Insiders say a number of Pakistani officials have been caught off guard by the visiting US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who combined some tough talk with softer words while co-chairing the second round of the Pak-US Strategic Dialogue. The impression that the announcement of an aid package marked a definite softening of the US approach was dispelled by Ms Clinton’s firm demands that Pakistan do more against terror, her statement of opposition to a civilian nuclear deal with China and the assertion that Osama bin Laden and Mullah Omar were most likely in Pakistan. The US also made it clear it had no intention of intervening on Pakistan’s behalf in the water dispute with India.
The relationship between the US and Pakistan for the present remains poised on something of a knife’s edge. A frame in shades of grey surrounds it. There are no solid blacks or whites; things could go either way. Ms Clinton, speaking more directly than many Pakistani politicians are accustomed to, also stated that there was indeed a trust deficit between the two countries. This is an honest statement. A survey in this publication indicated that few Pakistanis believe the aid package announced by the US will alter Pakistani perception of that country.
It also appears obvious that the Obama team has worked out a ‘good cop – bad cop’ strategy for Pakistan. Some officials have adopted a deliberately demanding stance; others like Ms Clinton have been somewhat more conciliatory. But the words from the secretary of state should not disguise the facts: progress has been made as far as Pak-US relations go. How things move on from this point is open. Islamabad seems to have been given some rather unexpected leeway to keep open its dialogue with the Haqqani network. This comes as a bonus. Washington is clearly eager to see results on terrorism — something US President Barack Obama is keen to bring about so that critics at home can be silenced. Many aspects of its relations with Pakistan will depend on the extent to which Islamabad is able to facilitate it in this task.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 21st, 2010.