ISLAMABAD, July 9: Differences over counter-terrorism strategies may continue to dog Pakistan-US dialogue as they re-engage after overcoming the Nato transit route roadblock.
Experts and diplomats from Islamabad and Washington will soon be meeting at the level of working groups on various issues that both sides believe need to be addressed, but on top of the agenda is the dialogue over counter-terrorism operations which, it is believed, will determine progress in other areas.
Other than the working group meetings, the most significant expected interaction would be between ISI Chief Lt Gen Zaheerul Islam and his CIA counterpart David Petraeus scheduled for last week of July. With most of bilateral strains having roots in troubled ISI-CIA relationship, the meeting could help narrow the divergences and rationalise expectations.
Last week’s deal over transit routes a diplomat who had followed Hillary Clinton’s meeting with Foreign Minister Khar over the weekend in Tokyo, said might have helped improve the atmospherics, but certainly did not address the core irritant in the relationship: Pakistan’s apparent non-action against terrorists using sanctuaries in tribal areas as bases for launching attacks against coalition forces in Afghanistan.
Pakistan has always shied away from squeezing the Haqqani network and affiliates for a variety of reasons ranging from capacity limitations to fear of the deadly group hitting back and for hedging its bets in terms of the post-drawdown denouement in Afghanistan.
Some commentators even described the July 3 route deal as an ‘illusion’.
Ms Clinton, therefore, a source disclosed, used a significant portion of her discussion to impress upon Ms Khar the need for Pakistan to shed its reluctance on going after the Haqqani network and other groups in tribal areas and dealing with the improvised explosive devices (IEDs) issue.
She also apprised her of the frustration in Washington about nothing happening with regard to terrorist sanctuaries in Fata.
The Obama administration has relentlessly maintained pressure on Islamabad to act against terrorist hideouts, but the strategy has failed to move Pakistani strategists and has instead fuelled anger in Pakistan about the US employing strong-arm tactics.
Against this backdrop, Ms Clinton’s `sorry’ for the deaths of 24 Pakistani troops in the border post incident has also become a subject of debate in the national discourse as to whether or not it fulfilled the demand for an apology.
Foreign Office spokesman Moazzam Khan, who had accompanied Foreign Minister Khar to Tokyo, said: “The discussions were about taking the relationship forward by working together on shared objectives.”
The foreign ministry’s statement on the meeting explains the shared objectives: “Peace, security and development in Afghanistan and the region.”
He said both sides were still discussing the next steps. The dialogue will discuss various demands made through the parliamentary resolution of April 12 on relations with the US.
Observers feel that after agreeing to open the supply route, Pakistan will be having little leverage with the US to deal on drones and other parliamentary demands.
The US now only looks towards Pakistan for some help with regard to the reconciliation process, but analysts have doubts about the influence Pakistani military and intelligence agencies have over Taliban.
“Even if it is assumed that Pakistan still holds sway over the Taliban, it is unsure that with the given gulf of mistrust between Islamabad and Washington they would still deliver them on the negotiating table,” an analyst said.