IS this really a new low for US-Pakistan ties? Or simply the return home of a technical team that has done what it can, and must now wait for political decisions that are beyond its pay grade? The departure of American officials who spent six weeks in Pakistan trying to hammer out an agreement on the reopening of Nato supply routes has been positioned both ways in the domestic and western media, despite the fact that Pakistani and American officials have, in public and private conversations with various media outlets, insisted on the latter explanation. What the attention the news has received does reflect is the level of anxiety and frustration in both countries about the lack of significant improvement in the relationship as a whole. Some technical progress on supply lines does seem to have been made. But important aspects of the agreement still remain pending, as does the issue of the Salala apology. Meanwhile, American officials have been making aggressive public statements and the deadlock over drone attacks is playing out in plain view.
The Pakistani administration now needs to move things along. If a direct apology for Salala is still not forthcoming, work around it. If there are good reasons for not going after the Haqqani network, explain them convincingly or take action. Yes, there are political pressures. And the administration can’t stray too far from the principles parliament has recommended. But it does need to get bolder and more creative, and find ways to work out compromises and sell them to opposition politicians, the security establishment and the public. Digging in our heels may have looked good at home for a few weeks, but it has grown counterproductive, especially given the country’s deteriorating external accounts position — which coalition support fund reimbursements would help ease — and its possible need for an IMF programme, which several experts think is simply a matter of time. Meanwhile, provocative public statements from American officials don’t help. The reality everyone agrees on is that both countries need this relationship. So let’s get on with it.