “great appreciation” for the role Pakistan played in supporting and helping advance the peace process.

Despite all these pleasantries, two steps taken by Washington are likely to create problems. According to a report the Obama administration has requested only $1.16 billion for aid to Pakistan in the 2014 financial year — almost half of the $2.6 billion it spent in 2012 and a quarter of the $4.5 billion it spent in 2010. What must be embarrassing for the new government, which had promised to seek the cessation of drone attacks, is that two strikes took place in the first month of PML-N’s tenure. That this should happen despite Obama’s earlier promise that the United States would scale back drone strikes, only using them when a threat was “continuing and imminent” is worrisome. The US needs to realise that attacks could have an adverse effect on the ties.

While the FO was yet to respond, a less diplomatic interior minister came out with a strong denunciation combined with not too implicit threats. If the US stubbornness was to continue, Nisar said, there would be a serious stand-off between the two countries with implications for the withdrawal of foreign troops from Afghanistan as well as the post-withdrawal scenario. There is a need on the part of the US to revise its policy on drone strikes. Equally important is for the government ministers to leave foreign policy matters that require sensitive handling either to the PM or the FO.