The first signs are emerging that the Pakistan-US relationship, so badly damaged by the Raymond Davis saga and the fallout from the May 2 Abottabad raid, may finally be approaching something resembling normality. Reports that the estimated 200-strong US military trainers, most of whom were expelled from Pakistan during the recent freeze in relations, may be allowed back into the country are the strongest manifestation of this thaw. This follows a long period of negotiations where the ISI chief, Lt. General Shuja Pasha, met with his CIA counterpart in Washington and various US officials made hurried trips to Pakistan. If the return of US trainers is the first manifestation of improved relations then it is to be welcomed.
Allowing US military trainers back into the country, a large and likely controversial step for Pakistan to take, needs to be reciprocated. The very least the US can do is restore the $800 million in military aid that was cut after the trainers were expelled. There also need to be reassurances that these trainers will only be here for their specific work and will not actually be spying on us for the Americans. It is essential that an understanding exists that the trainers will be expelled again if they are caught transgressing. Additionally, it is vital that the trainers be official US military personnel and not private contractors. The word Blackwater has now become a term of abuse in Pakistan and their presence will make rapprochement harder to achieve. It is also needs to be acknowledged that these short-term measures are unlikely to lead to sustained, healthy relations until both sides trust each other. For the US, this means being convinced that our intelligence agencies aren’t maintaining ties with militants. The Americans seem to believe that information they pass along to our intelligence agencies will be transmitted to the militants. Pakistan is worried that the US will abandon us as they did after the Soviet Union was defeated in Afghanistan and that they will continue to trample on our sovereignty.
These issues will take a long time to resolve but a climate of trust can be created by ending the selective leaks to the media against each other and continuing to hold regular talks. Only then can we begin to dream of normalised relations.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 29th, 2011.
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