“The Obama administration considers Pakistan key to resolving the Afghan war and wants its nuclear arsenal tethered to a solid US partnership. Pakistan remains dependent on US military and economic assistance and wants a prominent role in whatever happens in Afghanistan,” The Washington Post said in a dispatch.
“Yet the two countries appear to have reached a stalemate on issues that have long divided them — from the US use of armed drones on Pakistani territory to Islamabad’s continued harbouring of the Taliban and other groups affiliated with Al-Qaeda, and countless matters in between.”
On Monday, a Pentagon team came home empty-handed from Islamabad after a months-long effort to negotiate the reopening of Pakistani border crossings for the transit of NATO supplies into Afghanistan. While nearly all elements of an agreement are in place, The Post said Pakistan has renewed a demand that the United States apologise for the incident that led to the border closing.
“It took us by surprise,” a senior administration official said of Pakistan’s renewed demand for an apology. The official said the matter is being debated again by President Barack Obama’s top national security advisers, but there seems little cause for optimism.
The November incident is only the most recent of repeated clashes and perceived slights over the past 18 months, none of which has been fully resolved. Last year began with the shooting death of two Pakistanis by a CIA contractor the administration insisted was a ‘diplomat’, continued with the US Navy SEAL raid on the Pakistani compound where Osama bin Laden was found to have lived unmolested for six years, and ended with the border air raid.
“Electoral politics have made the long-running struggle for equilibrium even more difficult, as both governments face political and public opposition to their continued engagement,” the Post pointed out.
“Despite the increasingly hard line taken by the White House, many US lawmakers have accused Obama of coddling Pakistan despite its many perceived sins. Some have called for cancelling major elements of the $3.5 billion in military and economic aid the administration has requested for fiscal 2013.
It said Mitt Romney, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, regularly criticises Obama’s Afghanistan strategy, while saying little about Pakistan. But according to his campaign website, Romney would ‘not be shy’ about using US leverage there to attain desired aims.
The dispatch said, “The Pentagon, under pressure to validate Obama’s Afghanistan troop withdrawals with demonstrable progress in the war, increasingly blames Pakistan for its woes. Several US military officials drew a direct line between Panetta’s impatience and a June 1 suicide bomb attack on a large NATO base in eastern Afghanistan’s Khost province that was blamed on the Pakistan-based Haqqani militant network.
“Assuming that Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari remains in office until elections that must be held by March, he will preside over the first transfer of power from one elected leader to another since Pakistan’s 1947 founding. But Zardari’s economic advisers have warned that the country may go broke months before then and have urged a fall election that would allow the government under Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani to avoid taking full blame for the predicted financial debacle...
“But aside from the economic aspects, the prospect of an early election has increased pressure on the government to remain steadfast against what Pakistani public opinion sees as US arrogance and bullying. In the wake of the November deaths, Pakistan’s parliament drew up new guidelines for the relationship, including the demanded US apology, an end to territorial violation by drones, and a new payment structure for the transit of NATO supplies.
“Washington considers only the last of these within the realm of the possible, and has tried to separate the border negotiations from the far more difficult question of drones.
“When it looked as if a transit deal was near this spring, the administration rewarded Zardari with an invitation to NATO’s May summit in Chicago. But after Obama refused to meet with him there, the deal was set aside as each charged that the other had once again reneged on promises.”