The strategic dialogue between Pakistan and the United States is said to be postponed indefinitely, in the latest sign of worsening ties between the key war-on-terror allies.
Talks are reported to be delayed after the US refused to go ahead with the process until ongoing differences between the two countries are resolved, official sources told The Express Tribune.
Tensions between Islamabad and Washington have been rising since May 2 when a US midnight raid in Abbottabad killed al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden.
During her trip to Pakistan after the Osama raid, US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton indicated that the two countries would soon resume the strategic dialogue, but so far the two sides have failed to fix dates for the talks due to differences on certain issues.
“There is no chance of strategic dialogue taking place any time soon,” said a security official familiar with the on-ground situation.
“The reason is obvious, there are more pressing issues that the two countries are trying to overcome at this stage,” said the official, who requested not to be identified.
A Pakistani diplomat, posted in Washington, also confirmed that the US was showing little interest in resuming the strategic dialogue at this stage. “It is not possible in the present situation,” the diplomat added.
The US Embassy in Islamabad has no updates either on the status of the strategic dialogue.
The dialogue, which covers a wide-range of issues from Pakistan’s energy needs to health and education sector woes, was initiated by the Obama administration as part of its effort to ally fears that the US might repeat the mistake of the 1980s when it left Islamabad ‘high and dry’ after driving out Soviet troops from Afghanistan.
It was also meant to remove the widely held perception that relations between the two countries were confined only to security matters.
The last round of the strategic dialogue was held in October 2010 in Washington. The dialogue was supposed to take place in March this year, but was delayed because of the controversy over the killing of two Pakistanis by a CIA contractor in January.
The two sides, however, agreed to resume the process in May after the contractor, Raymond Davis, was freed in a deal with the heirs of the victims.
But the talks could not go ahead as planned due to the Bin Laden raid and have now been delayed indefinitely.
The latest development is the clearest indication as yet that the relations between Pakistan and the US have hit a new low.
Official sources say the trust-deficit between the two countries is widening as the US prepares for the end game in Afghanistan.
On Wednesday, Defence Minister Ahmed Mukhtar confirmed that Pakistan was pushing the US to abandon the Shamsi airbase, which the Central Intelligence Agency has reportedly been using for years to undertake its drone attacks inside the country’s tribal belt.
On its part, the US is learnt to have threatened to cut of military aid to Pakistan and even withheld the latest tranche of a $500 million payment which is part of the Coalition Support Fund (CSF).
Officials insist that the US is exerting pressure after Pakistan’s security establishment launched a crackdown against the CIA network in the country as part of the cleansing process to reduce the CIA footprint but at the same time appears reluctant to go after the Haqqani network allegedly based in North Waziristan.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 1st, 2011.