The strain in Pakistan-US relations that emerged after the Raymond Davis affair and the subsequent fallout of the drone attack that allegedly killed innocent people in FATA refuses to yield easily to solutions. While President Asif Ali Zardari in an interview with the Guardian has iterated the destabilising effects of the war in Afghanistan on Pakistan, including but not limited to its undermining efforts to restore democratic institutions and economic prosperity, he has also complained that some US politicians show limited understanding of the impact of US policies (e.g. the recent critical White House report). President Zardari argued that the emphasis in Pakistan for long decades has been on security, whereas what is needed is a focus on commerce for our survival and progress. He spoke of the malign effects of the situation on industry and the wasted potential of gas exports to India and the world, provided of course Afghanistan settles down. He was critical of the failure of the US to quantify and calculate the effects of the war on Pakistan. Last but not least, the president said he would raise the issue of Pakistan being provided drone technology so that any future such actions should be under a "Pakistani flag”. Whether, especially in the present straitened circumstances, the president will be able to budge Washington from its past refusal to contemplate such a transfer remains a moot point. The Guardian report goes on to underline that operations against terrorists have cost Pakistan $ 68 billion and more than 33,300 civilians and military personnel killed or seriously injured since 2001.
ISI chief General Pasha is believed to have met his CIA counterpart Leon Panetta in Washington to sort out the frozen cooperation between the two agencies since the Davis affair in January. The CIA spokesman described the meeting as positive, while the ISI is mum. Significantly, General Pasha is reported to have cut short his short visit and returned. Make of that what you will. It is not difficult to surmise that around the issues of Raymond Davis and drone attacks, the discussions currently ongoing between the two sides centre on the Pakistani military’s demand that the CIA curtail its clandestine (and unknown to the ISI) activities ion Pakistani soil and stop the drone attacks. Reportedly some CIA operatives have already left or are in the process of leaving Pakistan. Another issue is the US Special Operations forces training Pakistani soldiers in counter-insurgency, a programme that too may suffer a cut of 25-40 percent if the Pakistani military has its way. Incidentally, a 40 percent cutback would probably mean the closure of the entire programme. From all this, it is not difficult to sniff out the state of affairs in the relationship.
US Ambassador Cameron Munter meantime has tried to soothe ruffled feathers in an address at the Institute of Strategic Studies in Islamabad. He reiterated Washington’s desire to improve relations despite the tensions over Davis and the drones. He also tried to allay deep-seated fears from the past that the US intended to abandon Afghanistan (and Pakistan) once again as in 1989 by stating that the US was not leaving in 2014 but would be changing its role much more to training and on the civilian side.
The Raymond Davis affair also resonated in the halls of the National Assembly when Chaudhry Nisar, the Leader of the Opposition, roundly turned on the government and President Zardari, criticising them for the release of Davis and demanding a parliamentary committee or judicial commission to probe the whole affair. He was also at pains to defend the PML-N Punjab government as innocent in the matter of the release. That may or may not be true, but one cannot help wondering how a prisoner in the custody of the Punjab government could be whisked away from under its nose unless it was on board?
This brief survey of the goings on in the diplomatic, security, political and media field should help to underline the very real difficulties that the always fraught relationship between Pakistan and the US is presently confronted with. It will take a fair bit of skill, diplomacy and flexibility on either side to overcome the divergence in interests that is opening up as endgame in Afghanistan draws ever nearer.