ISLAMABAD, May 24: United States cannot afford to have strained relations with Pakistan, especially until leaving Afghanistan. On the other hand, US apology for the Salala attack has become meaningless.

This was stated by speakers at the fourth policy debate on “Re-evaluating Pakistan-US relations” held at the Jinnah Institute on Thursday. The speakers said the relationship between the two countries should be normalised before it is too late.

The speakers included defence analyst Lt-Gen (retired) Talat Masood and former foreign secretaries Tanvir A. Khan and Riaz Khokhar.

The speakers agreed that as a nation Pakistan should define its national interests through democratic means and address the strategic irregularity that existed in its ties with the world’s sole super power.

Mr Masood was of the view that the Pakistan-US relationship was an important one but it suffered immensely in the year 2011. He believed serious measures needed to be taken to arrest the declining level of trust.

Transactional or not, the relationship should be made enduring. He recommended that Pakistan should keep its own interests in mind and evaluate the way forward in Afghanistan as a supportive ally and not as a hindrance.

“The US is highly frustrated as it could not achieve what it wanted to do in Afghanistan. Washington will not apologise for the Salala attack; it has been improving the drone technology and will continue using it,” he said.

Mr Khokhar said Pakistan’s response to the Salala attack was understandable and stopping the Nato supply routes was a legitimate step in that context, but the review of bilateral relations, and of Pakistan’s foreign policy in general, should have been completed within two weeks at a maximum.

He said both Washington and Islamabad should take concrete steps to reduce suspicions and distrust between their armed forces and intelligence agencies.

“When I was the foreign secretary, all substantive agreements with the US were verbal, the Foreign Office was not part of them,” he said, urging that all future agreements between the two allies must be transparent and owned by the peoples of both the countries.

“After the Raymond Davis and Abbottabad incidents, Pentagon and CIA wanted to teach Pakistan a lesson and Salala was the first step though the state department was not in its favour,” he said.

Tanvir A. Khan said Pak-US relationship had always been transactional and the people of Pakistan felt that the US was being appeased. “What we are seeing is a mutually contrived orchestration of what to do,” he said.

He added that the Pakistan army viewed anti-Pakistan sentiments in Washington as part of a propaganda barrage with the intent of reconfiguring the country’s armed forces and their security role in the region.

About the Salala checkpost attack, Mr Khan said Pakistan took a bold but unsustainable step and inevitably would have to reopen the supply routes.

He feared that the army had also lost its “gusto” with respect to primacy in critical aspects of the country’s foreign policy.

“There is another crisis that may loom larger than the current impasse in Pak-US relations and that is the loss of Pakistan’s leverage vis-à-vis the endgame in Afghanistan,” he added.

During the question answer session, the issue of Dr Afridi’s sentence was also raised and the panelists agreed that this was a new complication in the bilateral relationship.

Mr Khokhar said US expectation that Pakistan should cooperate with it to contain China and Iran might not be possible.

According to him, President Asif Ali Zardari should not have gone to Chicago and the foreign minister should have dealt with the issue. If at all the president was to attend the summit, Nato supply route should have been opened.

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