US President Barack Obama’s decision to meet with Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, free up $1.5 billion in aid that had been put on hold and offer assistance on energy and public works projects shows he has confidence that Nawaz is committed to building a democratic state and it is in the interest of both countries that Nawaz succeeds, the New York Times in its lead editorial on Thursday said.
The newspaper said after so many years of animosity between Pakistan and the United States, Nawaz and Obama used their first meeting at the White House this week to begin to set the relationship on a more constructive path.
The editorial said Nawaz, who was elected in May, is stronger politically than his predecessor, and the absence of Gen Ashfaq Pervaiz Kayani, the army chief of staff, and probably the most powerful man in Pakistan, was one of the most hopeful aspects of the meeting. It shows that Nawaz may be making some progress asserting civilian control over a government long dominated by the military.
According to the newspaper, it was also significant that Nawaz brought along Finance Minister Ishaq Dar underscoring his focus on reviving Pakistan’s devastated economy. Of course, it is not just the emphasis on development, foreign investment and trade that impressed his American hosts. Nawaz has also acknowledged that there will be no economic growth without security, and there will be no security unless Afghanistan is at peace and Pakistan’s relations with India are improved.
To advance those goals, Nawaz has held separate talks with Afghan President Hamid Karzai and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. But at a time of uncertainty, Afghanistan and India are both facing elections and American troops are withdrawing from Afghanistan, Pakistan needs to do more to improve regional stability, the newspaper argued. This should include cracking down on the Afghan Taliban, who have links to the Pakistani military and use the lawless border region to attack Afghanistan, and working with India to end cross-border skirmishes in Kashmir.
It pointed out that American drone strikes against insurgent targets in the border region remain a source of tension, and Nawaz made the obligatory request that Obama halt them. But Pakistani officials have acquiesced to the attacks in order to deal with their own virulent Pakistani Taliban insurgency. Concerns raised by international nongovernmental groups about civilians killed by drones should cause both governments to limit the programme.
The newspaper however in its comments said the United States enlisted Pakistan as an ally in the anti-terror fight after September 11, 2001, and provided it with billions of dollars, mostly in military aid. But the Pakistani military has long played a double-game, accepting that money while also enabling Taliban groups; relations with Washington plummeted to their lowest point in 2011 after several incidents, including the Navy SEAL team raid that killed Osama Bin Laden.
It believed that Pakistan remains a dangerous country in a region with the world’s fastest-growing nuclear weapons program. Over the past decade, the distrust between the United States and Pakistan has grown so deep that the Obama administration reportedly stepped up its surveillance of Pakistan’s nuclear programme.