What strategic dialogue?

US special envoy Richard Holbrooke is in Pakistan for the fifth time in eight months. According to Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi, the visit is in continuation of strategic dialogue to strengthen bilateral relations and cooperation in different fields. With a number of vital matters that Islamabad has pursued with Washington being constantly ignored, one wonders if there is anything on the agenda other than Pakistan's performance against the militants in areas bordering Afghanistan. To many, Mr Holbrooke evokes the image of a taskmaster who turns up to review the progress made by Islamabad on issues vital to the US and harangue the political and military leadership, duly lined up to meet him, on what needs to be done. On Sunday, he had extensive meetings with the Foreign Minister. On Monday, he called on the President, Prime Minister, COAS and the DG ISI. He also met the chiefs of the PML(N) and ANP to make it known to the government that Washington does not put all its eggs in one basket. Mr Holbrooke's visit comes as Pakistan moves from pillar to post for financial assistance to cope with its economic blues, which are by no means unconnected with the fight against militancy. Its appeals to the Friends of Democratic Pakistan have failed to produce any significant results. Pakistan also urgently needs funds for rehabilitation and reconstruction in Malakand Division. Energy shortage remains another important issue. Islamabad has tried hard to persuade the US to conclude with it a nuclear energy deal similar to the one brokered with India. The request has fallen on deaf ears. Washington meanwhile continues to pressure Pakistan not to import gas from Iran, which it badly needs. Instead it wants Pakistan to pursue the unrealistic plan to import gas from Turkmenistan and electricity from Tajikistan, despite the hazards involved in its execution on account of the unsettled conditions in Afghanistan. There is a perception that Washington is in fact interested in multi-million dollar contracts for its own firms. The benefits of the much-trumpeted Kerry-Lugar bill to aid Pakistan have yet to reach the country since it is still languishing in Congress to be taken up after the summer recess. The ROZs promised by two successive US administrations are nowhere in sight while Islamabad continues to be denied market access. Despite Pakistan's repeated demand to stop the flow of weapons and money to its tribal areas from Afghanistan, little has been done so far. If matters of vital interest to Pakistan continue to be put on the backburner, one wonders if the talks with important US emissaries can in any way be dubbed as strategic dialogue.

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