While the resumption of supplies to Nato troops in Afghanistan has considerably eased the tension that has, for some time past, marked Pak-US relations, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was right when she told Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar on Sunday that she had no doubt that there were “hard questions” to deal with. The deal on reopening the supply route, she felt, had generated a positive momentum, yet there were challenges ahead. The two leaders, who met in Tokyo to participate in the international donors’ conference on Afghanistan, availed of this opportunity and met privately for an hour to discuss the future course of their countries’ relations.
There, indeed, is a bumpy road to traverse and the conclusion of Secretary Clinton that the ties between the two war allies would be tested in the future appears to be fully justified. She underscored, inter alia, the importance of eliminating ‘terrorist havens’ located on Pakistani soil from where allegedly the militants cross into Afghanistan to target Afghan and Isaf forces. According to some reports, Islamabad was also urged to put pressure on the Haqqanis to join the peace talks. Pakistan has, on more than one occasion, made its position on the issue clear. Not only is the army already stretched thin and would not like to venture into another armed action, but also the Haqqanis are by and large located in Afghanistan itself and that might, in league with the rest of the resistance forces, be causing trouble to the foreign forces. For that Islamabad could not be blamed. For Pakistan, another rankling sore is the drones that keep targeting one area after another in the Fata region. In the process, they have killed more civilians than militants, and thus created a backlash that has spawned anger and hatred of the US. They are humiliating for Pakistan since they violate its territorial sovereignty. According to one estimate, in the 333 strikes so far the drones have killed up to 3188 persons, 179 of them children and only 190 terrorists who were the real target. The stands of the two countries on these impediments – the Haqqanis and the drones – to the development of relations of trust and understanding are so rigid that it would call for the highest talent and skill in diplomacy to get over them. The task becomes all the more difficult because both the parties perceive that any shift in positions they have taken would damage their national interests.
The common points, though outlined in general terms, were the desire to have a cooperative relationship based on mutual respect and mutual interests, besides Ms Clinton’s pledge that there would be more emphasis on trade than aid, a long-standing demand of Pakistan. One hopes that the two countries are able to iron out the rough edges in the bilateral relations and arrive at a formula that protects the interests of the both.