Pakistan and US give it another go
After a nearly three-year long freeze Pak-US relations are on the mend once again. Secretary of State John Kerry’s visit to Islamabad paved way for Nawaz Sharif’s meeting with President Obama. In December, Pentagon Chief Chuck Hagel was in Pakistan where he also met the new COAS Gen Sharif. The prime minister’s meeting with President Obama in October was followed by a flurry of visits by civilian and military leaders from both sides. Important federal ministers including Sartaj Aziz, Ahsan Iqbal, Khwaja Asif and Shahid Khqan Abbasi have made several trips to Washington to discuss energy, trade and security related issues. During the last four weeks CENTOM Commander General Lloyd J Austin visited Islamabad to hold talks with COAS Gen Sharif and CJCSC Rashad Mahmood. Defence Secretary Asif Yasin Malik is currently in Washington leading a Pakistani delegation to hold military to military talks. Unconfirmed reports tell of CIA chief John Brennan having paid a clandestine visit to Rawalpindi to meet COAS Gen Sharif.
The somewhat hectic activity indicates the urgency on the part of the two countries to mend their fences. The key factor is the concern for the security of the region after the US exits from Afghanistan. Washington wants to withdraw troops in an orderly manner and to ensure that the Afghanistan and Pakistan do not fall under the influence of Al Qaeda and other militant groups with global reach, threatening the US and its worldwide interests. After trying peaceful methods which failed, the PML-N government now seems to have realised the gravity of the situation and is inclined to take on the TTP and other militant groups. It knows however that it cannot deal with them on its own.
The interests of the US and Pakistan coincide as far as ensuring stability in Pakistan and Afghanistan is concerned. Pakistan has suffered badly on account of TTP and other terrorist groups. To build the economy the country has to overcome the twin menaces of terrorism and power shortages. It needs all the assistance it can get from the US and European countries. Equally important for Pakistan, however, is a friendly environment, good relations with neighbours, diversification of trade and sources for import of arms. The country has built up close and highly vital relations with China, friendly ties with Turkey and Afghanistan. It hopes to import gas and power from Iran and is in the process of improving ties with India.
While reviving relations with the US Pakistan has to ensure this is not done at the expense of any of these countries. In other words Pakistan has to give importance to its long term national interests. It must not be seen to be taking American side in disputes in Syria or other countries of the Middle East or helping it to maintain a permanent military bases in the neighbouring Afghanistan.