ISLAMABAD: Efforts to calm overwrought Pakistan-US bilateral ties get into high gear on Wednesday, but with little hope of an enduring rapprochement because of marked divergences in strategic agendas of the two countries vis-à-vis Afghanistan and the region.
Chairman of US Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen will be in Islamabad for talks with the military leadership on Wednesday, while Foreign Secretary Salman Bashir will start a two-day meeting with American officials in Washington on Thursday.
But analysts believe the two sides can at best slow the downslide in ties and improve the atmospherics by agreeing to resume strategic dialogue and other high-level engagements. The pessimism about any significant forward movement primarily emanates from disinclination both in Islamabad and Washington to accommodate each other’s strategic concerns and worries.
The two high-profile meetings are the latest in efforts to resolve the differences that caught public attention after CIA operative Raymond Davis shot to death two youths in Lahore in January and got exacerbated by drone attacks and growing worries among Pakistani security agencies about an expanding CIA footprint in Pakistan -- considered to be an affront to Pakistan’s sovereignty.
The denouement had been in the making for a couple of years, but was masked well by both the sides.
Centcom Commander Gen Mattis recently visited Pakistan to listen to the military’s grievances and the ISI chief travelled to Washington only to find his counterpart Leon Panetta obsessed with fears about threats to US security from terrorists holed up in sanctuaries in tribal areas.
The two countries have been expressing the desire for renewal of ties and have reiterated their interest in bilateral relationship, but little has been publicly said about the critical issues deeply dividing them.
Pakistan is worried about US policies in the region that look to be heavily biased towards India; Washington’s tough line on its nuclear programme; and mutual distrust in the fight against militants.
Senior Pakistani officials believe that the only way out of the stalemate is that US change its narrative on issues considered by them as ‘part and parcel’ for the country’s existence. “The US will have to decide if it wants to treat Pakistan as a satellite state or with respect as a partner,” a diplomatic analyst said.
Americans agree that they need to look at relations with Pakistan through regional realities, but they are not ready to put words into action. On its part, Washington seems to be getting desperate over Pakistan’s defiance of implementing stricter counter-insurgency policies that could make its job in Afghanistan easy.
A recent White House semi-annual report blamed Pakistan for lacking a clear path towards defeating Taliban insurgency in its territory. Even as lip-service is being paid to sacrifices rendered by Pakistan in the war on terror, Americans still label Pakistan as Al Qaeda’s principal sanctuary in whose border regions terrorists roam freely, threatening world peace.
Analysts say the two sides through their ongoing hectic efforts, both at military and diplomatic levels, may be able to bring some semblance of normalcy in their relationship, but they will need to go the proverbial extra mile for salvaging the friendship that is undoubtedly critical to each other’s interests.