Standing side by side this week, the US president and Pakistan’s prime minister vowed to work together while conceding that their relationship has experienced deep strains.
On Wednesday, US and Pakistani military leaders also held talks in an attempt to mend ties between the allies.
“The policy is to get out, plain and simple. The strategy underneath that by the US military and [possibly] NATO is to do as much damage before they leave to what is the al-Qaeda structure that remains…They are on two different sheets of music.”
– Lawrence Wilkerson, former chief-of-staff to Colin Powell
The relationship hit a new low in November after US troops, based along the Afghan border, killed 24 Pakistani soldiers. A US investigation found both sides were to blame for the deadly exchange of fire.
Pakistan has rejected the findings. In response, it shut down a vital NATO supply route into Afghanistan and publicly suspended high-level civilian and diplomatic meetings with US officials.
Now the Pakistani parliament is debating a new policy to re-draw its military rules of engagement with the US.
Barack Obama, the US president, earlier this week expressed confidence in the policy review being undertaken in the Pakistani parliament.
“My expectation is the consequence of the review…that we can achieve the kind of balanced approach that respects Pakistan’s sovereignty but also that respects our concerns, with respect to our national security and our needs to battle terrorists who have targetted us in the past.”
At stake for the US is the re-opening of the supply route, and the blessings of the Pakistani government for drone strikes inside the country’s borders.
“These are demands reflecting the sense of anti-Americanism in Pakistan and I don’t see how the parliament or the representatives of Pakistan can get out of this without provoking a backlash…”
– Akbar Ahmed, former Pakistan ambassador to the UK
Pakistan is calling on the US to respect its sovereignty by halting drone strikes and issuing a formal apology for the killings of its troops.
Meanwhile, anti-American sentiment continues to rage inside the country, with some parties calling for a complete cut in ties.
On Tuesday hundreds of people rallied in the Pakistani capital, Islamabad, to warn their government not to allow the resumption of NATO supply routes to Afghanistan.
Munawwar Hasan, the leader of the Islamist group Jamaat-e-Islami, said during the rally:
“We gave logistic support to America in the so-called war against terrorism. We gave them sensitive airports to use; we gave them permission for drone attacks, we carried out military operations, we did everything possible in response to their “do more” demands. If a policy review has to take place, then the first thing to do is to get out of this war on terror.”
As the US and Pakistan try to mend their strained relationship, what is next for both sides. And, who needs whom more?
Joining presenter Shihab Rattansi on Inside Story Americas to discuss these questions are guests: Akbar Ahmed, a former Pakistan ambassador to the UK and a professor at the American University; Lawrence Wilkerson, the former chief-of-staff to Colin Powell, the former US Secretary of State; and Dennis Kux, a former South Asia specialist at the US State Department and a scholar at Woodrow Wilson Center.
“We are going to have to negotiate because the pressure in Pakistan is such that drone [attacks] have become something impossible for the government to accept…I don’t think it is fully understood in Washington.”
– Dennis Kux, former South Asia specialist, US State Department
US-PAKISTAN LOW POINTS:
- In February 2011, a CIA contractor killed two Pakistanis in Lahore. He was arrested and later released by Pakistani authorities sparking massive anti-American protests.
- Ties were further strained after the US Navy Seal raid into Pakistan which killed Osama bin Laden. Pakistan saw it as an infringement of its sovereignty while many in the US accused Pakistan of harbouring the al-Qaeda leader.
- Last November, 24 Pakistani soldiers were killed by fire from US helicopters that crossed the border from Afghanistan.
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